Thursday, January 26, 2006

More Members and More Messages (Future of TC Discussion)

The Cauldron's message board has grown considerably since we moved off of Delphiforums. We are now averaging over 10,000 messages a month -- we used to think we were really busy when we hit 5000 messages a month.

We used to average 150-200 messages a day. A 300+ message day used to be a rare busy day. Now they are the norm and we have had several 500+ post days in the last three months. At least once we had over 600 messages in a day. This has changed the way the board feels to many of our long time members.

The hosts and those long time members (staff and otherwise) we've spoken to have mostly been overwhelmed by the high message counts and, at times, upset at how many interesting threads seem to be getting derailed (accidentally or on purpose) by some of our many new members. Don't get me wrong, most of our new members do fine, but a certain percentage don't and as you get greater numbers of new member, the number who do not fit well grows.

To make the problem worse, while TC's software and organization has a lot going for it, it also causes (or makes worse) some of our problems. Here are some of the drawbacks of The Cauldron's forum software with respect to these issues that we have noticed:

* Overwhelming appearance: if there are 500 new messages on a drill down board, you only see a few at a time (those in the folder you are in), on a Delphi-style board, you see them all -- all the time unless you go to great lengths to avoid this.

* No easy way to organize the board: Drill down boards have categories which allow the grouping of related folders. Here folders just are -- and they move around on the list depending which has the newest messages.

* Folders don't have descriptions which makes it hard for new people to know where to post something. (Actually, folders here can have short descriptions -- you have to hover your mouse over a folder name to see them which isn't something anyone will think to do.)

* No way to easily limit new member's access. If new members only had post access to a few folders until they had posted a set number of posts (giving them time to learn the ropes a bit), fewer conversations would be derailed by strange comments. There's simply no way to do this on a Beehive Board either automatically (as you can on most drill down boards) or manually (as there is no way to list members by number of messages posted or even find out what day they joined the board).

The staff and some of our long time members have tried to think of ways to cure the problems we see within the limitations of our message board software, but haven't been able to come up with anything that isn't either very cliquish-looking or far too much work for staff to keep up with.

So, the question is, has the large number of posts impacted your usage of the board? For example, do you find yourself using the board differently, reading few threads, posting less (or more), etc. Has the higher number of serious threads we've had pushed off topic bothered you? Does the changing nature of the threads (a lower percentage the serious threads that have been our mainstay for years) bother you? Etc.

If you do see problems, what (if any) corrective action could we consider taking?

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