What factors do you take into account when joining a forum?

(AstonJ) #1

I was looking through the list of Discourse forums the other day, and wondered how I would choose between them had the topics of some been similar - because there is very little info about the community available (such as total number of users, number of threads, posts, user activity etc). How would I choose between a Discourse forum or one on the same topic running another forum app? Hence this thread.

What factors do you take into account when choosing a forum to register at? And do we need more of that information available at a glance on a Discourse forum so prospective users can make that decision more easily themselves? (Do we need to include even more appealing info - to go a step beyond what is currently the norm?)

(AstonJ) #2

Here’s some of the info I personally look at:

  • Size of forum - through number of sections. Does it have sections about areas of the topic that interest me? (Discourse has this covered)

  • How active are those sections? Usually seen by going to the cat/section. Discourse shows the latest threads which is great. (However, I think we can improve this - will come back to it later or post a thread about it).

  • How busy are the sections? See how many people are viewing them (again think this can be expanded to include all sorts of interesting data - so will prob add it to the thread for the previous point)

  • How active is the whole forum - by glancing through forum homepage and seeing which sections have had replies recently.

  • Size of forum - through total number of posts and threads.

  • Size of forum - through total number of members.

  • How active is the forum - who’s online list, and who logged in the last 24 hours (popular plug-in on most forum apps)

Ok that’s me for starters, will add more as and when I think of them. There are of course other factors such as reading through posts to see if I like the community, but the above are what I usually look at at a glance, to create a quick short list.

(There is also superfluous info I don’t look at or take into consideration, such as ‘most ever users online’)

(Jeff Atwood) #3

I wouldn’t join any forum unless I felt I had something I absolutely had to say with some urgency. So for the overwhelming majority of forums I encounter, I merely read passively. Reading should be optimal. That’s #1 with a bullet.

Speed is a big issue as well. So many forums are brutally slow, and I just don’t care to come back to sites that are making me wait so long between requests to even know if I care what’s going to come back on the page.

Finally, how interesting and unique and entertaining is the content? How sophisticated is the audience producing that content? I can read random people yelling at each other about Xbox vs Playstation or Israel vs Palestine on any corner of the Internet. The audience matters a lot. If it’s a really sophisticated audience that has grown up around a hideously terrible forum software, I’ll grin and bear it because I don’t have any choice, and you don’t either.

What type of forum user are you?
(AstonJ) #4

Thanks Jeff. So to summarise, the factors that are important to you are:

  • UX/Design - should be easy to read
  • Speed - must be fast
  • Community/content - to your taste

How would you decide which forum to join if say 10 were near enough equal? (All running Discourse of course!) Maybe you have a general health concern that you’d like to ask about - would you pick any? Or, perhaps without evening thinking about it too much, try to figure out which forum you’re most likely to get a quick reply and/or lots of responses? (How would you ascertain that quickly?) Or is there something else you’d look for? And how would you measure that criteria reasonably quickly?

(Adam Davis) #5

As Jeff stated, I wouldn’t join unless I was so drawn into a particular discussion that I felt I had to toss my two cents in, and then only if I’d read enough other topics to get the general flavor of the forum.

I wouldn’t worry too much about how active the forum in general was. If the particular topic I’m looking at has several posts from several people within the last few days, I consider it active and join in.

If I was out forum shopping, and I really did find 10 that all seemed so interesting that I wanted to participate, then I’d probably have already posted messages to all of them as I went looking around. At that point I’d only really go back to those that further pulled me in.

In other words it’s really the community response to me that I would then be looking for, and it’s not something that could be objectively measured. I don’t know that there’s a general health page that could encourage or discourage me from participating. I’ve played with forums large and small, active and inactive, and sometimes I’ve been dissatisfied with bigger active forums and satisfied with forums that only get a few posts a month. I’ve also had the opposite experience. It really does come down to who is responding and whether they have something of interest to me, and whether they find what I post interesting.

(AstonJ) #6

Ok thanks. So to summarise, the factors important to you are:

  • A thread that compels you to join to have your say, or
  • The community - must be too your taste

With regards to joining all and crossposting the same question, I think this is quite a common pattern too (although not quite to 10, think most people would post to a shortlist of 2 or 3) in that case, you said you’d only go back to those that pulled you in - shall we assume that is just on the basis of replies? Or do you mean other factors too? If so could you elaborate?

(Adam Davis) #7

tl;dr: I don’t know what makes a forum attractive to others, and I suspect I’m an outlier, but here’s a few thoughts on the subject that may help you further understand motivations for joining a forum.

Based on discussion flow. I think you may be thinking in terms of question/answer and help forums, but I’m tending toward simple community forums.

I think the Q&A forums really should go away in favor of a knowledge exchange such as stack exchange, and I’ve only asked one question to a regular forum that I wasn’t already part of once in the last decade that I can recall. I still don’t see a swimming pool knowledge exchange, and salt water pools are still new enough that not everything is google-able.

But community forums typically build up around a shared interest. For instance a forum associated with a webcomic (http://forums.penny-arcade.com/), or an activity like prop-making (http://www.therpf.com/). These places do provide a lot of support for questions and answers, but the primary draw to them is the shared interest.

So, for me, I’m looking for forums where discussions are interesting. Interesting to me means it fulfills my curiosity and desire to learn, my desire to share knowledge, my need for approval, order, collecting, and power. Or at least these are the things (in no particular order) that I’ve identified motivate me to participate in a community.

It seems that you are approaching this more from a perspective of having a particular need fulfilled, and searching for a forum that fulfills it. It may be that one has a specific problem, such as being stuck on a level in a certain apparently frustrating game, or having problems with one’s vehicle, housing, or relationship, and one is seeking answers they can’t seem to get via searching. I don’t typically have that kind of need - It’s very rare that I can’t find what I’m looking for via google.

But it may be that the end result is the same. You look for a forum that fulfills a specific need - what makes you stick around?

More specifically, what makes you come back after the initial need is fulfilled?

For me, it’s whether the forum also fills other needs that I have. One of those, for most people, is the need to be wanted, so a good community might try to catch web surfers by providing a quick answer to first draw them in, then inviting them to participate further by asking them a question. But there are many other needs. Some forums have casual games that try to draw people in through trivial free time pleasures.

But for me it’s the people, the discussions, and whether I can satisfy my curiosity, share my arrogance knowledge, and match my level of involvement and discussion.

I don’t participate in the penny arcade forums because there’s way too much to keep up on. I can’t just sip from the firehose, but I can’t spend hours a day on something that is a free time activity for me either. Same with other super-communities such as reddit. Even though they might really fulfill my curiosity, not only is there a time/resource factor, but I don’t stand out, and that’s something I’ve found I desire to do in the communities I participate in online.

So don’t spend too much time looking at my response as definitive, but keep in mind that most people are motivated by a few things, and for me it’s those motivations listed that bring me back again and again to a particular forum.