10 years of UM: Staff Q & A
March 2, 2011 | 189 comments
Image Credit: Unexplained Mysteries
[!gad]As part of our celebration of Unexplained Mysteries' 10th anniversary we gave visitors the chance to pose to the UM staff any questions at all they'd like to ask about the site and forums in an open Q & A which was held over the last week in our forum's announcements board. We received a substantial number of questions and did our best to answer them, a transcript of the session is included below.
Erix: To Saru - What was the reason for you to make an unexplained-Mysteries site?
I think the biggest influence and the thing that got me interested in the unexplained originally was a magazine that arrived in the house when i was quite young, it was the first issue of a series called The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time and i couldn't put it down, it kick-started a life long interest for me in unexplained phenomena and the paranormal. The site started when i got Microsoft Frontpage Express ( a free website editor that was released around 1997 ) and decided to try making something with it, the result was a primitive site called The Encyclopedia of the Unexplained which would eventually change its name then grow and evolve over the years in to the site as it is today.
Erix: did you have an idea if it was going to be successful before you created this site?
None at all but then i don't think anyone can truly predict how a new site is going to turn out - you just have to wait and see what happens.
Beckys_Mom: When you began the site...when was it eventually become more established? ( meaning gaining more of a response)
I would say the site really took off following a redesign in 2003, that was when some of the more familiar elements were introduced such as the blue/grey colour scheme, formatted front page news stories and editorial contributions.
Beckys_Mom: Did you also have to advertise your site to gain more member at the start...?
I did some link exchanges with other paranormal sites that were around at the time, joined a couple of web rings and submitted the site to all the search engines ( at the time the big ones were Yahoo, Lycos, Alta Vista, Infoseek etc. ) A lot of things have changed with regard to promoting a site since then.
Beckys_Mom: Did you expect it to get as big as it is now? Did you think it would have went on for 10 years?
I don't know about the boss, he may of had some divine plan to make UM the bastion of knowledge it is today, but originally I thought it was just a fun place to hang out and be a bit goofy. It just got really, really big. And I know back 10 years ago websites came and went over night. I think we've been really lucky to have grown the way we have.
As i was saying to Erix i don't think anyone could have predicted that the site would end up this size or that it would still be here ten years on, back in the beginning i was pleased just to see the daily hit counter increase by a dozen or so a day.
Mravenged7x: What is your most memorable moment during the 10 years?
Most memorable? Lots of them. Back in the begining when one of our members speculated dinosaur tasted like chicken, Erik beckjord and his craziness, and many many more.
The time the site was used in a scene for the Lindsey Lohan movie "I know who killed me", in the scene she's on her computer looking for information about stigmata and she visits UM to find it. Ironically the film was panned by critics and was widely considered one of the worst films ever - not the greatest foray in to the world of cinema one could hope for. Another thing that sticks in my mind is when Google changed their home page doodle to a UFO that linked to a search page placing us as the top result. Over the space of a weekend we received so much traffic that the site was practically down the whole time, we thought it was a denial of service attack until we realised where it was all coming from.
Mravenged7x: Are you a skeptic of any topics that appear on UM?
There are lots of Moderators all with different views, we are skeptical to some but Saru is very good at making sure we keep it proffessional. (Although I'm not really sure teenagers can shoot lightening bolts from their eyes)
Personally i'm skeptical about quite a lot of the topics on the forums but i think given the sheer range of subjects here i can't really cover them in one all encompassing response - i'm certainly convinced that there is a lot we don't yet know about the world.
JVE: Are you aware if the Forum ever had any "Famous" members ?? ( Investigators, authors, Stanton Friedman )
That's a difficult one, we've had a few well known UFO experiencers/abductees and people like that at various times. The late Jon-Erik Beckjord was a vocal member here a few years back now, Loren Coleman has also been here as a visitor however i don't believe he ever registered an account. We've had a lot of TV show producers looking for people to take part in shows about their paranormal experiences, representatives of Destination Truth and TAPS radio have also been here as we've had mentions on both shows. There are probably more i'm forgetting, someone else might be able to fill in the gaps on that one.
I know of one person at least in the film industry that uses UM and has picked my brains.
If (like me) you are into space exploration then James Oberg is a pretty big name (I have several of his books). He mostly posts in the UFO section here, but is a leading expert on the Soviet Space programme (amongst other things).
Bracket: Saru, what would you say is the BIGGEST change you've done to this site in 10 years.
Back in the early days site updates were often complete redesigns that changed pretty much everything but were comparatively quick to put together, as the site grew in size and complexity however updates took more time and these days significant changes can take a long time to complete. So in terms of a change being 'big' in the sense that it changes a lot on the site some of the earliest redesigns around 2002-2003 were probably the biggest. In terms of 'big' in the sense of it requiring a lot of time and work i would say the update to the UM-X design last year and the forum conversion from IPB 2 to IPB 3 rank among the most work and time intensive changes.
Pandora7321: What's the craziest reason you've ever had to ban someone or remove them from the site?
I think the craziest cases of members being removed from the site have usually involved people roleplaying or attempting to perpetrate a hoax of some description. We've had quite a few "time travellers" joining the site with stories of travelling from the past or the future complete with photographs of their clothing and "time machine" that turn out to be taken straight off Google images.
Slave2Fate: Members here have recently (last year or two from my experience) taken a more critical approach to the mysteries presented here. Would you say that UM has become a more scientific minded site with healthy skepticism being the norm? And would this be considered a good or bad turn for unexplained phenomena? What do you think the future holds for some of these phenomena (and the site) if the current trend holds?
I would say UM offers a place for those who fall into "all domains" in expressing and discussing ideas and experiences of metaphysics, paranormal and the unexplained. I would say it depends what section of the site you are most interested in or spend time in as to what the answer would be. And that to be fair is the beauty of it. You can't define it overall as this or that. Healthy scepticism is something we always encourage and welcome as much as anything as opposed to the opposite which is only destructive. At the same time we are a open discussion forum that houses any discussion or topic within reasonable grounds.
Turbo Turtle: Have there been any topics that you have agreed with, or at the least were led into deep thought over?
I certainly have and I think most of us do. I'm skeptical about a lot of things. But I believe in an afterlife and some psychic abilities. So threads when we have discussed these topics in a scientific manner with some highly inteligent people have been some of my favorites. I also apreciate skepticism a lot more because of U.M. and the questions people have put forward. Also the defining of Time is one that still gets me thinking.
Leonardo: What one paranormal/supernatural phenomenon would you like to see unquestionable evidence of?
Just one? Almost all of them, to be honest, though I've personally seen a UFO (mass sighting) and experienced Poltergeist activity, so those I'm good with. I guess my top remaining three would be God, Telekinesis and Extraterrestrials (The existence of ET's and UFO's being potentially two completely different things, IMO).
Either evidence of extraterrestrial life or evidence that there is some form of afterlife; these are two things that wouldn't simply satiate curiosity but would revolutionise our beliefs and philosophies - either discovery would be considered one of the, if not the most important revelation in history.
Erix: To ALL Mods: Have you ever seen anything paranormal and that can't be explained?
I haven't unfortunately but i'd certainly like to.
I haven't either and like Saru, I wouldn't mind seeing something like that.
Daughter of the Nine Moons:
My brother's best friend and I saw a UFO when we were kids. It was a daytime sighting and very short, by the time we shouted for my brother it was gone. It's funny that both of us had forgotten about it until the day my brother got married. I also once wondered if the flat in which I lived in was haunted due to a series of odd events
susieice: With all the growth taking place and the addition of new mods from so many different nations, my question is this. Are you all able to meet on a regular basis to discuss what plans are in UM's future?
I'm relatively new to the site compared to the other mods who have been here much longer than I have, although I did lurk for about a year before I joined. Like you, I've seen a lot of changes. Saru initiates all the work on UM himself, and then puts his plans/thoughts forward for staff discussion. We all have a chance to say what we think and put our own ideas forward if we have any.
A lot of us live in different countries so we don't get a chance to meet up in person however we have a staff room on the boards where we discuss ideas and improvements.
susieice: How is the addition of new forums decided?
We'll add a new forum if there is a particular demand to cover a certain topic that isn't covered already or if an existing forum is too large and needs to be split up to make it easier to use and manage. Overall it can be a bit of a balancing act between having too many forums with only a few people using them and having too few forums that end up getting swamped.
Mac E: where do you see this site going in the future? Are there plans for something bigger and better ?
I don't think i'll ever reach the stage where i consider the site "finished" in the sense that there's nothing left to add or improve upon; you can certainly expect to see a lot more updates, new features and improvements aimed at expanding the site, making it easier to use and keeping things interesting. We've come a long way in 10 years so who knows what the site will be like in another 10.
747400: A question that's sort of related to the one that one before is, if the truth was ever found out about any of the big mysteries (extraterrestrial life, the existence or otherwise of God, ghosts & the afterlife etc.), do you think that interest in them would diminish, and so is it in the interests of sites like this for the answers not to be found?
If anything interest in these topics would increase quite substantially I think, if something of that nature was to ever go from being an unexplained mystery to an established fact then there would be a massive influx of people looking to find out more about it leading to a lot of new visitors to sites like this. Ultimately though there are always going to be mysteries to solve - even if something like extraterrestrial visitation was to become a proven fact it would still open up a whole set of new questions about life in the universe that we won't know the answers to.
MissMelsWell: Saru, do you handle all the technical work on the site yourself?
Pretty much, yes.
MissMelsWell: Has this site reached a point where you have needed to engage staff outside of the illustrious mods here that help you support this site in general on the technical and administrative end?
I do make use of the support services of our server provider and Invision Power Board to help resolve problems, some things such as server hardware issues are not something i can fix from here so there will always be third party involvement on some level.
Archaic: Through the years I remember seeing a Admin called Daz I think. If that is correct, may I ask who that was, as they really didn't have any information and never posted?
Daz is a very good friend of mine who i set up as an admin right back at the very beginning when the forum was first started. Although he was very seldom seen on the forums he became something of an urban legend, members would try to spot him logged in and make posts about possible sightings. When something went wrong on the boards the phrase "Daz did it!" was coined by a few of the regulars. While these days he no longer sports an admin badge you can still sometimes spot him on the users online list... that is if he doesn't spot you first. ;)
Behaviour??: What is one mistake you committed as a webmaster of UM?
Not getting as involved in discussions on the forums as i'd like to, i keep meaning to spend more time just browsing the forums and taking part in threads but never seem to find the time to do it.
Erix: To Saru and Mods: When a user posts a really crap topic or leaves a dumb reply, do you swear to yourself or think he/she is an utter looney?
Personally speaking, I don't really care how 'out there' folks want to get...just so they stay civil/polite. I do sometimes wonder about humanity though (what makes some people tick). The human psyche may be the greatest unexplained mystery of them all.
Daughter of the Nine Moons:
I agree Lilly. Saru and all the moderators put in an enormous amount of work in order to make this one of the best places to visit on the web. We might not all have similar beliefs (except maybe concerning evil pleiadian overlords intent on enslaving the masses) but we all believe that UM is a place where you can find intersting and civil conversation.
Behaviour??: If I was to ask you to name, one feature or whatever is that, without which this site wouldnt have grown such big, what would that be?
Definately the forum, i don't think the site would have worked very well without one.
Slowfade: Of all the various aspects of the unexplained covered on UM, which has been the one you've learned most about as a result of/during your time here?
Ironically the one I knew most about to start with, space and astronomy. There are members here who have forgotten more in a day than I have known in my lifetime.
Like Tiggs, I've learned so much about religion here.
Dying Seraph: Mods - You folks do so much and it's almost a thankless job it seems, so if I may ask, what's in it for you? Why did you become a mod?
For me joining the Mod team has given me the opportunity to put back some of what being here has given me. UM is my second home and I love it here.
The simple answer is I became a mod because I was asked, although I didn't really know what I was letting myself in for. I was a moderator on UMs sister site, Spaceflight News, which sadly no longer exists. Moderating there was an infinitely easier job than it is here. When that site was wound up Saru let me know he was expanding the space section here. Not long after I joined I was asked to become a forum leader. This meant that I was dealing much more closely with the moderators and gaining a small insight into what went on behind the scenes. I found that I liked the moderators and I gained even more respect for what they did. When Saru asked me if I wanted to become a full moderator it was a decision I had to think about, but I believe I made the right choice. I remain because I enjoy being part of the team and because the vast majority of members here are good people and they deserve to have a site free from trolls.
When I first joined, I had no aspirations to be a mod. I just wanted to learn as much as I could (at most, I thought it would be cool to be a Debate Judge, back in the day when there were Formal Debates). But one day I received an email asking if I would consider being a Forum Leader (a now defunct mod-group that had mod-powers only with certain sections of the board). Today, I think the reason I continue to moderate is to ensure that UM remains the best site on the net for all things unexplained (not that it wouldn't remain the best if I stepped down, but I'm glad to be giving back to the community that has given me so much).
Dying Seraph: Saru - Has there ever been an incident (be it on UM or an outside personal issue/s) or time where you ever wanted to just wash your hands of UM? Being a mod or a member we can easily walk away but as the Admin., I'd imagine it's not so easy to just walk away from your baby. But has their ever been a day where you regretted it all?
While there are times when things can get on top of me i don't think i've ever felt that i wanted to just pack it in and call it a day.
Svenshoegazer: So what are your favorite posts (or kind of post/Unexplained topic) on UM?
Probably the "Cryptozoology, Myths and Legends" and "Ghosts, Hauntings & The Paranormal" sections however i have an interest in most of the topics we cover, i'm also very interested in the latest science and space news.
Dying Seraph: Out of all the forums, which would you say results in the most bans or reprimands of sorts? In other words which of the forums tend get the most heated? Religion, politics, cryptozoology...?
The areas people tend to lose their cool the most over is religion and politics however any section in which people with very strong, opposing beliefs clash in a discussion has the potential to cause problems. That said however most bans on the forums go out to spammers, trolls and other undesirables that aren't really connected to any one section in particular.
UFO_Monster: One last question from me: Will there be another Q & A in 2021?
I'm sure that can be arranged, we'll see. ;)