Archive for March, 2009

Featured Forum – Neo-Geo Forums

Over the weekend, I had the chance to interview Bobak, one of the administrators of Neo-Geo Forums.  According to the forum ranking site, Big-Boards – by their sheer number of posts, Neo-Geo Forums is in the Top 1,000 forums on the web.  Neo-Geo (wikipedia article) is a classic console gaming system that was like having an arcade in your own home.  Talking to Bobak, brought back a bit of nostiliga of my early teen years.

Neo-Geo Stats:
* Threads: 181,034
* Posts: 2,539,134
* Members: 17,598
* Software: vBulletin v3.7.4

Bobak, as a Community Administrator on neo-geo.com, what do your tasks include?  (Same go for the other admins and Global Moderators).
The Administrators and Global Moderators of Neo-Geo.com have more-or-less the same tasks and authority.  Other than ridding the forum of the occasional spambot, our tasks are fairly simple: the general membership of Neo-Geo.com is intelligent and good at self-policing.  This has a lot to do with the culture of the forum, but I’ll get into the details of that aspect later.  In terms of Admin/Mod tasks, we do a lot of service requests from individual members: sometimes these involve administrative issues like account errors or moving threads placed in the wrong forum; every now and again it might be a dispute over personal or transactional issues that might warrant admin or moderator meditation.  On the whole, the moderators and administrators of Neo-Geo.com have collaborated to put into place rules that are easy to follow, and rarely require our actions to enforce.  We also sometimes collaborate on general site design, like realigning the sub-forum topics, and most of that is done after input and suggestions from the membership.  The actual line between administrator and global moderator is fuzzier than most forums: the handful of Admins do not press themselves on the other moderators, and global moderators have access to limited administrator-level tools on the forum.  We do have one Administrator, Mouse_Master, who handles all technical issues on the website.  The site has never needed many moderators or administrators to operate on a day-to-day basis, generally 2-3 on any given day is more than enough to handle any issues that come up.  Unlike some other forums, once a moderator becomes less active, we are unlikely to take away their access rights unless they do something truly harmful.  While these retired moderators may not be around often, we see no reason any putative measures. Over the years, the moderators and administrators work quite well together and are all on pretty much the same
page.  The admins and moderators actively participate in discussions.

I see Neo-Geo.com was started all the way back in Dec 1999.  That’s almost 10 years old!  Very impressive.  How long have you been involved and how have you seen the site evolve over the years?
The website itself dates back to 1999, but the forum didn’t arrive until August 2000.  Site owner/founder Shawn McCleskey became interested in the Neo Geo system in the late-1990s and jumped-in with passion.  In 1999, he was a part of a community that found itself on an old Yahoo! Club (DolphinLord SNK NeoGeo Domain); but the Yahoo system, which used a one-thread BBS, was straining badly with the number of members using it.  Shawn decided to add a forum to his own website, using a basic forum system (UBB when it started) and adapting the rules and concepts found on the Yahoo Club –I’ll explain that below.  At the time, I was a very active member of the Yahoo Club, but as fate would have it, Shawn actually started the Neo-Geo.com forum during a time where I was working on the road for a major  candidate in the 2000 Presidential Election.  As you may recall, that “election” ended in December 2000, and that’s when I got back to the hobby and noticed that everyone had migrated to Shawn’s excellent forum.  The original moderators were picked from the existing moderators of the Yahoo Club (including DolphinLord), and when one of the original four moderators retired, I was asked to step in and replace him in early 2001.  Since then I’ve been a global moderator, and later I was promoted to be a forum Administrator.

In terms of seeing the site evolve… wow.  That’s a long answer.  To speak generally, the site was born of an existing membership and culture that was wary of scams that were prevalent at the time of the forum’s founding in 2000.  The personality of the membership was decidedly anti-authoritarian and even a bit anarchic, but this actually worked well with Shawn’s own hands-off approach and desire to preserve a level of free speech that’s still very hard to find on the internet (without it degrading into something focused on trolling).  Starting from a position of some of the loosest rules possible, the forum has gradually tightened some rules only when the general function of the site was at risk.  Obviously, this upset some older members that were used to the rules at the beginning, or the type of discourse that may not have been beneficial to the site as a whole.  Basically, it became a series of fairly minor tweaks that kept the site as pleasing to as many old (and, more importantly, new) members as possible.  The site still actively welcomes dissenting views on everything from the state of SNK, the Neo Geo, to how the site is being run.  As the membership itself grew and developed into its own forum culture, its become quite good at policing itself and making it pleasant for anyone willing to become part of it.  The culture of the site is definitely a little sharper than a number of other niche video game forums: members are known to haze new members a bit, but the level of discussion remains intelligent and rewarding for those that find it a home.  This is a forum where you will find the moderators and admins getting into arguments with members on various subjects –we’ve been told this isn’t always the case.

As a side note, I actually wrote a brief history of some of the more crazy stories of site back in January 09, here it is:
http://www.neo-geo.com/forums/showpost.php?p=2649189&postcount=9

Any plans for a 10th birthday party?
Actually, none at this time.  The time just passes so fast… I think this is partially because the site doesn’t actively try to make money: you’ve probably noticed we have absolutely no advertisements on the forum or general website.  The general Neo-Geo.com website is related to Shawn’s own NeoStore.com, but there are many members on the forum who don’t even realize that.

From looking at your members, I see both old and new members that are very active on the forum.  Other than Neo Geo conversations, do you think there is other reasons pulling this community together?
Oh, there’s absolutely more to do with the website than just Neo Geo talk.  It turns out that many of the members have similar interests in other video games, movies, sports, music or whatever.  The Unrelated Topics forum’s long been the most active forum on the website.  We were also unique when we started in that we had a “War Room” forum for channeling flame wars and allowing people to vent their more unconstructive ideas.  Over the years, that subforum has developed into its own subculture.  Generally speaking new members tend to spend their time in the more neo-centric forums, and then –if they like the general attitude of the site– find their way into the unrelated areas.  The unrelated sections generally have older members, so they’re the sections where you find a more “clubhouse” mentality (which isn’t at all a bad thing).  Sometimes members have issues that pop up and they want to vent to people they know, but not necessarily people they see everyday.  There’s also a history of completely crazy, but entertaining drama that erupts between members, some of which were placed in the “Best of” forum.  We have a saying, which I actually coined, that its “Neo-Geo.com: Come for the games, stay for teh drama” [sic]; I think it pretty much summarizes what keeps us old timers interested.


Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run a fun and active forum?

  1. Don’t be too heavy handed in moderating your members: if you treat them like children, you will may end up with less interesting discussions and, in some cases, a messy rebellion.  Its about maintaining an adult level of respect.
  2. Be active in the online community.  If you’re too removed, people will can forget you’re there or grow to resent their absentee “rulers”.  It’s sort of like being the town constable going into the tavern with everyone else at the end of the day: the more comfortable everyone is with everybody, the less likely you’ll have serious issues with those members you regularly interact with.
  3. If you have to make an unpopular decision for the good of the website, be decisive but also take the time to carefully and clearly explain to everyone else why you made your decision –it lets people know you respect their intelligence –and if they’re taking time to spend on your forum, you should respect them.

.

And for all the Neo-Geo fans out their, what’s your favorite game?
Magical Drop III, probably the best competitive puzzler out there.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I think it helps my tasks in that I find people interesting and I like to meet people and find out what they’re thinking.  Over the years I’ve actually met up with a number of members from the forum (its something over 70 by now… I’ve lost count), and I’ve found they’re all good people.  Some people look at internet forums as an opportunity to act out some e-persona they would like to have, but I’ve always –for better or worse– tried to stay like how I really am.  The best administrator or moderator will be able to roll with punches and not let things get to them if people get upset.  After all, its just the internet.

If you have any follow up questions, let me know.


Author’s Comments:
Thanks Bobak, you really packed in a lot of great advice here and I think it’s best summed up in your second to last sentence  “The best administrator or moderator will be able to roll with punches and not let things get to them if people get upset.”

You made some interesting points about tightening the forum rules as the forum matured.  Changes had to be made in small steps in order to meet the expectations of potential new members and not upset older, existing members.

You also touched on a key trend for many communities on the internet – the ‘Unrelated Topics’ (aka Offtopic and General) are the most active on the forum.  As you pointed out, a gaming site like New Geo tends to bring in people with similar interests around movies, sports, and music.  Or to paraphrase Bobak: “Neo-Geo.com: Come for the games, stay for teh drama”

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Featured Forum – HackYour.Lefora.com

Today we’re talking with coloneljack, the founder of the clever named hackyour.lefora.com.  Starting on Lefora only about a month ago, the colonel has been doing a great job of answering people’s questions on both our support forum and his hackyour.lefora forum.  We love the idea here at Lefora and we hope both sites can provide valuable help to forum admins.

So Colonel, what inspired you to start a forum for hacking up lefora?
As a born tinkerer, I’m always willing to take things to pieces to see how they work – and then see if I can put them back together again!  To be honest, setting up hackyour.lefora.com fulfilled a selfish need by allowing me to play with other’s forums when I couldn’t think of anything else to do to my own!

Also, visiting the support forum showed that there were people there asking the same questions – a dedicated forum of our own made sense. I hoped it would be easier for everyone who needed it to find help and/or advice, especially with the influx now from MSN.

What are people most interested in ‘hacking’ on Lefora?
Everybody wants to do different things with their forum – I think that’s a testament to the flexibility of Lefora. Some are happy with the default themes and just want photos or pictures in the right place, some want a new colour scheme, others just want the sidebar switched to the other side. What I don’t think people realise is how much of their forum can be changed with the CSS editor, and how easy it can be to make your forum look different to everybody else’s. I’m not saying anything is possible, but certainly more than you first think!

How do you find working with the CSS on Lefora?  What tools do you use?
As recommended by you guys, I use Firefox with the Firebug add-on. I also use the Firesizer add-on – this lets me check what layouts will look like on various screen sizes.

Before coming to Lefora, all I knew about CSS was how to spell it. After playing with Firebug for a while, turning bits of CSS on and off, changing values, and generally breaking your pages (Firebug makes the changes on-the-fly), I could figure out enough to start making real changes to the layouts. Apart from an image editing app or two, these are the only tools you’ll probably need.

Do you have any educational CSS sites or tutorials you would like to share?
For anything new I always go to http://www.w3schools.com – lots of reference material there for CSS. They also have options for you to try out CSS by making changes on-screen.

What are some of the features that originally drew you to Lefora?  Had you worked with other forum software in the past?
I’ve never worked with any forums in the past, but when the news came out that MSN was closing down, there were the expected groans, followed by people saying how hard it would be to set up somewhere else. Having never liked MSN much anyway, I knew there were better options out there. To prove a point, I Googled ‘forum’ and a few minutes later I had a fully-functioning replacement for MSN here at Lefora. The uploading and embedding options alone were a luxury compared to MSN. Everything else is icing on the cake.

If you could make improvements to Lefora, what would you like to see?
Get rid of the CMYK theme! It makes my eyes bleed! No, really, on a practical level, private categories would be useful for a lot of people, I think.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Be patient – it won’t happen overnight… But it will only happen if your forum fulfils a need.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add?
Thanks to Hal9000, my admin, for knowing the stuff that I don’t!

Oh, and save your custom CSS code to a text file… There’s nothing worse than trying a new theme, and then realising it wipes your CSS!

Author’s Comments: The Colonel has some really great advice here, especially the importance of customizing your forum from the start to give your community it’s own unique home on the web.  I’ve always thought one of the reason’s myspace gained in popularity compared to other services at the time was due to the amount of customization a person could do with CSS on their profile page.  Just like the real word, an online presence requires the same unique choices of personality – and that’s especially true for communities.


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