I'm not entirely sure, but I've always thought that this site was more for casual discussions than an actual Academic forum. There are already many different sites where you can do that. Especially if it's part of a college course or a forum maintained by a professor (the forum at times won't be open to the public as here, I've been to one that was like that). Granted, the topics here are interesting but serious enough to warrant citations.
If you all really want to turn this site into something similar they have for online college courses (they have specific forum for discussions where you are require to post citations, construct good sentences, etc.), if this is what you all really want it to be, then I'm afraid it will turn off so many members and potential members.
There's not that much difference between what you can post and learn here than actual Academic group discussions. Relatively speaking, I mean some topics are too far out or too questionable to take serious. Unless we're talking about seminar style on the graduate level, I really don't think most people are interested in that. Everyone's level of education is different and it would be a shame if a person's interest were to go away or be turn off if he/she can not be as articulate with words as well as others are on this site.
If this is truly the direction you all want to head towards, the level of activity will tremendously go down. That's my prediction, but I could be wrong.
I'm not saying CHF ought to be like an online college; but too many threads go nowhere because the participants just post what they think they know about a subject without really backing it up with anything substantial. You can see it in countless threads. It goes like this: 'A' claims X to be true. Then 'B' comes in and says that's wrong, it's really Y. Then A responds back. Then B. All this time, things are stated, but no sources are cited, and the longer it goes, the more the conversation either goes off track or devolves into a personal battle where each side turns to insults or other unhelpful comments. This is allowed to continue, sometimes with moderators participating. In these kinds of threads, no one learns anything new because everyone's opinion is set from the beginning. There's no real discourse.
One needn't be very knowledgeable or articulate to contribute. Speculation is not bad either, as long as it's presented as such. The problem I have arises when people state things in a factual way, then don't want to back up the argument when asked to, even if the statement isn't a controversial one. There are many visitors to the site and new members who don't know who the senior members are. Maybe these people are knowledgeable and only post things accepted by academia, but your average visitor isn't going to be able to separate the professors and amateur historians amongst us from the less knowledgeable members. That's why backing up your argument is important.
My impression of CHF is that it is intended to be a place for serious discussion. I think that because of things like this:
"As time passes by, CHF has progressively grown and developed into the main English-language portal on the internet for discussing chinese history. Today's CHF is a world-class intellectual (academic) community featuring high quality postings and contribution from many helpful members. Because of this reputation, it has attracted many Chinese history buffs from all over the world ranging from beginners to experts."
That's from the About Us
section on this forum. This is what new members are suggested to read, and the above quote is how CHF represents itself. So if CHF is meant to be more casual, then its mission statement ought to be altered to reflect that.
Again, from the About Us section:CHF functions essentially as an academic and educational site for learning, discussion, and research into chinese history, culture and language.
Our educational objectives are listed below:
1. To generate a strong interest among members from all over the world to learn chinese history, language and culture.
2. To enable members from all over the world to learn a wealth of knowledge accumulated over 5000 years of chinese history.
3. To provide an academic research environment for chinese history, culture and language.
4. To promote chinese history, culture and language worldwide through the internet
Now, just to be clear, I do think casual discussions have a place here. We ought to be able to talk about anything, but when the topic is about an historical event or figure, or whatever, where the facts, or truth is being sought, then our standards in getting as close to that truth as possible ought to be higher what they have been. If a person doesn't know the answer, there is no harm in saying so.
Anyway, that's just my opinion. I do like CHF, despite my complaints. Perhaps you're right that the activity may be lessened if CHF did enforce a more academic tone, but the activity is pretty low anyway. For me, it would be worth the experiment. Maybe we could re-attract former members, and still gain new ones. More importantly, maybe we could keep more of the members we have.