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Forum fever

by mel starrs on April 23, 2008

in Fun

There’s a new sustainability forum over at Building (the brainchild of Phil aka zerochampion and Micheal aka Breezeblock). A guest post from Che Wall kicked off the proceedings and there is a flurry of activity since, no doubt helped by the inducement of a free iPod Touch for the first 50 posters.

Phil has asked for comments, so here are my thoughts.

From a practical viewpoint there are a couple of really good things about the forum, and a one really annoying one.

The main good point is also the annoying one, which is that RSS feeds are available for threads, but much like the government’s DCLG Discussion Forum any answers to the thread are not included.  They must both be using the same engine.  The only way to automatically get a thread’s answers is to put a reply yourself, which I suppose is one way to ensure a high participation of readers. You then get the thread replies by email.  As I have said many times, email should be reserved for actionable items, not passive items (like newsletters, for example).  So, kudos for having the RSS, but not quite a hit in my book. I realise I am in the minority in using RSS, so by no means a deal breaker for the majority of users.

What I do like is the fact I can add an avatar and my website to my profile.  A good tip I heard once for encouraging people to use avatars is to make the default someone no-one would want to be (Jeremy Clarkson might be appropriate for this particular forum…). I also like all the stats available, although the option of knowing how long each user has spent online feels a little ‘big brother’.

I found a very old draft post in which I was going to list what makes a good forum based on Kathy Sierra’s post “How to build a community, pt. 1”. Kathy’s is a good post and gives good tips on how to police the forum.  The basic premise is play nicely, and reward the users (Building win on that one straight away).  Kathy has 6 rules:

  1. Encourage newer users–especially those who’ve been active askers–to start trying to answer questions
    One way to help is by making sure that the moderators are not always the Ones Who Know All. Sometimes you have to hold back the experts to give others a chance to step in and give it a try.
  2. Give tips on how to answer questions. Post articles and tips on how to answer questions, which also helps people learn to communicate better. You can include tips on how to write articles, teach a tough topic, etc.Tell them it’s OK to guess a little, as long as they ADMIT they’re guessing
  3. Adopt a near-zero-tolerance “Be Nice” policy when people answer questions
    Don’t allow other participants (especially the more advanced users) to slam anyone’s answer. A lot of technical forums especially are extremely harsh, and have a culture where the regulars say things like, “If you think that, you have no business answering a question. In fact, you have no business even DREAMING about being a programmer. Better keep your paper hat day job, loser.”
  4. Teach and encourage the more advanced users (including moderators) how to correct a wrong answer while maintaining the original answerer’s dignity.
    And again, zero-tolerance for a**holes. All it takes is one jerk to stop someone from ever trying it again.
  5. Re-examine your reward/levels strategy for your community
    Is there a clear way for new users to move up the ranks? Are there achievable, meaningful “levels”?

I forsee the main stumbling block will be the competitive environment and culture that pervades the industry. Open source culture has a long way to go in the industry although developments such as this forum all help. There’s a post up there at the minute on water which is remarkably open and useful, but the poster was unsure of guidelines on pimping their own or other’s products.  Kathy’s post covers this – clear guidelines would be a great help.

So I’m impressed but have a few wishes:

  • full RSS feeds
  • clearer guidelines on posting especially regards products and companies
  • enticements for adding avatars and signatures etc

Good work guys.

 

  • http://www.zerochampion.com Phil Clark

    Hi Mel,

    Much appreciation for the feedback.
    You inspired a meeting on Friday with the team that has built this. The man who built it is looking into the RSS issue.
    We’ve adopted a build and they will follow approach to start with but I agree that there needs to be more explanation and welcome to the forum area. With that in mind I’m going to write an overall introduction and my colleague will write a guide to specific parts of the forum.
    The industry has a long way to go before open source becomes common practice. Just look at the OFT inquiry.

  • http://www.zerochampion.com Phil Clark

    Hi Mel,

    Much appreciation for the feedback.
    You inspired a meeting on Friday with the team that has built this. The man who built it is looking into the RSS issue.
    We’ve adopted a build and they will follow approach to start with but I agree that there needs to be more explanation and welcome to the forum area. With that in mind I’m going to write an overall introduction and my colleague will write a guide to specific parts of the forum.
    The industry has a long way to go before open source becomes common practice. Just look at the OFT inquiry.