|Forum Features vs. Speed and Simplicity|
Software tradeoffs for building community
The latest forum software is laden with features that are supposed to help community building. The home page may include a personalized welcome, a list of users who are online, a list of members who have a birthday, and lots of info about each forum - not just the name and description, but the last post, who made it, the moderator, and various forum statistics. The thread pages can tell you who's viewing the thread, and each post in the thread may have a dozen different links - six or seven ways to contact the member (private message, e-mail, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, etc.), various post functions, profile links, etc. And don't forget avatars and signatures, member reputations and thread ratings, etc., etc.
These features are supposed to build community - they let members express their individuality, foster contact between members, and in general provide members with lots of exposure. Of course, there's often a performance price to pay. The pages can be very heavy, with the message content comprising well under half the page content. Furthermore, since many of these operations involve database queries, server performance can slow page delivery as well.
Contrast this with a "lean & mean" forum. (This forum is a good example of the latter, but let's NOT make this thread about WebmasterWorld!) A lean forum does without most of the bells & whistles, & focuses on the essentials - forums, topics, threads, posts, & members. If there is additional information available, it's not on the high volume pages; instead, you must find it in the user profiles or other special pages.
The advantage of the latter, of course, is performance. Pages load more quickly, and the server is less likely to get bogged down as volumes rise. It's hard to build community when your members are sitting watching pages load. Plus, there's a lot less distraction on each page - viewers are forced to focus on the content.
If you use multiple forums, how useful do you find the "community" features and where would you draw the line for optimum member satisfaction?
>>> how useful do you find the "community" features?
How useful? Useless for the most part. For me, anything beyond the minimum basics, user id and message, can go on the user profile. Who's online really annoys me.
|If you use multiple forums, how useful do you find the "community" features and where would you draw the line for optimum member satisfaction? |
Depends almost entirely on why you go to a forum. If you go seeking information all these community features are noise. If you seek "community" (which I don't) you may well find them very attractive.
Mohamed_E, I don't think most people go looking for community, rather, they find a forum (often while seeking information or answers) and become a "regular". Case in point: Mohamed_E, you have been a frequent and instructive contributor to the discussion here at WebmasterWorld, and are part of the community - whether or not that was your objective at the beginning.
A good community-building forum encourages visitors to post, and new posters to stick around. Lots of elements go into this, moderation and the tone of the forum being perhaps the most critical. The software itself (and the specific implementation) are important, too, both in first impressions and continued use. Some lean forums have been very successful, but there are also wildly popular forums with millions of posts that have every bell & whistle activated.
The problem with this question is that it's difficult to find a metric to determine whether those features help the forum to become successful. Would the successful forums that have all those bells and whistles have become so successful if they had opted for a leaner version?
Personally, the simpler the better. Community to me is just an added benefit to the knowledge I gain. If we were talking about Friendster or Orkut, I would be looking for community first. But then again, I don't use those services. I don't find myself looking at member profiles. Every once in a while I'll check to see if they have a website listed out of curiosity. And I rarely fill out my own information. The server strain and loading time with images and logos are a big annoyance of mine. The same goes for when people quote an entire post, large images included, and just add LOL. A majority of the forums out there are obviously not owned by someone with any usability knowledge IMHO. And I can hardly blame a BBS company who adds as many bells and whistles as they can to outdo the competition.
And depending on the programming, server load doesn't have to be that much worse for certain features. If you query the database for user information such as the number of posts, when they have joined, and whether they allow sticky mail, you can also grab all of their contact info in the same query. And then it's only a matter of IF statements on whether to display an IM icon or whatever. If the icon is cached, it's just the extra time to process the IF statement, and for the browser to display the icon. So certain bells and whistles don't have to be too much of a strain, if you determine them to be important. However, a lot of these things on certain BBS software DO take a strain on the server, sometimes even if you have them turned off.
I've been a forum "community member" in many fora over many years (since there began to BE such things, I guess). Most of the bells and whistles are fair useless to me. Sticky Mail is nice. Last post first is nicer (and BOY is THAT one hard to come by! - happens on MY phpBB fora, not much of anywhere else...) I like avatars and sigs within reason (now THEY build a sense of camraderie), I don't like ads and massively animated and/or flash graphics for no good reason (MEGA turn-offs).
I don't like "big brothering" much. I deal with and more or less understand it here because this is a fairly professional forum, but I SERIOUSLY resent it and consider that it interferes with "community" and interaction where the professionalism aspect has much less of a presence (or none at all in some cases). I don't like "smilies" etc. - in fact, I'm conditioned after all these years to not even see them (IMO they are NOT EVER an indicator of one's actual frame of mind while posting; actually they are a "cloaking device"....)
I don't like forced humor. I'm a fairly serious person (yes, I DO have a sense of humor, but it's WAAAAAAYYYYYY out in the farthest reaches of deep space.... and NO, it's not at all either "black humor" or "unmentionable/toilet humor"....) so in general when I post or reply, I don't expect or appreciate quasi-funny responses. There will be of course the occasional post in a "foo-ish" topic where the "funny" strikes the "bone", and that's okay with me.
I DO like respectfulness. And that's the single thing that I've appreciated here as opposed to other places I've been: everyone here tries to be respectful of others' posts/beliefs/questions/replies/puzzles/conundrums/difficulties.
Which is what MAKES this a great community. Thanks guys!
[Edit: typos *sigh*]
There's constant demands on my time so I'm not very social in my forum participation - except sometimes.
I form my opinions - and relationships - based upon the content of people's expressed thought, not their profile or sig, although I will check profiles for a little background. Like most people, I guess, I'm drawn to wit, humor, brains, expertise and a sense of interpersonal graciousness, which doesn't explain my presence at WW or does it?
I suspect there may be a gender difference. Women may be more . . social? Perhaps that is a function of the given forum/community? Homemaker moms looking for an outlet (a brain older than 3) likely look for more social forums. I find this interesting for the longer I live the more women convince me that women ar not quite so good at getting along with other women - at least this is what women have now told me for the 100th time.
Signature lines, smilies, personal icons - all the on page fluff I ignore. I hate a high noise to signal ratio. It's a big time waster.
I don't really care to know who's online at a given moment and, given the option, I opt to conceal my presence. If someone wants to reach me it's not that hard at all. My version of socializing is a PubConf or a meet-up for coffee if someone is 'in the neighborhood'.
I guess one has to tailor their software to their community. WW appears to be populated by information driven successful people - people who place a premium on their time, many of whom are successful enoough to be able to afford to travel to PubConfs where they also get to socialize. What was interesting about PubConf was the sense that you knew people, not from chatting, but from the intelligence, expertise, geniality, willingness to share and wit imbedded in their posts. Again, the interesting point being that WW may not appear to reflect a great deal of socializing (save the occassional private message) but clearly people are getting to know one another and to some degree are networking.