Monday, August 4, 2008

Message Boards - Do They Reflect The Cruise Experience Being Discussed

One concern I frequently encounter, and a commenter on this blog mentioned again yesterday, is that some message boards reflect a certain personality and people wonder if the board's posters are a reflection of passengers on board.  My answer is emphatically:  NO. 

There is a very interesting dynamic.  Taking any cruise line, message board posters (those that have at least one post) represent a very small (less than 5%) portion of the cruising public.  Of that small group, probably only 10% are "regular" posters.  Most posters are intimidated in some fashion, however, so they don't post regularly and are very carefully worded as to what and how they post.  Be it they are uneasy about asking questions in a public forum, or they don't want to appear ignorant, or they don't want to be "flamed", or they just feel like they are not "part of the crowd", these "lurkers" actually make up the vast majority of those that frequent message boards.

If you then look at the topics being posted...and then what they can devolve into...you actually find that it can be an adult version of My Space or Facebook.  Most posts somehow are related to socializing either onboard or pre-cruise.  A person asking about some aspect of a ship finds "her" thread has turned into a discussion of whether laundry soap is free and how someone met a wonderful woman while ironing her clothes. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that and it actually can be quite enjoyable for those who are involved in the socialization; though extremely frustrating for the person looking for information. 

While I generally skip over the 20 page thread "November 24 Cruise on Ship Z" (while they discuss shoes, whose dog was put to sleep, the cardinal they saw last year or the best fried stuffed peppers in Arizona - all true discussions BTW) because they simply are of no interest to me, it does leave many wondering, "Is this what it is going to be like on my cruise?  Do I want to be hanging around with some lady that Bedazzles everything she owns with rhinestones?"

This concern becomes exacerbated when looking at luxury cruise lines such as Seabourn, Silversea and Regent.  This is because there are very few viable message boards for these lines.  What then happens is that a group sort of takes over the one or two viable boards and from the outside it becomes disconcerting...especially because the ships are so small.

Now is the time to take a breath and have a reality check.  Let's do some math.  As an example, on the Cruise Critic Seabourn board.

1.  There are maybe fifty people that post with any regularity.  One cruise holds 208 guests x 3 ships = 624 guests per week x 52 weeks = 32,448 guests weeks per year.  If the 50 posters cruise an average of 3 weeks a year, that is 150 guest weeks out of 32,448, or .46%.  That is less an 1/2 of 1 percent!

2.  Of those 50 posters probably 20 of them have either had their posts pulled for criticizing the cliquishness or impropriety of some of the other posters...or worse. 

3.  Remember that many more lurk than post because they are intimidated for one reason or another.

4.  Ergo, there are hugely more message board visitors that do not engage in the cliquish behavior than posters that do...So there are more who use the message boards that are not cliquish and do not like that sort of behavior.

Now let's consider another point:  Most ships are fairly large and those that aren't have multiple venues.  This allows differing personalities to find their own space; whether it be in a particular lounge or a portion of the dining room or on deck. Avoiding boorish people is actually as easy to do as "Let's just sit over there."

But the reality of it is, we all cruise in part because we love to meet people and have made some lifelong friends as a result.  That is the reality; which is so much more obvious than the mini-cyberworld of message boards.

A final two points: 

1.  I had my own taste of cyberbullying back in 2003.  There was a clique that had overrun the Cruise Critic Regent (then Radisson) message board.  It got so bad that Cruise Critic actually prohibited them from using abbreviations for their cruises (such as MUSH for an Alaska cruise) because it was so exclusionary and they all used the same travel agent.  The travel agent started up her own message board which still exists and is in huge part nothing more than a social networking/travel agent marketing site (which is absolutely fine).  However, in that site's infancy, this clique used the message board to literally scheme how they were going to ruin my cruise (since they were on the same one).  REALITY CHECK:  This seemingly intimidating group was actually a very small group of rather ordinary people (at best) that you almost had to seek out to know they were on the same 350 passenger ship. For me it was sort of pathetic letdown as this small group of wannabes was so different than their message board personas.

2.  I "knew" someone from a message board, but didn't know what he looked like or what his real name was.  He is the type that posts silly answers to silly questions poking fun - and probably offending some - whenever possible.  Some years ago we wound up on the same cruise by happenstance.  Although we didn't know each other by name or face, we knew instantly when we ran into each other.  We remain friends to this day and they visit us at our home a couple of times a year.  As I said, the socialization aspect of message boards is not always a bad thing.

So don't worry about the person who demands the right to smoke or the big sail-away party (that usually fizzles) or being dragged into a tour that you don't want to go on (and usually fizzles as well).  The reality is, large ship or small, there are people you will like and people you won't.  The fact that a few post on message boards really isn't going to affect your cruise.