Sunday, May 22, 2016

Facebook is Eating the (Model Railroad) World

"Facebook is Eating the World."

That was the headline in an article in Columbia Journalism Review that went viral earlier this year.

In it, author Emily Bell said that Facebook (and other forms of social media), hasn't just "swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security. The phone in our pocket is our portal to the world."

To that list I would add model railroading.

There was a time not so long ago when the only way to get model railroad information was in print: Magazines like Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, Canadian Railway Modeller and (the long departed) Model Railroading and Rail Model Journal. (Along with a few other specialty publications.)

Slowly, as the Internet took hold, the model railroad conversation began to move online to the Atlas Forum (now gone), Railroad Line Forums, Model Railroader’s various forums, Yahoo groups, and others.

Today, however, I think the conversation is moving to Facebook.

I recently joined Canadian Railway Modellers on Facebook. Being a member of the group is like being at a local hobby shop (remember those?) where people bring their questions, show off their modelling, and generally discuss the hobby.

When someone has a question about DCC, a certain kind of rolling stock, a trackplan, or anything else, they post it and—very quickly—there are answers.

Sometimes people just want to post photos of their layouts or their modelling for people to enjoy.

It’s quite unlike a printed magazine, which only comes out monthly (or bi-monthly), has limited space, and which requires people to write exhaustive how-to instructions or detailed text for a modelling or layout article.

(I  include Model Railroad Hobbyist in that list. Even though it's online, it operates like a print magazine on the Web.) 

It’s also easier than a blog, like this one, which needs to be regularly updated, fact-checked and have fresh content to be relevant to readers.

On Facebook, people just post stuff—details and schedules be darned.

As a former editor of a model railroad magazine, I can appreciate the benefits of this new way of sharing about the hobby.

Few people have the time, patience or skill to write a long article that is suitable for publication.

And only a few have the ability to take publication-ready photos.

Facebook is a great leveler. It doesn’t care about grammar or the quality of photos. People whose modelling would never be good enough for a model railroad publication can still post on Facebook and get lots of likes and encouragement.

Now, there are downsides to Facebook. It isn’t searchable, for one thing. A great photo or modelling tip can quickly disappear and be hard (or impossible) to find again.

Then there are a few people who like to post too much . . . enough said about that.

But in the main, it’s a boon for the hobby—although maybe not for model railroad publications. But that’s true for all print media, big or small.

What’s your experience with model railroading on Facebook?


  1. My experience has been mostly positive on Facebook (good to see you in the CRM group). My concerns are similar to yours - not searchable, some people post too much, and some people don't read what others have written before posting. In general it has been good.

  2. Content is searchable; each group has a search box top right. And you can use the main search box at the top of the Facebook page to search across all groups -- try "Atlas Newprint boxcar" for example. It works very well for me, but I am a member of a lot of groups.

  3. Facebook is not everything, but it is something, John. While it may not have devoured everything, it has eaten a lot of the crusts off the sandwiches and some of the filling.

    Forums where one line is posted, previous post snipped and long taglines including photos are no incentive to read each one-line post. The Yahoogroups, though moderated, became home to arguments and other incivility which were also gave no incentive to remain a member.

    Facebook is indeed a leveler. Photos are posted immediately, and fact-checking does indeed suffer, though not much worse than on Yahoogroups.

    Now, about Facebook and blogging....

  4. Thanks, Colin--I stand corrected on the searchability!