|Socializing Forums: Using Social Networks & Tools|
Why don't more forums do it?
Something I've been toying with for a while but haven't seen much action on is the integration of forums with various social networks, tagging systems, feed readers, etc.
Bloggers seem far more in tune with social tools than forum operators. It's pretty common to see a blog that has a trackback system, a set of buttons to add the feed to MyYahoo and a dozen other services, links to bookmarking/tagging and simlar systems (Digg, Furl, del.icio.us, etc.) under every post, etc.
Forums, by and large, seem to avoid off-site interactivity; if you want to read the forum, you'd better show up in person. Forget trackbacks - too easy to spam. And tags? Who need 'em... And while bloggers love to link to other blogs posting on the same topic, how many forums facilitate linkage to similar discussions on other forums?
Do you think forum operators are being shortsighted by not building in features like this? Have you tested any of these in your own forum(s) with good results?
This is actually a great idea! I have often thought it would be great to ask a question and be able to have results from many of the different forums I frequent on one page. Tags would enable this kind of interaction.
It would be great to integrat some sort of multi forum search, so when you do the search it agregates the results from as many forums as you want to include in the search.
I agree. I come across dozens of bloggers a day. I'd like to start my own for the very reason that their popularity has grown so much. In my space, for example, you can have your own personal blog, but it would be neat to create one particularly networked to large forums such as these..
I think there's a philosophical issue that drives this divide between forum operators and bloggers. Forum owners (me included) like to have threads that stand on their own, so that even if someone stumbles across them a few years later, the info is still complete. The more you integrate with other sites, or users post links to offsite information, the greater the chance is that the resources won't be available later.
good point rogerd
Microsoft has a research piece called wallop that seems like an attempt to meld a couple things, although it's debatable whether a forum is one of those things. You can submit an RSS feed from one or more of your existing blogs as feeds into wallop, or you can blog inside it, and comment, and share music and a few other things. It's interesting, but seems to me to lack that "secret sauce" that makes a social site take off. The flash programming is impressive, but the novelty of it wore off fast.
I use an RSS reader a lot to track certain species of forums, mainly where deals are posted. In one hobby, there's a community of posters who share info on coupons and offers of interest to the hobbyists. So RSS is a great way to track info that is very timely, and filter it down from niche-wide items to just the specific things I need to buy.
So if I'm in the market for a new (costly) power widget, I'd set up a persistent search on one or more of these type forums with my keywords, and let the community find my best deal for me.
Board software is inconsistent (to put it mildly) in how it handles RSS. vBulletin has decent support, but most vBulletin owners don't properly advertise the feeds in the head of their templates. That misses out on many of the interesting automagic possiblities. Other boards support RSS to varying degrees, and feeds may look wildly different, which adds to user frustration, slowing RSS adoption.
I've previously posted about the way Google desktop will auto-grab a feed if it's properly advertised on a page you visit. In a nutshell, if I go to a forum with a correctly-described feed (<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="foo" href="bar" />), Google desktop "web clips" panel will keep following that feed, without my doing anything.
I've wondered whether forum owners tend to see the feed traffic as undesirable. I can certainly understand that point of view. I see a decent proportion of requests coming from Google desktop users. It's not clear that they even *want* to see the requested page, but those fetches are costing me something. The jury's out on whether my RSS feeds provide "good results."
On the tag question, it seems to me that successful forums often coalesce around what would be a single tag, or tight cluster of them. So you're already dealing with a narrow sort of taxonomy, further classifying things can be more of a hindrance than a help at some point. That's from the perspective of the forum members though. Outsiders looking for specific info may benefit from having metadata, but it's not clear that would perform better than regular search that indexes the forum's post text.
linear's post gelled something I'd been trying to put words on.
If the most important aspects of a forum can be put into an RSS feed, why would anyone go there? Even in information-heavy forums like this one, if there isn't an element of community going on it's probably not going to last as a forum. In order for a forum to make sense, there has to be a reason for multiple people to come together in the same place and actually interact with each other. Chat rooms can do some of that, but what do you do about time zones when you have members all around the globe?
A lot of bloggers read each other's blogs and leave comments, and I know some people who've found a sense of community in that. But a forum is even more interactive.
I think everything has its place, and different kinds of sites meet different kinds of needs. The very filtering you can do with an RSS feed kind of goes against the whole idea of a forum, it seems to me. If it's just about gathering information, there are lots of ways to do that other than a forum. IMVHO, forums don't emphasize off-site interaction because their focus is on-site personal interaction. Otherwise, why be a forum instead of something else?
I suppose a lot of that fits in with the fact that forums usually aren't big money-makers, so in some way you have to have a personal stake in it that involves something other than money.
rogerd there are a number of websites which are monitoring a number of forums by X keyword which you can specify and once there is a thread with X keyword opened you got notified
Thats something similar to blog ping service but in general,blogs are much more social than forums
minor update to Linear's post. Wallop has been spun off into it's own independant company. Apparently Microsoft sees the value in these new models.....
Lots of good points. I'd say the key to sharing via feeds, etc., is to provide enough content to entice the reader to visit the forum and read the thread and/or post in it.
To some degree, forum feeds are an extension of what forums have done for years with email - they notify members of new topics and/or posts in areas of interest, and forum operators can often choose between providing full text info, just a title and a link, or something in between. Email is still heavily used for this, since essentially 100% of members have email, but the use of feed readers is growing rapidly. A plus is that members might be more receptive to adding feeds than signing up for email notifications.
I don't see much disadvantage to adding tools for social bookmarking (Digg it, etc.), other than the fact that you are adding yet more page clutter.
I believe email notification of replies is intentionally disabled by a lot of forum admins, because disabling it is perceived as improving the stickiness of the forum (users have to come back and see if anyone replied). RSS is likely to be perceived as a similar "way to read the content without visiting the page" mechanism, and disabled by those admins.
I think awareness of the Google desktop feature should make us rethink this position though. I use it, and it occasionally grabs my attention with a headline from a forum I just breezed through and may not belong to. That may be enough to pull me back for more reading, and possibly registering as a member.
So maybe a more optimal RSS strategy would be to offer different feeds tailored to members, non-members, and perhaps premium members:
non-members get a forum-wide feed that only has titles and post times, no post content. This has the benefit of updating frequently, increasing the likelyhood of catching eyeballs. The recipe for this for you vBers is:
members get the rss2 feeds that relate to the forums of interest. They joined, so for them we'll segregate out feeds down to the same topics as the individual boards. Memebrs have different centers of gravity, so let the feeds reflect that. Less frequent updates. The recipe here is:
note that's forumids. You can construct an aggregated feed URL like so:
That would follow three boards, which may reflect a logical group.
For clarity, and at the risk of repeating myself, you advertise these feed URLs by adding link elements to the head elements in your forum's templates. Using variables you can make the feed URLs change contextually with the forum. And you're not limited to one link element per head--you have to decide what makes the most sense for your users.
The other great use for RSS for forum admins is to consume it yourself--keeping your main site freshened with current forum topics is easy if you have an on-page widget to consume and display the feed your forum software already produces. Better RSS parsers cache too, to reduce the load on your forum's db. Set the cache expiry to reflect how fast your forum's pace is.
|I don't see much disadvantage to adding tools for social bookmarking (Digg it, etc.), other than the fact that you are adding yet more page clutter. |
I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who does this with a tracking script attached. How effective is adding these kind of things to pages really? Does it outweigh the clutter factor? I'd really appreciate data on this (since I'm too lazy to add tracking to mine).
|Forum owners (me included) like to have threads that stand on their own, so that even if someone stumbles across them a few years later, the info is still complete. |
I would add habit to philosophy (I'm an old timer), a blog looks like a messed up (navigation) community website with a new kind of forum. I sometimes gets lost in blogs, where forums almost always are organized in a website way (navigation like), has lesser intersite communication (no tags) and is developing in a "static" way (original post and foreward).
- just the way I'm thinking...
|I'd say the key to sharing via feeds, etc., is to provide enough content to entice the reader to visit the forum and read the thread and/or post in it. |
... yes, it's a good way of distribution and invitation.
|I use an RSS reader a lot to track certain species of forums. |
If you have a website with lots of content (and new content add'ed every day) with a forum and the site is on a community oriented niche subject (i.e. music and dance), how could a blog add value to users?
I had the same thought when I looked at my hobby
5000 member forum last week.
How can I increase revenues from my forum or at least increase signups/pageviews/links
... and indirectly grow my business?
My thoughts were the following. Why can't I offer the forum members their own URL, their own blog....essentially their own (My)Space.
The forum software companies really would do good if they ugrade their software. I bet that a lot of webmasters will upgrade their forums.
Joeller Vbulletin and Invisionboard has blog etc add ons
I've been looking at the Invision Board one. (I'm still dragging my feet over moving to a more advanced forum, but when I do it will probably be Invision Board.) Some of my regular site visitors already have blogs, and one of the nice features of the Invision Board add-on is that members can either start a new blog connected to your forum or can link to their already-established blog to make it show up in the "community" blog list so members can get there easily. Last time I looked, the add-on cost an extra $50.
The advantage I'd see to this is making the site more of a "one-stop shop" or a "destination site." Invision Board also has an add-on for individual member photo galleries, but I'm not so sure about using that. Especially with the niche I'm in, it would almost certainly lead to a lot of copyright infringement, and I've tried hard to this point to stay away from that.
Ulstrup, I must be an old-timer, too, because I have the same problem you do with blogs. I can never find what I'm looking for. Seems that if I don't keep up with a particular blog every day, I just get lost. Yep, I'm ready for the rocking chair. ;-)
A "difference in philosophies" may be an understatement. The extremists on the Web 2.0 / blog side want to open everything up. Have every bit of content microchunked and remixable.
The extremists on the old school forum side want to protect their territory. Maintain their community, and not lose members to competitors, and not have their content be copied.
I'm not sure how the whole thing is going to play out, but I think both sides could learn from each other.
I am a regular poster on a business forum, and give out legal information for a particular community. There is a blog, sort of, attached to the forum - a collection of news feeds.
The forum has the advantage that the community is defining the threads.
But that short term advantage is a long term disadvantage.
Could an update to date blog keep this knowledge current? I don't know, but I going to try an 8-10 month experiment and see.
I agree, lorenzinho2 - that comparison extends beyond forums to other kinds of websites, too. There are those that want to retain 100% control, and those that are willing to relinquish some control to gain new users, content, etc.
These are great points, and I have used a few of the ideas mentioned with great success but have found a few things from my users that may help.
Firstly, creating an "all in one" community is in theory excellent, however depending what your forum topic is there may be significant overlap with other "brand" social networking sites so the angle needs to have some sense of uniqueness.
In the case of creating a "my space" type feature for regular users of your forum - great, but you need to understand what your users want from your site and what they want from other social networking sites. The reason for this is to avoid asking users to put effort into duplicating the same stuff on more than one site - you don't want to lose out to the bigger brand.
Make use of your niche. By this I mean, sure "my space" type sites offer blogs, friends etc. But they are part of huge disconnected community - if yours is a niche offer basic "connecting" type services such as a blog - but for example closely link them together, feature them, make them accessible - bring them together better.
Regarding using techniques that blogs use such as rss, blog trackbacks etc - in my opinion at this time this is the realm of the tech people. The people that do this in the UK are not the paying market - they are clued up, computer/tech savvy - and in my experience (across more than a thousand blog sites) in the minority at this time. So, although this will surely be massive in the long term, implement social tools such as "shared guestbooks", "my forum posts", "my friends forum posts", "my pictures", "my friends pictures" etc. More people at this time connect with these things as it is simple - unless of course your forum is tech, which if so get implementing ALL the blog tools now!
great thread and dead on.
|My thoughts were the following. Why can't I offer the forum members their own URL, their own blog....essentially their own (My)Space. |
The forum software companies really would do good if they ugrade their software. I bet that a lot of webmasters will upgrade their forums.
these are available with some forum software (at least the one I use) either as part of the software or as mods. they have been are great and very popular additions. Forun stickiness and return visited SHOT UP immediately following the additions.
And I'm a broken record, but Korean internet community sites have successful utilized this type interaction and provide such tools on their sites for years before myspace even launched. (in fact, I still maintain myspace was inspired by such sites in korea, like cyworld).
So I coded an app, not too disimilar to desktop blogging apps, only instead, it works on boards. So, from a context-menu, it takes the selected text, URL and page-title, and pastes it (ready-formatted) into the forum you select (within the app), ready for adding any additional comments before posting.
As more and more boards are incorporating RSS (like here), I've also just added a feed-reader into it too.
(No, I'm not spamming or self-promoting 'cos this isn't available and no, it isn't built for, and is not capable of, spamming forums either :P ).
Forum-makers have been really slow on this and it's resulting in boards losing member-participation... in other words, the user-base is falling, or spending less time on forums.
I'm a mod + admin, of several boards. Posting new topics is a frustrating affair with too many fumbling steps necessary (or was at least!) to start a conversation whilst the idea is fresh in mind...
... Ya know how it is, you're at a site that triggers off thoughts/questions you want to talk about but then you're faced with the hassle of surfing to the correct forum, find the "Post new topic" button, load the page, flip-back to the "story" page, copy/paste, blah blah...
... by the time you've finished thinking about it, you decide it aint that important afterall!
I've noticed as more and more people start blogging, that blog-authors, must sometimes at least, be faced with a decision, 'Do I post this on the forum, or shall I post it to my own blog?'... These bloggers are members of your boards! Members that would have posted the subject in your forum before they became a blogger = Competition!
(This has led to an increase of posts in forums saying sommat like, '... blah blah blah... I wrote about this at my blog [link]...'.)
Forum-makers have missed a trick here. Blogs aren't as social as forum communities, yet blogs are easier to post-to (as the author), and read (as a user).
Though I coded the app primarily for personal use, I figured it might be also a good idea to offer it as a d/l to members of the boards I mod/admin to encourage user-contributions... a social web 2.0 forum tool, if you will.
But then one of the forum-makers changed stuff which, although easy enuff to fix, I'm not sure I want to be saddled with the obligation a user-base would entail... Again, with blogs having the xml-rpc standard, forum-makers are missing a trick, and slowly losing an entire class of end-users.
Good post Rogerd, about time someone brought it up.
Your app sounds interesting, TheWhippinpost. Do I understand that it is kind of similar to the common "blog this" applet available for WordPress et al that will grab the page info and launch a new post edit box in the blog software (except it's more of a "post this" function)?
What serves in place of the XML-RPC module that a blog tool would have? Are you saying you worte an API for boarrds that's compatible with one of the several blog tool APIs?
|Do I understand that it is kind of similar to the common "blog this" applet available for WordPress et al that will grab the page info and launch a new post edit box in the blog software (except it's more of a "post this" function)? |
Exactly... If I'm reading you right that is! (WRT: "post this" function!)
(That is; It doesn't post it immediately if that's what you meant - It presents the selected text (ready-quoted using BB code) for further editing or commentary first.).
So the app opens, you select the appropriate board; from another drop-down, select the correct forum for the topic. Text-box opens with the selected text and page URL (formatted as link with page-title as link-text) is pasted inside. Add your own title for the forum, and commentary etc... and go.
It's necessarily more complicated to set-up though because again, blogs have that xml-rpc API whilst forums have their own propriety systems. For this reason, it has to fetch each user-submitted forum's "new topic" page which it then has to parse and re-build etc... (Only done once when adding a new forum I should add). Obviously, each board has it's own naming-convention etc... so it doesn't support every board (it works here... at least it did before the recent changes, I'm not sure now - not gonna test it unless I have a genuine post to send!) and is obviously sensitive to any new changes the forum-makers may implement = user-hassle!
Like I say, I'm not here to spam this thing; just to make the point that, as a social tool, forum-makers are losing the battle - Blogs, and their tools, have essentially been created with the minimum of interface-layers and maximum connectivity... in real-time!
Bring back nntp I say! :p
that's true..anywayz, this post dates 6 yrs..so... lots of fings have bin happenin.
|that's true..anywayz, this post dates 6 yrs..so... lots of fings have bin happenin. |
OK, who gave falsehood the keys to the time machine?
|just to make the point that, as a social tool, forum-makers are losing the battle - Blogs, and their tools, have essentially been created with the minimum of interface-layers and maximum connectivity |
I've been playing around with a dual-purpose application for sometime which combines a forum with a blog. A little bit like a member profile page being in the shape of a blog, with any threads they've started (which they've hit a button to specify they want them to appear on their "blog") appearing in full and the corresponding thread on the forum getting "NOINDEX" stuffed into the header. Replies appear on the "blog" as comments.
You're right about the interface though. Forum software has got very dated by comparison. BBCode is a pain in the neck - WYSIWYG is very easy to do in JS. Most basic CMS's have some flavour of JS "toolbars" for setting fonts etc. There's no reason to my mind why you couldn't also do a "preview" in real-time. I mean why do we still have preview buttons on forums? All seems a little backward to me.
I agree that you need to make it easy for the poster.
Thought I'd add $.02, although that's probably overstating the worth of my comments... ;)
I'm actually in the process of writing my own forum code for a site I've run since '03. One of the main features is that visitors will be able to subscribe to feeds on just about everything in the site. I think that feeds/readers/etc have been used mostly by technophiles, but that's about to change. IE7 will have built in RSS support, which will likely explode the use of RSS. At least I think it will, been wrong before (anyone want to buy a beta tape player?). As a forum owner, I see it as a tool for reminding people about the forum. Hopefully with enough interest to come back to the site to add something to the conversation (and click on one of my ads or buy a tshirt/hat/sticker). I don't think it will short circuit you're traffic but have the opposite effect.
|BBCode is a pain in the neck - WYSIWYG is very easy to do in JS. |
I think bbcode has another function--insulating the site owner from malicious markup, even if it's just annoyance markup. As an example, bbcode enforces closing HTML elements when needed--you run into boards occasionally where user HTML is still allowed and you'll get a lot of noise from people complaining that a guy 50 posts up dropped the </b>.
The WYSIWYG in blog tools starts from a presumption that the markup author has an interest in the integrity of the page (it's her page), and won't be trying any XSS tricks.
That said, vB 3.5's WYSIWYG message editor interface is advanced. I don't like the way it works, myself.
|insulating the site owner from malicious markup |
You could still do that, you would just have the WYSIWYG editor output BBcode rather than HTML.
It just means the user can style using standard application type "select and style" rather than remembering stylecodes.
Additionally, they could see immediately what it will look like without having to do a preview.
To put it another way, you make it more application-like.