How to Be a Great Host

by John Gladding

29 Reader Comments

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  1. I think you also have to provide the first content yourself. If I enter an empty forum I will leave right away. So start by adding a few topics yourself and discuss them with your coworkers and friends.

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  2. There are two kinds of forums. One where there are a lot of unanswered questions. Whenever you google some topic you’ll find many forum postings with the same question, but no answer. There are a few forums however, where the members are very skilled and prvode answers to newbies as well as to other pros. So unless you want to have a question only forum you should provide something interesting for the pros. Socialize with them, ask them directly to provide a bit of their know how. Pros attract pros. And you should be the first one.

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  3. I certainly agree that the most important question to answer is “Why do we need a forum??”

    As the first few paragraphs outline because people see loads of forums popping up (and its rather ‘easy’ to do with premade software) managers and the like seem to think – “well we should have a forum, what a great idea that will be!”.

    Without a concrete reason for it a forum is pretty useless in my opinion – so good article!

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  4. Ross, the reason to have a forum differs depending on your business. For an internet based business traffic is (almost) everything, and a forum can provide a lot of traffic. The reason for the traffic is the content (content rules…), and as a business you are always glad if you do not have to provide the content yourself, but the user does it for you. This will lead to a lot of search engine users coming to your forum, a lot of backlinks, and so on. Of course the content should be relevant to your business.

    For offline companies the forums have a different focus, maybe to build up reputation. So there you should have good moderators to ensure the content quality.

    Of course I totally agree that not everybody needs a forum (I don’t have one myself).

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  5. I knew that my comments title would confuse people (reading it now even confuses me!)

    Definatly agree with your points though Sven – I was simply trying to have a rant at the kind of people (many of whom I seen to work under :<) so see the forum as a ‘cool’ thing to gave that will impress friends and collegues without actually thinking about why they should have it or the work it takes once they have it to maintain it!

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  6. A very successful forum based in the UK is The Triforce (http://www.thetriforce.com/forum/) They have one of those sites which has a line at the bottom saying “The newest user is: xyz”  A tradition has sprung up whereby a regular user will start a thread with that users name as the title, welcoming them to the forum by means of a totally off-the-wall, unexpected question.  The new user immediately engages with the regulars and feels all special!

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  7. Robert, being friendly and maybe surprising is a very good way to make users out of visitors. Some forums make it so hard to register, the answer to your first posting is “this posting is not compliant to forum rule nr 42” and the moderators behave like being god in their little forum world. It sounds like The Triforce is quite different.

    As the true value of a forum are the users willing to contribute they should feel warm and welcome.

    On the other side you have to get rid of the trolls. How do you deal with that?

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  8. …Trolls included.

    The most effective means of dealing with trolls is to ignore them. It is attention they crave and any response only encourages them.

    Make sure your moderators and other valued community members are informed not to feed the trolls.

    In extreme circumstances, it may be necessary to prune — as ALA says they “reserve the right to delete flames, trolls, and wood nymphs.”

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  9. Another great article. Some good points. Starting a forum is tough and in most cases, it’s either not worth it, or not warranted for the site. Most people do not realize how much work it is and give up before it can grow.

    Reaching critical mass is also not the be all and end all, it’s important to remain an active and contributing member.

    Giving members benefits, like including a signature is also an essential way to keep your forum alive.

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  10. Whenever there is a discussion about how to control a forum to prevent trolling, I’m always trying to mention the other solution—remove temptation.

    Sure, it’s not always apropriate—depends on what kind of forum it is. It can benefit greatly any support forums, where you want answers to your questions, but might be totally wrong for a “close friends” forum where people mostly want to socialize.

    Anyways, this article “advertises” the benefits of anonymous (or mostly-anonymous) forums, and gives you something to think about:

    http://wakaba.c3.cx/shii/shiichan

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  11. I’ve just started a new website with a forum, and I one of the philosofies I’ve followed is put on “Building Communities with Software” [http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BuildingCommunitieswithSo.html], from Joel Spolsky.

    There are a lot of good tips for people starting a community oriented website. Low entry-barrier, easiness of posting, entice users to come back. There’re a couple misdirected jabs at Slashdot that I disagree, specially the quality of replies (at least when you factor in the moderation points, browse at +3 and /. is a knowledge pool).

    John, if you let me, I would like to add another tip: Some websites don’t generate enough traffic to kick-start a forum growth, the first 50 posts in a small period of time. My advice for webmasters in this position is to form alliances with other webmasters on your niche, and have a single, shared forum.

    It’s easier to bring traffic, and everyone has a greater chance of succeding. Plus, there will be a healthy (I hope) competition between the webmasters to see who posts the news first and who gives the best / fastest answer.

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  12. Thanks for the advice, very helpful indeed. I’m in a similar position to the imagined person in the article.

    However, for the kind of content I’m looking to foster (shared experiences and best practice), I’ve been looking more towards starting a wiki than a forum. Does anyone have any extra advice or tips that they can share?

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  13. I’ve run a magazine for science fiction writers (Speculations, at speculations.com) since 1995; its online forum just celebrated its tenth anniversary.  We’ve survived spammers, flamers, bots, and trolls with anonymous posting intact; most recently I instituted a Plonk option, so registered users may ignore posts from certain accounts if they like.

    Things I’ve learned from doing Speculations:

    1) The ability to just wade right in and post anonymously is very important.  Requiring registration is a huge barrier to entry.

    2) Authors who care enough to sign in should get something extra.  Ours receive the ability to submit positive and negative feedback, which will quickly hide off-topic messages, and a sort of X-ray vision, so they can see origin IP addresses and detect whether they’re reading posts from sock-puppet accounts created by the same person or agency.

    3) The presence of trolls is a good sign. It means that the community is generating more than enough energy; somebody thinks that the attention of these people is worth trying for.

    One mistake I made was attaching emotionally-significant identifiers (like “nutburger” or “flame”) to certain negative feedback options, which tended to encourage trolling.  I am presently thinking about abstracting out the verbiage into a separate layer of tags that has no significance towards moderation, and condensing all feedback options into a simple +1 / -1.

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  14. James, I’m sure that you’ll find MeatBall and CommunityWiki great sources of knowledge about wikis. If you’re looking for something more condensed, then try WikiOhana.

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  15. This is a great article for starting a forum and I’m sure many of the strategies translate over to starting a social networking or social bookmarking site as well.  I’d love to see an article that specifically addresses this point though.

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  16. I would agree that anonymous posting ability is a great way to kick start a forum. However it shouldn’t be considered a long term option – it will not provide much incentive to join. We actually started small and when it expanded to a point where we could sustain it, we made a few (non-crucial) forums “members only” so it gave them an incentive to not only sign up, but remain logged in. People complained at first, but they get over it quickly. If the site adds value to them, it is worth it to remain logged in. It’s a great thing because newbies see more people online and know the forum is active.

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  17. I agree that if someone visits an empty forum they will automatically leave. But I beleive that in order to get visitors to come and stay you need some kind of information that they want or need. Once they find information they really want that will help a great deal. Of course then the rest is up to you in order to keep the information fresh, interesting, and up to date.

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  18. Thanks Radomir, I’ll take a look.

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  19. I think this article would have been well-served to define, exactly, what the term “forum” actually means in this context. It is actually a really broad term that, in my experience, confuses a lot of people.

    A “forum” can encompass everything from a usenet group, a blog that allows comments, or (what I assume you mean by forum in this article) the “traditional” phpBB-style, hierarchical, topic-based site. Mailing lists can also be considered forums. Any time you are using software that facilitates a discussion, that’s a forum (on the web).

    By using the generic term “forum”, and not distinguishing between the types of forums, I think this article is likely to contribute to the confusion that exists out there, and end up cost us web developers even more time explaining the concept to the not-so-technically-inclined.

    I think an essential question to add to the list of “are you ready?” questions is: What kind of forum do I want? In many cases, the answer to this question will determine whether or not your “forum” is successful or not. Not all sites need a full-blown phpBB topical forum. In my humble opinion, I believe that a good portion of the existing forums of this type are completely useless at building a community (and can actually hinder the process in some cases); whereas, for example, a blog would be much better suited for the type of discussion desired.

    Anyhow, as always, a good read from the A List Apart crowd :) Thanks very much.

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  20. Hi, i am i new joinee please tell me how can I create a better blog.

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  21. Another approach to make your website scaleable, without any javascript involved, is to consequently use a relative size for your content.
    Just ensure, your website design does not rely on pixels: they are bad when it comes to zooming. You can instead define a base font-size (say specify font-size:small for the body element) and further on use relative font-size (eg. “font-size:smaller” or “font-size:120%” for all other elements.
    This, of course, also works for images: Just specify the width and height of your images using em and ex (eg. foo.png). If your source image is large enough, it still will be displayed in acceptable quality as todays browsers scale it good enough.

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  22. Really enjoyed John’s article. We’re just now making the move into forums and blogs ourselves at jaduka.com, starting with a couple of blogs. We had an interesting set of discussions internally and wound up pretty much agreeing with what a number of the readers here have pointed out—namely that great content will be what really drives usage to the site and that.

    We chose to go down the blog path first because we liked the idea of starting off each of the threads ourselves and keeping a little bit more control over the feedback. But reading John’s article makes me think that we might be able to encourage a freer level of communication with our users if we go the forum route.

    Thanks for a great read.

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  23. This article is right on. A couple of points to add:

    Creating an online community can succeed even in a small audience so long as you have good content that people can be passionate about.

    A great way to make your forum succeed is to not hide it away in the “forum” section, but figure out ways to blend it in with the rest of your content. If you can query a database there is no reason why the forum software has to be the only way to access its content. Weaving topics in with your content really makes your whole site come alive.

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  24. The largest forum spamming software has a default forum category to post to. These are General, Common, Business, and Adver. So to avoid a majority of software spamming your forums you can rename these forum categories or just not have them at all. Ive done this on a few forums and you can see the drastic reduction of spam.

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  25. Ive been running a forum for about a year now.  The main purpose of it was for me and my friends stay more in touch when we didnt see much of each other.  It was a big hit at first, but about 6 months in, it fizzled out.  Now it just sits there, with an occaisional post here and there.  A friend of mine, who writes a web comic suffered the same fate.  The forum was built for fans, who mostly consist of classmates, to dicuss snd speculate the comic, as well as talk about other interests.  His, just like mine, started out great, but died, even faster than mine.  Any suggestions on how to rejuvinate and keep our forums alive?

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  26. What are you donig?????

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  27. Great Article

    It can benefit greatly any support forums, where you want answers to your questions, but might be totally wrong for a “close friends”? forum where people mostly want to socialize.

    Getting a Forum up there can be quite hard, it takes times, good work

    Stephen

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  28. It’s really very valuable. I am in the process of creating forum on my website. Your’s instructions give me some better ideas; which I am definately looking forward to implement. The things on which I am working now are:
    *I want the installation to be fairly straight forward.  *Users should be able to subscribe to a forum and have the option of having all the messages posted to that forum sent to them as emails.                              *It would be nice if they could respond by email or click a link to respond.  These options make the forum look like an email list but with the ability to go to the website as well. *I want users to be able to post messages that will be visible for a long period of time, such as 1 year.
    Again thanks for yours instinctive, certainly easy and above all functional concept.
    Thanks
    Alex

     

     

     

     

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  29. I loved the article a lot!

    This is the first time i thougt about, being a host in the net!

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