I’ve been a member of this climbing site since September 2005, not a particularly long time when compared to a human lifetime. But in the world of computers, and I believe SummitPost lives in that world, just short of five years could be considered an eon.
I first looked at SummitPost during 2004, searching for information on the mountains just west of the valley where I had just taken up residence, western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Unfortunately at that time little information about the Bitterroot Mountains was in evidence on SummitPost (or in print).
A year later, after I finished building our new home – yeah, it was me on the end of that hammer, beating nails into submission – I was more than ready to get back to climbing something other than ladders. I revisited SummitPost, hoping more information would have been posted during the past year. Wrong! And still no guidebooks for the Bitterroot Mountains.
It was then that I decided maybe I would be the one to write a guidebook for the Bitterroots. Hoping to discover if I was a good enough writer to make myself understood, I began contributing to SummitPost.
Using SummitPost's Voting System
There have been many forum discussions about voting for pages – up, down, unfair, too many pictures, lousy descriptions, whatever. Well, rather than whine about the voting I made use of it. When someone voted on a contribution of mine, I asked for (and generally received) feedback. Then I incorporated that helpful information into further contributions.
Eventually, I discovered I could go only so far developing a page with the resident SummitPost tools. Others have reached the same conclusion. Of course it’s quite popular to piss and moan in the forums about the “poor page tools.” But where does that get you? Nowhere!
Instead of complaining I decided to teach myself HTML, just so I could improve my pages. Of course, everyone doesn’t have the time or inclination to do the same, but I’m happy I invested the time. I think my pages look better and the newer ones have received higher votes than my initial attempts. Positive feedback is always nice!
I learned plenty from the people who voted on my pages. Rather than whine about a low vote, I used that input to improve my work. And you know what? After I did, I noticed other members were incorporating some of my design concepts into their contributions. Not only is that the highest form of flattery, but proof that the time I’d spent improving my work was influencing others to do the same. I choose to believe SummitPost has improved – at least a little – because I was willing to invest some time to make my contributions better.
Note: There is a lot of HTML knowledge spread among the members of this site, and most of them will freely share. All you have to do is ask. There are also several “how to” HTML articles (on this site) available for whose who wish to learn more. And, several excellent internet sites exist that are dedicated to nothing but HTML.
What I Learned About Page Design from SummitPostWhat we all receive from the contributions of another member is readily available information. I can think of no other (single) place where so much information about mountains and climbing has been gathered. I, for one, am very grateful.
Think about it. As a culture we have an ever-shortening attention span – Email, instant messaging, texting. So when you design a page, do you expect people to wade through screen after screen of text? Or do you understand that presenting text (information) in short segments broken up by pictures and the judicious use of white space forces (allows) a person to focus only for short periods? Believe me, each of us retains information more readily when it’s presented in shorter, more manageable segments.
Benefiting from SummitPost
I know some of you think that’s awful and believe there should be fewer guidebooks, not more. I disagree.
I don’t believe in trying to keep wild places secret. That’s been tried. And look what happened. Our forests, deserts, rivers, streams, lakes, and wild places have been exploited by those seeking a quick profit.
I believe unscrupulous mining companies would not have been able to exploit areas of the west if the general population already had a vested interest (an emotional connection) in those same lands. Nor would logging companies have been able to clear-cut vast areas of pristine forest if more people had realized how that activity was going to affect the water they were using for their crops, their livestock, or drinking.
Rather than trying to keep the earth's mountains and wild lands a secret from the general population we should be doing all we can to introduce new people to the joys of being in the wilderness and climbing mountains. I honestly believe that only when people experience mountains and wilderness firsthand will they feel “vested.” Only then is there any chance they will make an effort to protect the remaining wild areas of our planet from exploitation by those whose only interest is the extraction of natural resources for money.
Because I firmly believe this, one of my goals in writing a guidebook for the Bitterroot Mountains, was to encourage beginning and intermediate hikers and climbers to get off trail and on summits. I want more people to experience the same joy I feel when I’m on top of a mountain - to have an emotional connection to the Bitterroots. I'm doing my bit to help ensure the survival of the mountains I love.
While writing the book, I incorporated many things I learned while making contributions to SummitPost. Of course, the book includes good directions – I climbed every route at least once, many multiple times – maps, and route profiles. Not wanting to bore people to death, I incorporated lots of pictures (all full-color), plenty of white space, and interspersed the informational text with tidbits about climbing, local history, and yes, even a few life-lessons.