|> the gradual introduction of forums ...All of our forums will be moderated in some fashion, and in the beginning they will be moderated heavily. [Joshua]|
Joshua, both of these points sound eminently sane and sensible. It sounds like you have had time to observe Solo, Owl, Atlantis, etc. and see what works and what doesn't.
I have one suggestion re the introduction of forums and "niche marketing": Each Objectivist website serves a particular audience who are drawn to it, and if it changes significantly, they can easily go elsewhere. The most obvious difference (which I know you're aware of from remarks you've made elsewhere) between Atlasphere and Atlas Society on the one hand and Solo, the old wetheliving.com, Diana's blog on the other is that the second group attracts long-time Objectivists, while the first attracts fans of the novels and those who don't yet know what Objectivism is.
That's the largest group (just like sales of the novel vs. hardcore Objectivists) and that is why your site is the largest by an order of magnitude.
I believe that if you start trying to 'expand your membership' by serving the hardcore people, not only will you have the angry long-standing bitternesses and technical debates to deal with, far more importantly you will baffle people, especially in other countries where Rand's nonfiction is hard to come by but also in the U.S.
Here is a problem with introducing 'forums'. They tend, even if moderated, to get dominated by the most knowledgeable, most advanced, most go-for-the jugular types. I have seen this is campus and community clubs. The people with the most years of experience take over and they want to do the hardcore things, have the jargony discussions, etc. People tend to get impatient with the newbies and to reflect it in their posts.. "Haven't you read ITOE?" .. or in ignoring too elementary questions. Moreover, long time Objectivists love to argue, and even if moderated, the sharp elbows come out. But most humans even people who love Ayn Rand's novels (and that includes women, havlf the human race), don't enjoy sharp-edged arguments, or don't have that as the learning mode or style they are most comfortable with...And people who don't feel comfortable no matter the strength of their ideological leanings mostly don't stick around...there are too many other places they can go or other things they can do with their time.
But I suspect your audience *is* to a very large extent an elementary one and your site is good as it stands right now at gently and slowly and gradually introducing people to many new ideas.
Niche marketing means your products have to be tightly focused and when you leave the niche, you lose people. Wetheliving.com tried to have a lot of different forums for different levels of interest but that really didn't work. It's a headache and breeds confusion..and a fragmenting of audiences (special interest groups on education at wetheliving and at Solo that only attract two or three posters.) The Objectivist audience is not large enough, especially the quality audience, to fragment it.
And in your case, you already have the largest niche. There are millions of Ayn Rand fans. (And you have 8 thousand while Solo has 2 thousand.)
Moreover, there are a half dozen other sites that cater to the hardcore...or newbies who gradually become ready for the next step, including the brilliantly designed (albeit irascible) Solo site, the about to be redesigned TOC, the ARI, the Objectivism Reference Center.
You may have considered many of these things, but I wanted to focus the issue as sharply as I can.
My two cents...