I think software plays a role in this decision. If you have a lot of topics, having a "recent posts" or similar can help people keep up with what's going on. I'd never manually check in on a dozen different topics, but I can keep track of even more topics by watching a summary of recent activity. If I see a topic title that interests me, I'll jump in and check it out.
If your software lacks this feature, adding topics will tend to fragment the community a bit, IMO.
Interesting. Wouldn't the fragmentation also be dependent upon the topics and how similar/different they are?
For example if the forum was about vehicles, one major cat was about automobiles, another on motorcycles and another on prop airplanes; each one of those could have a wide variety of minor categories within them. Now I'm presuming that people interested in discussing cars are probably not overly interested in motorcycles or airplanes - mild interest perhaps - but they tend to have one primary interest and will by and large stay within that major category.
The "Recent Posts" feature is a good idea. My software doesn't have it but I believe I can add it pretty easily.
This probably varies with forum topics - we have really diverse topics here, for example, but many people read a lot of them because they are part of the basic theme. Rather than airplanes and motorcycles, for example, forums might be more likely to feature topics like "building ultralight airplanes" and "flying ultralight airplanes" - distinct topics, but with common readership.
|topics like "building ultralight airplanes" and "flying ultralight airplanes" - distinct topics, but with common readership. |
And I think that's where having too many topics will become cumbersome - too many similar topics under one theme.
There seems to me to be a magic number in there somewhere. Where there are enough diverse/tangential topics as to entice interest in the other forums but not so many that the theme is hopelessly divided up.
The number of topics is going to vary over time. Look at Webmaster World, where forums are added and deprecated as demand ebbs and flows.
I rather think that deciding the number of topics, and how to break them up, is an art not a science. IMHO it's a question of trying things out, seeing what happens - and, if the formula is a winner, don't hang on to it long after it ceases to work.
That having been said, it's probably a bad idea to start a message board up with too many topics. And this forum is probably a good example of how to go about expanding things, since it seems, from the large number of posts that have appeared in a very short time, that it's fulfilling pent-up demand. But there's probably an art in judging when there's a critical pent-up demand (which, judging by recent experience, I don't have - so I'll shut up here :().
.... as many as you need....
Not a throwaway line at all. Start with a few "core" topics (I generally use 5 or 7). See what sort of offshoots you need when threads tend to go off on increasing tangents.
A month is about enough time on a busy site to see what your 5 or 7 core topics need to expand to.... and then of course 6 months down the road you may find that some of the older ones aren't viable any more, so you prune those and add some others depending again on what tangential areas have developed.
A living forum is a wondrous thing. And it DOES live: some parts of it will exhibit entropy so fast you haven't even taken a deep breath since inception; other parts will exemplify such seriously rampant runaway growth that you CAN'T take a deep breath. Forums are one of the things the net has provided that define "fun". But it IS a balancing act - with no net below, and crocodiles with mouths open to snap if you fall....
Vkaryl's right about limiting the number initially - I think it's ideal if the visitor can see them all on the first screen. (Eventually, that may not be possible, of course.)
One other trend to watch in new forums is that the busiest topic seems to exert a gravitional pull that attracts random posts that belong in other topics or not in the forum at all. I think there's user psychology at work, like, "Gee, that other topic doesn't look very busy, maybe I'll post here and see if I get an answer." Moving threads to their proper topic (and letting the posters know where to find them) will help build the less popular topics and train your members, too.