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Discussion forums round one: CIBSE vs. DCLG

by Mel Starrs on September 28, 2006

in Blogging and social networks, Strategies & Consultations

I was mooching around the CIBSE discussion forums today, lamenting why they weren’t active and what could be done about it. There’s a few problems with the forum:

  1. There is a members only discussion forum, locked away behind your membership number and a password – not information I could readily remember. The general discussion forum does slightly better but not great (562 threads compared to 268 threads).
  2. The forum looks tired and there is no way to subscribe by email to any replies which might get posted to your thread. Users have to check back to see if anything has happened. This is a bit old school when it comes to the web today. Users expect information to be fed to them, rather than having to seek it out for themselves (push/pull). CIBSE would probably get more traffic by using simple measures like RSS so that users can be aware of site changes rather than having to check back and find nothing has happened and then stop looking. If you don’t have any means of letting people what has changed on your site AND you don’t change things often, people will stop coming back.
  3. Comments on the forum also lamenting the lack of community activity were met with a tongue in cheek comment: ‘Could it be, that Building Services engineers know what they are doing’. This I’m sure was made in jest, but there is a grain of truth to not wanting to share knowledge or to plead ignorance on topics. This is a cultural problem within the industry and will be slow to change. A case in point is the SBEM forum which has very few posts – I suspect because no-one wants to admit they are having difficulties.

Then I spotted the DCLG forum. It’s early days yet, but it seems to have all I would need from a forum. Users can read freely, but posting requires registration. Topics have been invited already – I don’t believe users can add their own – this should cut out frivoulous or nuisance topics, but as it is still very early doors. And my favourite thing is there – an RSS/XML feed for the forum which you can subscribe to without having to log in to the site to check what is being said. Email is not a good tool to keep track of discussion forums, especially when there are hundreds of comments going on. An RSS feed keeps the ‘stream’ in one place, rather than cluttering up your email inbox. Unfortunately the XML does not seem to work too well. Just the topics for discussion are available, rather than the comments. Much more useful would be both the topics and then a feed for each discussion to keep track of it.

The CIBSE website is in dire need of some TLC. Please can someone upgrade the discussion forums so they are a little more useful and then perhaps people can start using them. The idea of using a starter topic, like DCLG have done could stimulate discussion and perhaps meet the cultural issues I touched upon. Actively asking for people’s opinions may result in a better response than we see now.