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Most revealing statistics about forum communities

     
10:55 am on Oct 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

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As a forum grows, and the number of registered members (lurkers and more active participants) becomes quite large, I'm finding it more difficult to draw out indicators of success in terms of creating a durable community, and not just a high traffic site. Bulk traffic stats tell us that a forum is being used, but now how and by whom. Of course, your sense of how the site is being used, and anecdotal feel for how relationships are building are important, but is it possible to look at this issue more analytically? Here are a few of the measures I've found useful, but am looking for more angles on the issue:

  • perecentage of registered users making a single post

  • monthly percentage growth rate (in terms of posts), by topic

  • ratio of posts by un/registered users

  • number of accounts with email notification activated

  • users logging in within the last month, having registered 1, 6 or 12 months ago.

  • PM traffic between new members and established members

    What indicators do you find useful?

  • 1:24 am on Oct 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    total number of mind blowing posts
    1:27 am on Oct 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    You know you've built a community when they all, on their own, make arrangements to meet each other in person.

    AlexMiles

    4:01 am on Oct 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    Or when they all get fed up with you and create a new forum by themselves :)
    5:06 am on Oct 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    How long it takes to get a solid answer to an on-topic question. Best metric I know of.
    10:22 am on Oct 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    The real world angle's a good one, and I agree there has to be an assessment of the quality of the posts too.

    It's hard enough to explain to sponsors/donors that your community is growing, and that it's worth supporting, unless you can kind a killer angle that's not so anecdotal and personalised ie. "mind-blowing posts".

    Guess it's not something others find important then.

    12:31 pm on Oct 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    You know you've built a community when they all, on their own, make arrangements to meet each other in person.
    Agreed, but that will happen faster for certain boards than others, for example ones with a regional focus, or particularly 'rosy' communities.

    I like to plot histograms, grouping members according to number of posts. A healthy community would give one that's not too skewed

    8:24 am on Nov 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    Nice idea. I wonder if it's possible to put together some kind of "demographic transition model" for forums?
    7:24 pm on Nov 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    I think linear's approach is a good measure of the quality of discussion in a forum. When quick answers are the norm, that means that the forum is well-trafficked, has a good range of expertise among its posting members, and that the members care about responding to new questions. That's not a very quantifiable measure, of course.

    Perhaps a statistician would look for unanswered posts more than 24 hours old as an indicator.

    10:58 am on Nov 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    I like it! Linear's suggestion feeds into many of the threads about "meet and greet" approaches to getting newer users involved. For statisticians, a follow up question would be to use some kind of unobtrusive rating system to determine whether the user posting the question felt it was answered to their satisfaction.
    4:31 pm on Nov 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    I've seen some boards with a "thank you" button. I don't know if that's a core feature or a mod, but I am sure that the forum operators who offer it are using that as a metric around the idea of getting your question answered.

    I've seen karma features/mods a lot, but the "thank you" button is a little more focused on "I got my answer" versus "I have a good feeling and I want to share." Whether it incorporates timestamps or not, I do not know.

    Now it's been suggested in this forum that sometimes the best approach to foster involvement isn't to give a neatly packaged answer, but to pull the questioner into the conversation with some followups, doling out the info/answers in tidbits. A bit like the following:

    Q: "Where can I buy gravity-fed widgets?"
    A1: "example.com and example.net both stock a variety of widgets."
    A2: "Could you tell us whether you need left-handed or right-handed widgets? there have been a lot of forum members reporting probelms getting left-handed widgets promptly from overseas. Have you considered miniature right-handed widgets?"

    With A2 you stand a better chance of building up your authority stance along the way too.

    7:59 pm on Nov 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    So a more refined metric could be double-edged: speed of response coupled with a qualitative "ta very much" element. That said, it's limited to a small range of situations that have a definite end-state ie. question answered. I guess rating of more multi-layered discussions is a whole different matter, moving more towards regular surveying of users to get more formal feedback.
    8:14 pm on Nov 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    Yeah, I stuggle with the idea that if you are too good at serving answers the questions, you get traffic that asks, gets answers, and leaves.

    A couple things I've tried:
    + you asked a project question, I'll suggest you add pics of the finished project to the gallery board
    + awarding custom titles for those who post completed projects.

    8:28 pm on Nov 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    How long members stay on your forum per session is a good one.
    8:59 pm on Nov 2, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    When forums with the same topic and using the same template as yours start popping up everywhere.
    12:46 am on Nov 3, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    Yes, I suppose when your stuff is worth nicking you've got it made! Session time is a good one too; not sure how to get that kind of info for my (DiscusWare) forum though.

    Another thought, less quantitive than my original list:

    Use Pathelizer to see how content is being viewed: this could help you identify "the beaten track" in your forum better, and add a new angle on the users that innovate and those that don't.

    2:05 pm on Nov 7, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    >>not sure how to get that kind of info for my (DiscusWare) forum though.

    A good third-party stats tracking program will give you what you need.

    Glad to see another Discusware user here. I don't have any active DW forums now, but it's an underrated tool that can be hacked to produce really good search engine performance.

    12:57 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

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    Yes, DiscusWare is a very powerful tool once you begin getting a grip on its ins and outs, and are prepared to put the time in. Initially, it seemed very barebones, but it's suprisingly nifty.