|Okay, so I'm getting close to launch|
Lot's of good advice here. Now I need a "just before you launch list"
Reminds me of my second (not our first) adventure in our motorhome - when I failed to re-read and follow the steps on the "just before you leave for a trip list" given to me by the prior owner. I forgot something. An experienced RVer will be able to guess what I forgot. I've learned many of us do the same thing as beginners. (Answer below.)
Okay, back on point.
Anyone have a "Countdown to Zero" list for issues to be addressed in the last stages before going live with a forum?
Software selected. Operational test. Thread topics outlined. Some posters at the ready. Admin rules in place. Anticipated problems/issues outlined and protocals established.
What did you or someone else forget to do in the last days before you went live?
What 'obvious thing did was overlooked' by someone in your forum or someone else's forum?
Okay - back to the RV . . .
Minimizing my embarassment . . . I forgot to close the latch on the refrigerator door :(. What followed was a veritable food explosion as I rounded my first corner at speed. Everything, on all shelves, went flying - including the pitcher of lemonade. "Way to go dad."
1) Test all functions and read all standard messages, etc. Register again for the forum, report a bad post, click on everything you can find. I've found that you can do a great job of customizing a forum only to discover that the member confirmation email (for example) is poorly worded and mentions only the software developer. (Think, "Welcome to AcmeForum, the best forum software in the world.") Click on things you'd never click on and make sure nothing is broken.
I'd just like to add that you should attempt to test for all errors as well. If you're using php you may want to turn error reporting off. Make sure all errors trigger the proper responses. Try hitting the Back button and resubmitting things. Click the submit button multiple times. Sit over someone who is barely computer literate and see how they navigate your forum. Mark down any changes that need to be made or things that should be added to your help section. Make sure the access you've given to your database doesn't include dropping tables or other disatrous actions. Make sure all special characters, especially those from Word, and quotes are all handled by your forms. I also fill out my forms with a name like John Doe-O'Brien. You'd be amazed, or maybe not, how many forms fail this test. I always try to get a few different people at different levels of experience to run the first few tests.
One more thing, make sure the URLS are exactly how you want them. It's more of a pain after pages are bookmarked and linked to and spidered. WebmasterWorld is smart in that it uses forum9 instead of foo in the URL. That way, if you change the name of forum 9 to "The Foo Bar", all the links still work.
I like chadmg's idea of watching newbies navigate your forum. I just completed a major launch and found myself tweaking things as some visitors had problems registering, posting, etc.
One conclusion: many people don't/won't read. Even if you have something in large type that says, "To post you must register", a significant number of visitors will contact you saying, "I can't post - what is the problem?" While there is no perfect solution, it does help to make things as obvious and simple as possible.
I've created documentation from time to time, and one method I've often used is to create an instruction set and then let a person who is totally techno-illiterate try it out. Inevitably, I find that I've skipped some steps or clarifications that were just too obvious to write down.
Particularly during launch, eliminate as much clutter as possible so that visitors can see the important stuff - where to read posts, how to register, and how to reply or create a new topic. Forum software is starting to look like office productivity software - a million bells & whistles. Some of these features may be useful, but I don't like presenting a new visitor with a hundred things to click on. "KISS" pays off at launch time...
If you use differing forum permissions, then it's best to test them using serveral different users. There is nothing worse than setting up a super-duper private forum in your community just to have random_surfer_001 able to access it! ;)
I use registered posting only (threads are visable to unregistered users, but they can't post) so my start up check list involves making sure: a) forums are visable, b)Anon can't post.
On forums I use user groups to give private access or special fuctions (eg moderation rights), I check using a throw away user account.
Test, test, and test again! The previous replies pretty much have it down, get people of varying technical ability to test. If you know some people in the target community, the better. Also try and get at least one experienced webmaster to take a look.
MG's suggestion of logging in under different conditions is a good one. Today's better forum software allows a lot of flexibility in setting up usergroup permissions, and it's easy to forget to check or uncheck a key variable. So, if you don't want your banned users chuckling over the comments in your mod forum, log in as a banned user and make sure they can see/do only what you want them to. Ditto for other groups.