Looking for feedback: A new look at forum user experience

Max Fridman

Well-known member
Answer with personal opinions on a broad market approach, doesn't make sense.

The point is make something useful, improving what we have.
 

Jason

Well-known member
So, I went back and read through the articles, which I enjoyed! It's been awhile since I've had a hand in helping moderate forums, much less used them.

The universal create button and feeds list are pretty nice solutions. Just some quick initial thoughts...

- It's not immediately clear what "New" and "Latest activity" pertains to, as I'm also presented with options for threads/discussions, questions, social and forum list. Perhaps allow filtering by these types within these two feeds.

- That said, I'd consider shortening "Latest activity" to simply "New"

- If the idea is to make forums more appealing to someone who has never used one, then it may be worth rethinking the terminology used. For example, "post" is what most would probably consider a "discussion thread", likewise, replies to said thread would probably be considered "comments". Though, this may be too big a change for avid forum users.

- Expanding on the point above, discussion threads, polls, questions, etc. could all be considered a "post" in the most basic sense. Rather than present the user will a wall of choices within the universal create button, this could probably be simplified to just "Create Post". The UI could then guide the user in creating the appropriate post type (for an example of what I had in mind while typing this, try creating a post on reddit).
 

Mendalla

Well-known member
- Expanding on the point above, discussion threads, polls, questions, etc. could all be considered a "post" in the most basic sense. Rather than present the user will a wall of choices within the universal create button, this could probably be simplified to just "Create Post". The UI could then guide the user in creating the appropriate post type (for an example of what I had in mind while typing this, try creating a post on reddit).
Actually, I love that it asks what they want right out of the gate and see that as one of the features I definitely want to implement. They don't have to worry about selecting the correct thread type in the editor. They just say what they want to do and it puts them in the right spot. This basically assumes someone who knows nothing about Xenforo, just what they want to post. Your proposal, as far as I can tell, just switches back to the OOB Post Thread button which is kind of what TH is trying to get away from with this project.
 

CivilWarTalk

Active member
Most people don't utilize status updates because there's no real incentive to use them. Same with forum profiles. Most don't come on the forum and the first thing they do is pimp out the profile.

Forums make the person secondary or even third and the content is more front and center.
The problem is I think, that forums haven't been able to keep up with social media in terms of user experience. Existing forum profiles are practically useless and outdated. Even on forums with better designs, it still feels like an outdated forum experience. In general, you visit one forum and it's experience, you've pretty much visited most forums of the same software and their experience.
These are interesting points, and I’ve always taken every opportunity to improve our community sense of “we are all in this together, like a big, but strange family”.

I’m wondering if most forum-leaders, and I include myself here, are missing some things we could be doing to utilize what we already have better.

I’m thinking of a community challenge to update and create the best possible personal profile page, offering some prizes, like tshirts, and other gifts for members who create outstanding profile pages.

In our history based community I’m going to suggest several different sections for the “about” section… Favorite real world sites, personal ancestry, and a favorite quote from a post on the forum or a historic figure. I’ll encourage them to post a cover photo, and any other photos they would like in that section.

It might help some with community engagement and a member’s sense of place. If I run a contest like this annually, we may end up with a lot of engaging about pages…

Status updates? Well, I still don’t know how to promote those effectively, sorry, but I’ll think about it.
 

NetDoc

Active member
The best forums are FAQs. I do www.ScubaBoard.com and frankly, we're the biggest FAQ for diving that there is. It's how we differentiate from FB, Twitter, et al. Because we're a user-generated FAQ, we're searchable by the search engines. People find me because they want to know the best grocery store on Curacao or the difference between various regulators.

My problem is one of marketing. FB has killed off most of the diving forums out there because they've sucked all the commerce away. Dive-ops get all sorts of help on how to have a presence on FB, but not on forums, where they can actually be FOUND. I've tried to educate them, but it's tough when our trade association just ignores us.

What I want is an easier integration into ALL the social medias. We've got FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google but there's no nascent connection to TikTok, Instagram, and others. We need to do better in getting our users to be able to share our content elsewhere.

I was a dedicated Themehouse client, and they were great. I came to the same conclusion that I didn't need a skin to succeed. I needed FUN. I need to enable FUN for my users and make it so simple that I attract the dive-ops and manufacturers.
 

jauburn

Well-known member
What I want is an easier integration into ALL the social medias. We've got FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google but there's no nascent connection to TikTok, Instagram, and others. We need to do better in getting our users to be able to share our content elsewhere.

After many years I have concluded that integration into social media sites benefits mainly the social media sites, not you. All those people on FB, Twitter, Instagram, whatever? They ain't gonna come to you and build up your site. They might click "like" on those platforms, but that won't do you or your forum a damn bit of good--certainly not enough to make your efforts to lure them worthwhile.

Forum owners learned long ago about how to leverage the efforts of users/members to benefit the forum and, yes, the forum owners. Well, Facebook and others have now done the same thing to you. You will work your tail off to get your content onto their platforms, and guess what? They're smiling all the way to the bank. If they weren't, in a second they'd shut down your ability to post stuff on their platforms.

The game is over. They won. And why not? The social media companies recognized the value of what forum owners, collectively, were doing, and they threw at the effort what it needed: lots and lots of money and resources.

Forum owners today, by and large, are hobbyists. Nothing wrong with that. But don't expect much beyond what a hobby can provide.
 
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NetDoc

Active member
After many years I have concluded that integration into social media sites benefits mainly the social media sites, not you.
You really miss the point of the integration. It's not for me. It's never for me.

Dive-ops have a lot of social media hats they are wearing. Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, and yes, even FaceBook add to their workload to the point of being overwhelmed. They haven't figured out the Tom Sawyer approach to marketing: Letting everyone one ELSE paint your fence while you calmly sip your Mimosa. I want to be their easy button. Post on ScubaBoard ONCE and with a few simple clicks, you can share it to all those other platforms without having to redo all your work. And, they get their share of SEO love from having their company name, logo, and URL on my site. If they really listen, they'll convert their clients to being users with me as well, and then they can re-share their media to their heart's content and benefit even more from my far superior SEO.

But I really need a magic paintbrush. It has to be fun, so they don't realize that they're doing all the heavy lifting. It has to be simple, because they aren't going to invest much time in learning yet another platform. Without being able to provide them with paintbrushes, my job becomes exceedingly harder. I want to enable everyone to be able to easily post a link from ScubaBoard to all the other platforms in the cyberverse while I sit on my porch, sip my Mimosa and watch the sunset.

The xF platform has come a long way already. My users can drop in media from just about anyone I want, including their own, and send links to their clients to come and check out their pics, perhaps to comment and then have that content be searchable by Google et al. If we had it this easy 10/15 years ago, we wouldn't be on the verge of extinction. I'm not dead yet. I'm not even on life support, though the huge loss of revenue from this pandemic certainly hurt. However, I still need that paintbrush to enable everyone else to come and paint my fence.
 

jauburn

Well-known member
Post on ScubaBoard ONCE and with a few simple clicks, you can share it to all those other platforms without having to redo all your work.

Sharing, however easy it might be, is good for the social media companies, making their feeds more active and engaging their users on their platforms, but it's not doing you much good at all. In fact it's encouraging your users to look as much at the other platforms as at yours.

Forums started dying when social media companies came along with big budgets and better toys. Forums have tried to play in the sandbox by making it easy for users to share content on the social media platforms, but they've only gotten more sand kicked in their faces. In 10 years most of the forums around today will have been long washed out to sea.

Forum owners come along and say, "if only you could add this feature or that to make us more compelling." Ain't gonna work.

Heck, you may as well take the opposite tack. Get rid of the social media sharing, the like buttons, the fancy profiles, and all that crap. See if it makes much of a difference. It won't. The busiest forum I know doesn't have any of that stuff, uses phpBB, looks like something out of the 90s. The users don't care.
 
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Davyc

Well-known member
There is one serious area that is absent from this conversation - everything is geared towards the user experience, which is great and I'm not knocking that line of thought in anyway, in fact anything that can make the UX more friendly and useable is great - the one thing left out is people.

People have become lazy, not just in terms of activity, but in terms of thought. People don't think beyond the next post on SM when it is lost into a chasm of other crap that people post, they're in it for instant gratification and not for the long haul. They don't want to engage in meaningful discussion (as we are here) they want people to 'like' them and the crap they are shovelling by the truck load onto those SM streams. Getting them off that junkie trip and into something more concrete is like trying to move mount Everest with a mini car.

What needs to change more than anything, is people's attitudes. Many can't spell, have no idea what grammar is about and a photo of their breakfast pushed to their brain dead followers is more important than engaging in a serious and meaningful discussion. They're all about fluff and banalities and, sadly, they have allowed themselves to be seduced by SM and now that they are addicted, it's difficult for them to see the value in anything else.

The vast majority of people are on some form of SM and as more platforms come to the marketplace they are hopping from one to the other, but sidestepping forums because they need some kind of brain function to operate them. If people's attitudes don't change and the shift from the easy banalities of SM then nothing we do within the forum world is going to shift them away from their instant gratification fixes. In a word, they have been 'brainwashed' into accepting that unless they are on some kind of SM platform, they are nobody and that is a truly sad state of affairs.

I've been into forums since the days of the old BB's and I will probably be with forums until my last breath, because they are the last bastion of hope for any kind of thought provoking and interesting discussions. I'm 67 years old and I've done my time with SM and found it to be the biggest pile of crud that has had the misfortune to come into existence - they should find some other term for it other than 'Social' Media, as it is one festering pile of toxicity that is anything but Social.

I'll be watching with great interest as to how these new trains of thought and development unfold, but at the same time I won't be holding my breath that they will become some kind of saviour for the forum world, but it is comforting to see someone attempting to think out of the box and try something different. Good luck.
 

Wildcat Media

Well-known member
I've been into forums since the days of the old BB's and I will probably be with forums until my last breath, because they are the last bastion of hope for any kind of thought provoking and interesting discussions.
⬆ This right here.

I have no desire to have my site resemble social media--I don't want to introduce the 2nd grade spelling and grammar, and lack of critical thinking skills, to our forums if we are attracting anyone from social media. I even shut down our fb page unannounced since nobody could monitor it (most of my staff won't even create an account there; I have a developer account I only access in a virtual machine). It was doing us absolutely no good. The worst part is they use all the dopamine hits and instant gratification to fuel their advertising revenue, and push questionable media sources to us disguised as news. They're not the only one--look at the festering waste of bits that is reddit and especially twitter.

Our problem is, we remember the information services and dial-up bulletin boards, and even Usenet before the trolls, flamers and spammers got ahold of it in the late 90s. Those were the golden age. And those of us who run long-established forums know that what passes for discussion these days on dumbed down networks like fb, reddit and twitter can't stand the emptyheadedness of it all. And as I've said many times here, people visit our forums, and the forums keep growing, because they are not social media, and are free of the hate, trolling, blatant advertising and misuse of our personal information, and have intelligent and critical conversations among friends.
 

BassMan

Well-known member
And as I've said many times here, people visit our forums, and the forums keep growing, because they are not social media, and are free of the hate, trolling, blatant advertising and misuse of our personal information, and have intelligent and critical conversations among friends.
Very nice said.
 

Mike Creuzer

Well-known member
Im going to out and say that a lot of people replying I dont think read the piece. There is nothing in here that says "Lets bow to social media". Instead, we learn from what works well while keeping what is special and important about forums true. There are too many quotes to grab but really, the focus is more on a ux, a product, an overall experience that needs to be improved dramatically.
 

Mike Creuzer

Well-known member
Or maybe they are intelligent and thoughtful people doing their best to understand but the problem is not so much in the reading of it, but the way it is presented?
Not saying anyone isn't those things, but of course you know that and this is just another attempt to throw a jab. Good one I guess and point noted.

My post was simply a reminder that I don't believe social media and forums should merge but that there are things they are doing we can be learning from, listed with specifics. We were getting off topic to the point but perhaps I should know better. I'll ignore the posts instead and if anyone does wish to make any arguments for or against contents of the piece I'd love to hear.
 

Mr Lucky

Well-known member
Not saying anyone isn't those things, but of course you know that and this is just another attempt to throw a jab. Good one I guess and point noted.
I did not think I was throwing a jab. Just pointing out that misunderstanding how something works can sometimes not always be the user’s shortcoming.

This is something I have learned over the years. When you develop something you know how it works, so it can be difficult to take a step back and look at it from the POV of the first time user.

It was the same when I was in the advertising business. We knew how a campaign was supposed to work, but we tested with research on the public. The important thing then was to listen to critique, not just think they were “throwing a jab.”
 

zappaDPJ

Well-known member
Im going to out and say that a lot of people replying I dont think read the piece.

I have to agree with @Mr Lucky. I've already replied to this thread but having taken a fair bit of time to reread your opening post and the linked articles I now realise I didn't really grasp what you are attempting to put across.

For what it's worth, having reread everything, I think it has given me a better understanding and I agree with you.

What makes a forum stand out from the rest of the social media crowd is the enduring content so content discovery tools are extremely important and in need of further development. If other aspects such as themes were as important as has been previously thought, you wouldn't have so many of the most successful forums running largely on the default theme.
 

Wildcat Media

Well-known member
Im going to out and say that a lot of people replying I dont think read the piece. There is nothing in here that says "Lets bow to social media". Instead, we learn from what works well while keeping what is special and important about forums true. There are too many quotes to grab but really, the focus is more on a ux, a product, an overall experience that needs to be improved dramatically.
I've had to rewrite my reply four times now and yes, I have re-read the article you linked. Audentio's work is admirable, no doubt about it! Yet I don't feel it will ever fit every use case out there. That is my main point. It might work for some newer, younger forums out there, but anything long-established could find legacy members struggling to figure out how things work.

For forums that skew older, members expect the familiar forum interface, as it predates the (IMHO) disorganized UI that is social media. XenForo was born out of vBulletin, which itself was a variation on the granddaddy of them all: UBB, Ultimate Bulletin Board, founded in 1997. The forum interface has been around in this form for almost 25 years now. (Prior to that, we had text-based discussion boards on CompuServe and other online services, or even Usenet...and many of us navigated those just fine.)

Presenting the Feeds interface as the forum's landing page will only confuse and frustrate our legacy users, and honestly, we have never had complaints about newer, younger members finding content, or contributing their own. That is why I feel Feeds would work fantastic as a replacement for Recent, What's New, etc.--it seems ideal for that in our situation.

After running forums as long as I have, the busiest having nearly 27 million posts over 20 years (this coming January), members appear to be "discovering" and "engaging" just fine. We get more new members than we know what to do with; we can't even keep enough staff on hand to manage them all. Members come to us because we don't bow to the questionable interface decisions, and shallow content, of social media. It's their relief from that world.

Are there improvements to be made? Certainly! Especially as the world moves to mobile devices--there are parts of AC.UI that are subtle but clever improvements to the stock XenForo experience. For my part, I'm always happy to try out new interfaces. And if I had a newer, younger forum, I'd certainly consider Audentio's approach. But it would be difficult if not impossible sell to anyone who's been around forums like many of our members have been. That's my point right there. It's an innovative idea, but it will not be suitable in every use case.

My idea? At the very least, give members the option to choose if they want the traditional experience, or the Feeds. If Feeds were tied to a specific style/theme so members could switch back to a traditional forum appearance, or had a single-click selector to revert to that view in any theme, that would be ideal. Newer members could then use the new Feeds and continue using that experience, where the legacy members could continue in the experience they prefer, perhaps with Feeds replacing What's New/Latest Content. I would be totally on board with that. (As they say, "take my money!")

We all have unique needs. The Internet would be boring if we all looked and functioned the same. 🙂 And above all, we have to mold the functionality around each forum's unique userbase.

I look forward to what else you have brewing, @Mike Creuzer !
 

Timmie

Active member
For those that have been following our process with this new product, we're now offering it free for a limited time while in beta! The same product that we detailed in our article, How we improved the forum user experience by learning from social media, is free along with our new theme AC.UI for you try out with your own community.


In order to receive both products, sign up to our newsletter here and we'll email you a discount code to use at checkout!
Looks interesting. Once it's out of beta and no longer free, will the only option to purchase be your new $1,000 a year subscription?

I can't tell from the video, but how easy is it to follow other forum members? On my forum I've added the following follow/unfollow button in the message area along with follower counts:

example.png

The follow feature works well for Facebook/Instagram but it's hidden away in most XF themes and never gets used, despite it being one of the main reasons the larger social platforms are so successful.
 
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