Forums are clogging up the internet!

Forums, communities, whatever you want to call them. It’s about time we jump ship!

Has anyone noticed that communities (forums as we know them) have been around for way to long?

I surely have. I still remember signing up to a forum back in 2000 in my high school. We just had Photoshop 6.0 installed on our photo lab computers so I was having fun retouching my 480x360px picture with lens flare.

In between editing the picture, I was browsing a certain car forum, comparing and contrasting car specs.

One of these things you can still do today, on the same forum. The other , well... Let’s just say that Wikipedia doesn’t even know what Photoshop 6.0 is anymore!

How come communities become so ubiquitous amongst the general public without sustaining much in the way of UI design? It’s difficult for me to comprehend.

Let’s look at the user experience of a community forum. What happens when you log into one?

Most people see a bunch of lines, and more lines, boxes, a bunch of windows to the side telling them to register, and of course all the topics or posts listed in reverse chronological order.

You want to read one of these posts. What do you do?

On the left, you see a bunch of redundant and irrelevant information about the user. A profile image helps, of course – but why bother with the join date, the number of posts, the signature, and a whole lot of mumbo-jumbo that’s simply noise in this day and age.

Communities are successful because…

they offer something for a special interest group. These people are willing to go to hell and back, put up with lousy software to get to their information. This allows software providers to stay in the dark ages, simply because the majority of people out there believe that we don’t need more.

Now imagine if we were still using Photoshop 6.0?

Where communities fall short:

Community management.
Communities nowadays fall short of their intended goal: to be a good MEDIUM (no pun intended) of communication.

Many forum tools are too advanced and their customization & set up methods are too cumbersome for those looking to set up a simple community. For example, many PHP platforms require a small army of IT teams to this day, setting everything up before the forum can go live in its most basic form.

Moderating a forum is a job best left to the robots. Many forums out there don’t have spam filters which complicate the moderator’s job. A sufficient number of moderators need to be staffed as the user base rises and they need to constantly be on the lookout to ensure the forum is running smoothly. The things most community apps should be able to do out of the box.

UI design.
Lastly, we have UI design. The holy grail of reasons why communities suck — they have the same design thought out of in the mid-1990s. Ever since Facebook and Twitter took to the limelight, everyone has been busy playing catch-up. Just think, most of the shortcomings of forums could be fixed with a quick revamp of the UI! Discourse and Ning have stepped up to the plate, but we’re still far away from a truly engaging platform.

With every passing day, I wonder why we don’t just all leave our community forums as a sign of protest.

At least I hope that — Helprace, a customer service software with an intuitive community component, is a step in the right direction.

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