Good Internet Advice

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A few days ago there was a thread started here about "Bad Advice on the Internet". I don’t care about the hows, whos, or whys, but unfortunately that thread quickly spiraled off topic--to the detriment of all. I’m just sad that the good things that were said are now lost. It’s an important topic to me because I began bonsai through the internet, not books or clubs like many others. Moreover, I think that a growing portion of the bonsai community will take up the passion in this way.

Let’s try this again. I would love to see this thread produce good advice on how to give good bonsai advice over the internet. So here I will start everything off with some text that I posted on the initial thread:

Bad advice is certainly in very large supply and variety. Just thought I would say that most people do mean well and there is no need to be too harsh here.

That being said, I have though of this topic many times, and have seen discouraging advice given often (ie "congratulations on getting your first bonsai! Now take it out of the pot, put it in the ground and forget about having any fun with your tree for at least a couple years"). I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is not the way to encourage a new person to enjoy and learn from their first tree. It's is great advice for growing powerful trunks, but bad advice for getting a new person learning and exited.

Ask ourselves, are we giving advice to feel important or to encourage and support people new to a hobby that all love?

Bad advice is not just the stuff that kills the trees... it's also the stuff that kills a new person's interest in the tree.

Michael
 

Graydon

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Good advice on giving good advice over the internet. Sounds confusing to me. I believe everyone who posts replies mean in their heart to give good advice - do they not? If their intentions are good and honorable then even if it is incorrect advice it was intended to be good.

We need to face that there are soooooooooooo many ways to do things, to grow things, to prune and wire that there may not be a single proper way to do anything. If there is no single way to do something how can there be black or white type advice on how to do something? It's all in that grey area.

I like your example of telling a newbie to pull the stick from the pot and put it in the ground for a few years. That is sound advice from a horticulture viewpoint. As you point out it will grow a better trunk and for their patience they will be rewarded. To me it is good advice. I wish that point reinforced when I started bonsai. If that single bit of advice kills their desire for bonsai faster than they would kill the tree due to anything else then perhaps they need to find a new hobby. Or perhaps they need to become self motivated and read some books, attend shows and local club meetings and do something besides looking for help on a site on the internet that (in part) offers advice on bonsai.

Sites like this are not here solely to answer questions like the one being discussed on the other thread. It's been made crystal clear in the past that the majority of the contributing members here want not much to do with that type activity. I think we all crave more advanced discussions on bonsai.

Sorry if I sound negative but I simply do not believe in coddling people along. I'm not here to encourage or excite them about bonsai. I'm not part of a pep squad nor offer hugs but if they have a question or an issue I will gladly see if I can offer advice. The advice I give will be to the best of my knowledge correct.
 

buddhamonk

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Maybe some people post bad advice so that their bonsai look better than the rest of us :D
 
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I spent a lot of time answering n00b questions in the past, but when I began learning advanced techniques and working on more advanced trees, that was what I found more exciting to pass along. I have given beginner's bonsai classes in the past, and while I enjoyed the process and made some friends along the way, it is ultimately unsatisfying to answer the same questions time and time again. This is one reason more advanced practitioners tend to move on. Unless you can develop an ongoing relationship with someone and help them advance, it becomes an exercise in futility. I will leave that kind of thing to the folks who still enjoy it.
 

Boondock

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I would like to be able to provide good advice. But I am only a novice myself. Part of the problem is, that in order for a person to give proper advice, they are required to have attained a certain level of experience (and knowledge).

You cannot expect a person to be interested in bonsai for one year or so, to have all the answers. 1 or 2 years of interest, depending on the number or trees, species, and other aspects, is not enough for a person to be considered a master or an expert.

In the academic world (high school, college, post grad), students are asked to research and write "papers" from the first day of class. The papers may have excellent structure and content, but is the student really a "master"? No. (Well maybe a doctoral thesis could be considered "masterly")

I see this frequently. People respond to a thread, or write an article or essay, way before they have the requisite experience. You can usually tell this type of response. It's basically a regurgitation of facts, info and data found on websites (or maybe books). The phase "In my experience" seldom shows up. Or, I had a tree like that with a similar problems. Because, these people are novices without trees. (or NWOT). These NWOTS are only a small part of the problem, and usually the people who have the talent, experience and knowledge, sort things out rather quickly.

The times that I have posted a thread asking for help, I received nothing but top-notch advice. I have seen novices getting smart@$$ answers, and a couple times, they were belittled because of their spelling, grammer and writing style.
 

Tachigi

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I would like to be able to provide good advice. But I am only a novice myself. Part of the problem is, that in order for a person to give proper advice, they are required to have attained a certain level of experience (and knowledge).
Boondock, I understand what your saying but don't agree with all of it. As everyday passes while a person is participating in this passion they acquire knowledge. So even a 1 year newbie as the ability to pass on advice, limited as it maybe. Then the second year comes and that advice expands a little more. I see no reason a rookie can't pass on knowledge that is founded in what that person has observed and/or learned from a credible source. As long as embellishments and assumptions are not part of that advice, which unfortunately can be a fine line to walk. A newbie will benefit from passing on what they have learned, which will reinforce what has been taught to them. It is the job of the advice taker to try and determine if its hot air or spot on, again not an easy task. Perhaps if the noobs did this, then the old guard wouldn't feel so put out by redundant questions;)
 

Boondock

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Tachigi,

After reading your response, I took time to reflect on my own life. While in the military, I was promoted to the position of "flight instructor" very early in my career. At that time, I was young and had attained the base knowledge and could pass information and knowledge along. But I could not pass on experience, because I did not have much (at that time)

So, I agree with you. It is possible for a 1 or 2 years novice to respond to questions. I frequently find questions that I, more than likely, could answer, and occasionally do.
 

Vance Wood

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A few days ago there was a thread started here about "Bad Advice on the Internet". I don’t care about the hows, whos, or whys, but unfortunately that thread quickly spiraled off topic--to the detriment of all. I’m just sad that the good things that were said are now lost. It’s an important topic to me because I began bonsai through the internet, not books or clubs like many others. Moreover, I think that a growing portion of the bonsai community will take up the passion in this way.

Let’s try this again. I would love to see this thread produce good advice on how to give good bonsai advice over the internet. So here I will start everything off with some text that I posted on the initial thread:

Bad advice is certainly in very large supply and variety. Just thought I would say that most people do mean well and there is no need to be too harsh here.

That being said, I have though of this topic many times, and have seen discouraging advice given often (ie "congratulations on getting your first bonsai! Now take it out of the pot, put it in the ground and forget about having any fun with your tree for at least a couple years"). I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is not the way to encourage a new person to enjoy and learn from their first tree. It's is great advice for growing powerful trunks, but bad advice for getting a new person learning and exited.

Ask ourselves, are we giving advice to feel important or to encourage and support people new to a hobby that all love?

Bad advice is not just the stuff that kills the trees... it's also the stuff that kills a new person's interest in the tree.

Michael
SOOOOOOO lie to them, tell them their tree is wonderful, special and a master piece in the making----in maybe two-hundred years. That seems to be the only option when the truth seems to be something a great many seem to think is destructive and self defeating.
 

Ashbarns

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What a wonderful opportunity for those with a fair bit of experience to set a good example to the novice. I freely admit I was a 'Mr. get that stick in the ground' type of guy until I recalled when I started with my first tree. Couldn't wait to get it into a bonsai pot and was encouraged to do so by my mentor. He knew full well by the time I reached my third tree I would look back to the first one and agree that it wasn't that great after all. It then was put into a grow bed. This cycle progressed with better stock and more reflection on earlier trees.

My point is that the novice should be encouraged to get those early desires out of their system to advance in this pursuit. As they get more and better stock to work with they will progress and ask and seek better answers. We should have the responsibility of nurturing and encouraging the novice whilst being honest and frank in our dealings with them.

Ash
 

agraham

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Graydon said...."Sites like this are not here solely to answer questions like the one being discussed on the other thread. It's been made crystal clear in the past that the majority of the contributing members here want not much to do with that type activity. I think we all crave more advanced discussions on bonsai.

Sorry if I sound negative but I simply do not believe in coddling people along. I'm not here to encourage or excite them about bonsai. I'm not part of a pep squad nor offer hugs but if they have a question or an issue I will gladly see if I can offer advice. The advice I give will be to the best of my knowledge correct."

Graydon,

I agree.I think you are talking about the difference between a bonsai club and a bonsai study group.One is to promote and encourage...and learn a little.The other is useful to advance beyond basic knowledge.But,the ground rules have to be set early and enforced.Since we don't know where this particular site is headed,I hope Bnut will allow me to use other sites as examples.

Btalk...club
Kob.....study group
AoB....coffee house discussion

So,if you don't want to see beginners ask basic questions...you probably won't participate as much at bT.
If you want to see galleries of demos and such...you might want to visit KoB.
If you want to see a lot of excellent trees and discuss the meaning of art,etc.....AoB is your place.
Fortunately...all of these and others are available to all of us.Depending on what we want or even what our mood is at any given time.

It'd be nice if Bnut bacame a different option.Something like you imagine.More like a study group with a little more active discussion than KoB.A group of poeple with likeminded goals and respect for each other.But then Bnut needs to moderate ruthlessly or be very selective about who he lets post.I'm not sure if that is his purpose for this site.I would welcome it if it was....ofcourse I might not be one of the selected ones.


Vance said..."SOOOOOOO lie to them, tell them their tree is wonderful, special and a master piece in the making----in maybe two-hundred years. That seems to be the only option when the truth seems to be something a great many seem to think is destructive and self defeating."

Vance,

I don't think anyone needs to lie to them.But,I don't think they should be humiliated either.In a one on one situation perhaps you can be more blunt.On the internet where things we say are often taken wrong,misinterpreted and difficult to correct,it may be more productive to be subtle.How hard is it to compliment someone on a good start and then suggest they get another one to bulk up while they practice and enjoy their little tree(whether it looks like a tree or not:eek: )?

I think the advice to "put it in the ground for a few years" is good advice often given in a less than good way.

I've grown bonsai for a long time.As have you.I'd welcome any comment you had on any of my trees.Good or bad.But the fact that I am experienced lets me know that my trees are not where I want them to be.I'm probably less proud of my trees than the guy who just bought an s-shaped ficus at home depot is of his.Why belittle and dampen that enthusiasm when they have nothing else to fall back to.

Let's face it,Whether we like it or not.Bonsai,for most people,is going to be a hobby,not an all consuming passion.Just like any other art form;there will be a lot of people dabbling and enjoying themselves.Not really producing much in the way of great art,but enjoying themselves anyway.

Again,we seem to have gotten a little off track;trying to use a specific example of advice to discuss good and bad advice,when we can't even agree whether said advice is good or bad.:D I guess everything is not so black and white,nice and tidy as we would wish.

andy
 
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onlyrey

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I like this thread. I hate the "take your tree and plant it on the ground for a few years" too. It is a shocker for people attempting to enter the world of bonsai, and I am sure it discourages many. This type of "advice" while might be "right" in some cases, is not the most productive one and is usually made by people who don't know much in my mind. In many cases, this kind of critic goes as far as downplaying the attributes that the new person's tree has just acquired.

However, I like very much the threads where a new amateur at bonsai like myself answers a question from a very new person, and this "answer" or "misguided advice" is later corrected by a more advanced bonsaist and teaches both the person asking the question and the amateur trying to answer it; in this case, it becomes a learning experience in at least two different levels.
 

Bonsai Nut

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Here are some general (self-created) guidelines for giving good advice on the Internet:

#1: Know your audience. Who are you giving advice to? What is their familiarity with the subject matter? How capable are they of following your advice? How simple or complex should your instructions be?

#2: Know your level of expertise. Make sure you differentiate between fact and assumption. Try to keep your comments to actual experience versus hearsay. In cases where you provide assumptions or opinions, clearly label them as such.

#3: Understand the advice being asked for. If someone's tree is dying and they ask help to save it, don't overshoot and provide them the advice necessary to turn their tree into a show-winning bonsai.

#4: Be humble and non-confrontational. No one knows everything, so don't act like you do.

#5: Provide examples, photos, links, etc when appropriate. With the advent of the Internet, it is very easy to provide additional information. A detailed explanation, with resource links, is often refered back to, and becomes part of the knowledge base of the Internet.

#6: Don't feel like you have to respond to everything. Respond to those subjects that interest you. You will give better information, and probably spend more time doing so. Don't respond if you only feel like giving a one or two word answer (unless the subject clearly warrants it.)
 

agraham

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Hey BNut...wait a minute here.Here we were,struggling along ....and you make it an open book test and provide the answer!:) I couldn't agree with your views anymore than if I had mistyped tham with my own fat fingers.

andy
 
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#1: Know your audience. Who are you giving advice to? What is their familiarity with the subject matter? How capable are they of following your advice? How simple or complex should your instructions be?

#2: Know your level of expertise. Make sure you differentiate between fact and assumption. Try to keep your comments to actual experience versus hearsay. In cases where you provide assumptions or opinions, clearly label them as such.

#3: Understand the advice being asked for. If someone's tree is dying and they ask help to save it, don't overshoot and provide them the advice necessary to turn their tree into a show-winning bonsai.

#4: Be humble and non-confrontational. No one knows everything, so don't act like you do.

#5: Provide examples, photos, links, etc when appropriate. With the advent of the Internet, it is very easy to provide additional information. A detailed explanation, with resource links, is often refered back to, and becomes part of the knowledge base of the Internet.

#6: Don't feel like you have to respond to everything. Respond to those subjects that interest you. You will give better information, and probably spend more time doing so. Don't respond if you only feel like giving a one or two word answer (unless the subject clearly warrants it.)
Wow. Thank you for such a concise and moderate answer. All of these are fantastic suggestions that would be well heeded by anyone offering advice on the internet.
 

Boondock

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When possible, I use my strengths in Photoshop to help answer questions. I think "BN's 6 rules" is right on the money, and rule 7 should be...

#7. Know your own strengths and weaknesses.


Here is an image I made in Photoshop that I posted on another forum (Bonsaisite) to illustrate a "truckchop", and another I posted trying to explain how to pluck pines needles.
 

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Vance Wood

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I like this thread. I hate the "take your tree and plant it on the ground for a few years" too. It is a shocker for people attempting to enter the world of bonsai, and I am sure it discourages many. This type of "advice" while might be "right" in some cases, is not the most productive one and is usually made by people who don't know much in my mind. In many cases, this kind of critic goes as far as downplaying the attributes that the new person's tree has just acquired.

However, I like very much the threads where a new amateur at bonsai like myself answers a question from a very new person, and this "answer" or "misguided advice" is later corrected by a more advanced bonsaist and teaches both the person asking the question and the amateur trying to answer it; in this case, it becomes a learning experience in at least two different levels.
OK, lets analyze your statement "I hate the take your tree and plant it on (in?) the ground for a few years. When someone comes up with a literal stick in a pot, without a single branch, what do you tell them? Put it in a larger pot and let it grow? Is that not a kin to planting it in the ground except it is not as fast, they will have more years to become disappointed? Or----Wire the tree and put some bends in the trunk and watch it grow? Or---It is a wonderful tree worthy of Masahiko Kimura (who ever he is) in a couple of years you ought to be proud of selecting it? Or--it's a POS, toss it out and start over? There is no way of telling them the truth----without telling them the truth. Why should this be such a bad thing. I also think it is unfair of you to characterize this kind of advise as being rude, mean and nasty, a personal attack on the newbie. I have never seen anyone who has advised one of these individuals subscribe to this kind of treatment. I wish someone had told me the truth years ago, it could have saved me a number of years more than I care to admit.
 

buddhamonk

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hmm... that means taking my "stick in a pot" to Walter Pall (whoever he is) workshop in July is out of the question...
I was so looking forward to it... :(
 

grouper52

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That's really great advice, BNut. And yet, the people reading it here are not really the ones facing the vast majority of newby questions. I belong also to one of the other forums, the one I believe is most heavily populated by newbies, and, quite frankly, there are very few experienced bonsai folks left there at all anymore. We still get occasional cameo appearances from some of the real experts, but very infrequently, and almost never to help the newbies. They are left to non-experts like me who have at least some experience, or else they get their advice from other newbies, and neither is an ideal situation. We do what we can.

While I am enjoying my stay here, and for the most part the people and the help here, it has occured to me that it may be a bit disingenuous for people who seldom get into the fray with the newbies to start criticisizing and laying ground rules for those of us who still do.

grouper52
 
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It's not ground rules, grouper. They were suggestions, and suggestions that we can all certainly benefit from. There is only so much that one person can do, and I have decided to spend my time working with more advanced techniques. Add to that the fact that I rarely wade in on a species I have no personal experience with, a personal guideline I wish more people would follow. But hey, it's just my opinion.
 

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