Community management insight at ManagingCommunities.com
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Update: This was an April Fools’ Day joke.

I am deeply saddened to announce that online forums have died, as confirmed by areforumsdead.com. They passed away quietly in their sleep last night at an unknown age.

While it may be unclear when online forums were born, from the moment that people were able to discuss something with another human over the internet, it wasn’t long before they were having threaded discussions.

Online forums and the format of threaded discussion served as a cornerstone of the social internet and what would one day, many years later, come to be known as social media.

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random highway shots
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kdt.

Josh Barraza asked if I could write about merging two active online forums and the issues that can challenge such an idea. Thank you for the suggestion, Mr. Barraza.

Multiple forums can be merged. It doesn’t just have to be two. It can be more than that. But, for the sake of this article, to keep it simple, we’ll speak as if it is two forums that are merging into one, since that is the most common scenario.

When two forums are merged, the two separate databases are consolidated into one, meaning all members, posts and content will now constitute a single forum. If one forum had 400,000 posts and another had 300,000 – there is now one forum with 700,000 posts.

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Photo Album
Creative Commons License photo credit: KJGarbutt

Some community managers ponder deleting old, long inactive contributions, due to a lack of technical resources or a belief that those contributions somehow take away from what they are currently trying to accomplish.

This is something that smaller operations are more prone to do because they may be hitting the limits of their web hosting plan – the database is too big and it is hogging resources.

But, I believe that when you delete older contributions wholesale – not because they violated your guidelines or for a specific reason on an individual basis – you are damaging your community’s history and legacy. To remove them is to rob yourself and your members of the wonderful opportunity to look back and see where you came from. It is not unnatural for a long term member of a forum to look back at posts from years gone by and reminisce.

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Killer Queen
Creative Commons License photo credit: aussiegall

I know it is tough to look at things from a truly long term perspective, but you need to try.

I’ve now been directly managing online communities for 12 years. I’ve been involved with moderation of communities for probably 14. And I’ve been on the web for 17 years. A long term perspective doesn’t mean 3 years. It means more than that. Ideally, we’re talking decades.

Long term perspective doesn’t just mean looking backwards, either. It means looking back and looking forward. Not forward 6 months, not forward 2 years, but forward 10 years.

When someone says that a platform has died, most of the time, this just means that they lack the perspective. They are chasing the wrong things. Once in a long while, this statement is actually true, but in those cases, it is generally a particular website that is coming to an end, that has announced it’s closure, and not the idea of the tool in general.

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Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it.

In honor of the day, I thought that I would take a moment to talk about a few things that I am thankful for right now, as they pertain to managing an online community.

I have a lot to be thankful for, both professionally and personally and this is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. Just some things that popped into my head as I pondered the question, “what, related to what I do with online communities, am I thankful for right now?”

Online Community Management as a Maturing Industry

When I started, the Community Manager role didn’t really exist. 99% of the platforms, tools and software that are now available – were not available.

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Scott M. Fulton, II of ReadWriteWeb wrote earlier this week (care of my friend Jared W. Smith) about the debate in technology media circles about the value of device specs in tech reviews.

The discussion is centered around this question: when it comes to reviewing a device, just how important are the specs to a potential buyer?

Devices with good specs can have poor performance. Devices with seemingly inferior specs can perform better. And now, with some of the heavy lifting being offloaded to the web through cloud services and more, the specs inside of the box you are holding or looking at have, potentially, become less important.

One of the devices that has spurned this debate is Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet (which my parents gave me last night as a birthday gift). Many are billing it as the iPad’s first legitimate competitor. But, the reason they are doing that isn’t on specs. The iPad 2 is clearly superior in that metric. No, that claim is based on three things.

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With community efforts, sometimes there is this temptation to offer your members a lot of different touch points with which to enter some form of content.

Not only do we want forums, but we want sections for specific types of content, like reviews, formatted in a different way that fits reviews best. And we want deep user profiles and the ability to comment on profiles. And we want microinteractions, so that people can simply “like” a post without replying to it. Among other things.

These things can all be great, but they are only great if people are actually using them and that can be a challenge. It’s nice to have dedicated sections, for example, but if it having reviews be just forum threads means that there is actually activity, then that has major value.

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How Many Forums Should I Have?

Posted by Patrick on September 22nd, 2011 in Developing Your Community

Forums!
Creative Commons License photo credit: mightyohm

Steve Magruder asked: “Is it worthwhile to promote individual forums within a board, and make at least one very popular, even if the other forums don’t get as much attention?”

Thank you for the question, Mr. Magruder. This gives me an opportunity to dig into the topic of forum structure and how to select your individual forums and then I’ll come back around to the crux of the question.

There is an old, oft-repeated piece of advice that says that you should start with as few forums as possible at the start. This is a good guideline to follow. You should start with as few forums as possible while also having a reasonable structure that fits your community.

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ren asked: “What [do you] do when upgrading to new software causes a downturn in user engagement? How [do you] get it back?”

Thanks for the question, ren. For me, it relates to the general issue of change on communities and what you can do to make your changes more meaningful and widely accepted by your community. That is what I am going to cover in this article.

So that we stay focused, I am going to assume that you have given the change a lot of thought and have determined it to be worthwhile. If you have a staff, you have also asked for their feedback and improved the proposed change to a point where you are excited about it and are looking forward to rolling it out.

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I am one of the co-hosts on the SitePoint Podcast, a weekly podcast from SitePoint, one of the largest web development communities in the world.

Recently, I led a community management roundtable that spanned two episodes and featured Matthew Haughey, creator of MetaFilter; Sarah Hawk, Community Manager for SitePoint and Venessa Paech, Lead Community Manager for Community Engine, former Community Manager for Lonely Planet and co-organizer of Swarm Sydney, an upcoming community management conference.

The idea for the roundtable (as well as the selection of the people that would join me) came from SitePoint Program Director Lisa Lang.

We discussed topics like the evolving community manager job title, why forums matter, integrating various social media platforms with your standalone community, the gender diversity of the profession, the danger of community metrics and more. You can listen to the shows and read the transcripts on SitePoint, published as episodes 119 and 121.