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When is it a good time to open a Forum/Board?


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I feel our web site could benefit from having a forum, but it was occurring to me that it might be best to first inaugurate the web site and see how it goes, maybe run a couple of polls from time to time to check how really visitors feel about having a forum. And take it from there. Of course the alternative would be simply to inaugurate the forum right after the web site, or at the same time, and hope that people will actually find the forum useful.Probably a second question steaming from the one above could be: How long is long enough to know whether people will ever find that forum useful or not?Thanks in advance guys SmileyJDL

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I've seen discussion boards succeed and fail due to a number of different reasons. The success mainly lies in the fact that there is a plain and simple demand, or natural fit. This board is successful because it is an extension to the purpose of its parent site. Having a place to ask questions seems natural to a place where tutorials and other education objectives are set.In general, a discussion is a community tool - it can be used to create a sense of community among an audience or it can be used to collaborate minds. I'm am member of another discussion board that is highly successful - it allows people from all over the world to discuss solutions for their car - a particular make and model in this case makes it particularly successful since it weeds out those would really should be there.The failures I've seen have been due to inaccurate interpretation of statistical data, incorrectly analyzing the results of a survey, plainly shooting in the dark or having a "feeling" that the audience wants, needs, or sees the value in having it.All my point is, is that you HAVE to listen to your audience. This would imply that even if you think you known them well enough, you still have to LISTEN to them. You have to figure out if what they say means exactly what they do or if it means exactly what they mean.If, for instance, you tel my about your audience, or just point me to your existing site I could argue a point for having a discussion board just as easily as I could argue against it. I could do that whether I knew your audience or not.All in all, you'll have to look to your audience. But realize they are going to look at you and wonder in what sense you are applying the application. For instance, if you are a web hosting company is the discussion board being used for support only is it to bring your customers together to give them a means of sharing their experiences to allow them to better utilize your environment while you are able to gauge their satisfaction.Define its purpose and then make sure the audience values that - if they do no understand the perceived value, they will never adopt its use.

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Thanks guys :)Skemcin, thank you kindly for your time and words. Based on your advice/explanation, I guess I'll wait and see how people react to the web site and maybe a couple of surveys/polls, and take it from there. If they are to see the value in our purpose then the forum has to work, because it's the kind of thing that can benefit greatly from the exchange of ideas and sense of community, support each other, etc. Sorry I'm so hush hush about it, but I have an understanding with a partner and well, you how these things are :) Btw, should the people want a forum, and it were to be somewhat busy, would this mean it could be a full time (8hrs) job?Have a good one now,JDL

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Btw, should the people want a forum, and it were to be somewhat busy, would this mean it could be a full time (8hrs) job?
Not necessarily, if the forum grows really big then you can delegate other trusted users to be moderators (like Skemcin) who live in different time zones and can moderate the board and answer queries while you are away, but do not necessarily have administrator priveledges over the board.
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Maintaining a discussion board can be broken down in to three main areas of focus:

  • application administration
  • user/member administration
  • discussion/topic moderation

I'm sure someone could figure out a way to break that down more or even state it from a different perspective - but this is how I see it.So, for taking care of business, it shouldn't be a full time (8 hrs.) a day job - but if it is then I certainly hope that the audience is somehow paying for the overhead (being it software support fees, a portion of membership dues, advertising that works, etc.).Anyway, application administration is more sporadic than periodical. This entails keeping up with updates to the discussion board application you decide to use. This means that you look at the updates and determine if they are necessary to your configuration (obviously security related ones are). understanding the discussion board traffic will help that role in understanding when the best time to bring the board off-line while these updates are done.User/Member administration can be done by the application manager or the discussion moderator - it all depends on the situation (trust). But here the person approves or sets up member accounts if needed. This role may be completely automated depending on your situation. Here, for instance, we have two validation processes - first the new registrant gets an email confirmation to reply to. Once that is done, the moderators/admins here get a message that the user has confirmed their email and we let you in. This reduces spamming greatly (if not at completely) which is an issue with a free forum. If yours is attached to support or membership fees then the process could be automated or streamlined - again understanding that you are not able to mention much opens this up to be a very high level overview.Discussion/Topic Moderation is likely going to be the task that requires the most overhead. Even if you have a controlled audience (members or paid accounts) you will find there is a general 90/10 rule - 10% of your audience causes 90% of your problems. Staying on top of that (especially at the beginning) is important - it sets a precedence and holds the population to that. Here, you might start out with your own staff jumping in and out of conversations regularly to deal with things. Later, you might recruit members of the community - but that greatly depends on your audience and how much politics are likely to become involved. Sometimes, the role might encompass facilitaing conversations. That meaning that when there are slow times, you might have someone pluck something out of a current event or corporate press release (both directly relating to the purpose of the discussion board) and post it to juice things up.The real question is do you want it to be an 8hr job? If you do then make a plan for it to be that way. If that means you are responsible for it but you don't want to be, then figure out how it could justify a new hire - or a rotating intern - I dunno. Again, you know your situation so you'll just have to be a little creative with your ideas.I've seen success and failures and both are due to good or bad market research or hunches (for better or worse).Good luck - let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.

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