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Giant Threads: How Big is Too Big?



8:02 pm on Apr 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

These days, PHP and ASP forums make it easy to manage threads with hundreds or even thousands of posts - the long threads are displayed in multiple pages, with easy linkage to each page. Often, members can even set how many posts are displayed per page, giving them some control as they browse.

Even though super-long threads no longer cause browsers to hang or forum software to crash, I think there are still some real issues.

Usability. Often, these long threads develop into extended chat rooms, with individual subjects rising and fading away. An interesting topic buried in the middle of a 2000-post thread is hard to find even if you have an idea of where to look. Newcomers to the forum are unlikely to find it at all unless they spend a large amount of time reading the entire post.

Search Engine Indexing. This is actually a double issue. Internal site search engines may not be able to find or point to buried content as easily, although some do allow displaying search results in "post" rather than "thread" format. And for those who count on search engine traffic for their forum, it seems unlikely that these giant threads will be indexed as well as a number of smaller, more focused threads.

On the other hand, members often seem to love these giant threads, and seem disoriented if the admin shuts one down and continues it in a new thread.

So, do you have a rule of thumb for how big is TOO big? When do you draw the line and close a popular thread?


8:45 pm on Apr 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

In my forum, threads...regardless of whether they are active... drop off the main page after awhile. I give users the option of sorting the board by either newest thread on top or most-recently-posted-to thread on top. Obviously the "newest thread on top" approach will eventually push active threads off the first page, but I have the other sorting method also push threads off the page if there are enough new threads.

Yes, this can be somewhat disorienting. But once it's off the first page, it cools off quickly and new threads grow. I don't believe in one or two threads dominating for weeks on end.

I've considered building a "score" for each thread and sorting by that, and this score would take into account both newness and activeness. I haven't gotten to it, but basically a new thread would start out with a score = to that of the highest scoring thread + 1. Every time a thread gets a post, it's score increments by 1. Active, older threads would have to constantly battle it out with new threads to stay near the top of the page and eventually would die a natural, gradual death as newer, more vibrant threads grew.


12:20 am on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes i know what you mean...I started a thread not too long ago at a forum-it became so popular it was spanning 40 pages (10 posts each page)... that started to get annoying because to reach the very last post, you had to manually go through each page OR the only other way was to post something and then the forum would automatically take you to the last page your post is on.


2:08 pm on Apr 5, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

One criteria that I've used at times is to limit the number of pages to the number that can be displayed (at the default posts-per-page) without skipping any. E.g., if your forum will display 12 pages in the navigation area, limit it to 12.
Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Not Good:
Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 49

This seems logical both from a user and search engine standpoint, but I don't have any research basis for doing it this way.


9:54 pm on Apr 8, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I've been wondering about this - we've got 2 or 3 monsters on the forum with several hundred posts that have, as you say, become little chatrooms, usually centered around the problems of one member.

The trouble is, shutting any of them down would be a bit of a slap in the face for that user.

Perhaps contacting them directly might be a way to do it?


5:03 am on Apr 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

It's tricky - people get attached to these threads. If you put a closing post in the thread with a link to the continuation thread, though, the majority of members will be fine. Some will still be confused, though. I think they bookmark the thread and never realize that there's an entire forum out there.


1:09 pm on Apr 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I thought I'd relate one experience I had with a huge, long-running thread on a single topic. It was very popular, but got very long and also hard to follow as members carried on back & forth conversations as part of the big thread. I closed the thread, chopped it into a number of smaller segments, split a few of the latest sub-issues into separate threads, and put everything in a new subforum.

I got a few complaints from members who couldn't figure out where "their thread" went, and initially a restarted general thread drew most of the posts. As a few months went by, though, members took to the idea of their own forum and began starting topics focused on single issues. It's now a busy subforum and the leading resource in its narrow field.


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