Not to derail, but what are the most important off-topic topics?
July 12, 2010 7:24 PM   Subscribe

ForumFilter: What advice do you have for seeding a soon-to-launch professional forum with general topics? What should we bake-in to help build community, serve as social release valves, encourage participation, etc?

I'm going to be launching a vBulletin 4 install for a client soon. If it helps, let's say that these are the forums for The International Association of Underwater Project Managers, which has about 10K members worldwide. Their site has not had a forum before. We expect the membership to evolve the core of their forums organically — the stuff related to projects, managing them, being underwater and such. Someone with domain-knowledge will be seeding a few of these areas for launch, but that's not my lookout.

If you run a forum, I'm interested in hearing what, if any, general-purpose topics you believe help keep things running smoothly, encourage participation, and keep signal-to-noise high in the more official areas. "New Member Introductions"? "Book Reviews"? "Sports"? Is it worth trying to second-guess the ways in which users will derail, or beyond offering "General Discussion" as a place for that to happen, should we just let evolution take its course there too?

I am aware that there is a real risk of over-thinking this, and thus over-building it, but you do have to start somewhere, right?
posted by mumkin to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
Try building your community somewhere else first, like blog comments. It might be embarrassing if the forum flops (many do).
posted by schmod at 7:30 PM on July 12, 2010

Lay down the law in writing and moderate efficiently and transparently (e.g., when a post gets knocked off on this site, no one needs to guess as to why.)

There are two sorts of "General Discussion" subforums: the general-general one (anything at all) and the on-forum-topic grab-bag (issues about the IAUPM) one. Make sure you know which one you're making, and, more importantly, make sure yours users know which sort it is. A word of warning: the former tends to become a horrible, Lovecraftian mess if you don't moderate it well. Seriously, never let anyone unleash their inner /b/ unless you're willing to put the time and the effort to clean up after them.
posted by griphus at 7:37 PM on July 12, 2010

Yes, you can overthink and over compartmentalize. I've been a part of a few fora staff as they started, after they've been established, and during periods of rapid growth.

A place for new member intros is great because it makes sure those threads don't get lost in general discussion. It also means general discussion isn't taken over by introductions. I'm not a huge fan of having one thread for introductions in the general discussion either because I feel like nobody gets noticed that way. And if that happens, what's the point?

Just let general discussion be it at the start. If you need to make a section you can do that later. Seeing an empty section is buzzkill. Trust me, people will ask for a sports section (for example) if sports topics start overtaking everything else in general discussion.

As for the "professional" portion of it, the same basic idea applies. You seem to have a handle on what's needed there. Just remember not to over compartmentalize.

Of course, this is all for naught if you don't get the people using it. I'll also assume that you have a handle on that. Also, it might not be a bad idea to get someone like me who doesn't have a stake at all in how the forum does to be a moderator. If you knock out a thread it could potentially be seen as you having an agenda. If I do it, I'm just following the rules that have been laid out.
posted by theichibun at 7:41 PM on July 12, 2010

Random thoughts, so that if someone can't find the right place to post, they can put it here. You can always move it if you have a better place for it (private message the original poster).

A place to post stuff for sale or events being promoted.

A help thread about using the forum.

A word association thread.

A thread on what users are watching, reading and listening to.

posted by zinfandel at 9:09 PM on July 12, 2010

Maybe a few location-specific threads/topics? If your association has regional/national subgroups, a spot for each of those might get some networking/region-specific professional issues conversations going.
posted by clerestory at 9:38 PM on July 12, 2010

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