Archive for the 'Interviews' Category

Interview with Patrick O’Keefe, iFroggy

Patrick O’Keefe is the founder of the iFroggy Network, a network of websites covering various interests. He has been managing online communities since 2000 and is the author of “Managing Online Forums,” a practical guide to managing online social spaces. He has been responsible for the cultivation of communities like phpBBHacks.com,KarateForums.com and PhotoshopForums.com.

Tell us some about your background? What is Patrick O’Keefe’s backstory?

I began to play around with the web back in the mid-90s. I believe we bought our first computer in 1993 – it was a Mac Centris 610. Somewhere around 1995, we were online and shortly thereafter, I discovered free website services – first Angelfire, then Geocities and put up some truly ugly things, as we all do.

I began developing websites for over people in the fall of 1998 and I launched my “real” first site with it’s own domain name, iFroggy.com, on January 01, 2000 — Y2K. Planes were falling out of the sky, computers were exploding across the nation, and I was on NetworkSolutions.com registering a domain name. At that time, domains were $70 for two years and that was it. We didn’t have any $10 a year domain name registration. That was, and is, a nice amount of money and I was only 15 so I didn’t see myself registering lots of domain names.

I started the site as a web portal. My inspiration came from Yahoo and, even though they get a lot of heat these days, I still like them. I wanted to create a portal where I covered as many subject areas as I could. I did that for a little over a year and during the same period I began creating niche communities or websites. I put the focus on one specific thing, like martial arts or Photoshop, and found that I enjoyed how feasible it was for me to function as a one-man operation.

So what would you say iFroggy is today?

The iFroggy Network is a network of websites covering various interests, including communities, blogs and (somewhat) static content sites.

Basically I will launch any site that I find exciting. It doesn’t have to fit into any particular mold. Most of my websites have some sort of community driven tie, however, as most websites popular do these days.

The first pure community that I launched was a sports forum, and then I launched a couple more communities, some of which I manage to this day. phpBBHacks.com is an example – I launched it almost 10 years ago and it is the largest unofficial resource for the phpBB forum software.

At that time, there was no organized list of customizations for people who ran these forums. I wanted one, so I created the site out of need. Forums were primitive but very exciting spaces at that time. In early 2001, the forum community basically had vBulletin 1.0 and phpBB 1.0. So, the major platforms available today came out of that era.

Another community I created, KarateForums.com, is also having it’s 10th anniversary this year. It’s a martial arts community with close to 500,000 posts, although numbers aren’t as important to me as is the atmosphere and the people that are a part of it. The people-aspects of community are the things that I’m really attracted to.

You start sites when you have an interest and when you sense a need. Did the book emerge this way?

I liked the idea of writing a book and sharing what I know. Also, personal writing tends to lead me right back to my passions: social media, online community, and forums — all things I talk and write about a lot. Forums are the backbone of “social media”, this relatively new term we use to describe overall social interaction online.

It took five years to complete the book project, from conception to holding the book in my hands. That’s not normal. Publishers’ schedules generally dictate terms. But I had a couple of concerns. First, I had a number of websites to run and, at that time, I had high school to contend with as well. As a homeschooler, I had a greater amount of flexibility, which was very helpful.

First off, I wanted to make sure I could even write a book. So while I would be managing an online community, I’d notice what was interesting and write it down. What happened and how I handled it. Whether the end result was good or bad. I’d make this long list of notes just based on my experiences at first. Eventually I’d organize those notes into written chapters. I kept going back, adding sections, and it continued to get longer and longer.

Two and half years into it, I started pitching it to publishers myself. That didn’t work out so I talked to my friend Jeremy Wright who had just published “Blog Marketing” for McGraw-Hill and asked if he would introduce me to his agent. He did and I signed on with the agent and worked to make the manuscript proposal better. After getting turned down approximately 89 times, the 90th publisher said yes.

Is your book really the Bible for forums?

One of the great, extremely meaningful things to me about writing the book is how it has been received. When you write a book, you are putting yourself out there and you never know how people will take you. It’s a vulnerable position. I’m so thankful for the support and kind words that I have received. It means a lot to me.

That said, it is for other people to say, whether or not the book is valuable to them or holds any level of importance for those managing an online forum. So, I don’t feel comfortable speaking to that.

What I have noticed is that a small selection of people who have read it seem to take the book as “this is the way everything should be done.” That’s not my intention. The book is everything that I’ve learned. But I’m not a consultant. I’m not trying to get you to pay me to consult. For sixteen dollars, you get what I’ve learned over the course of eight years (now over ten) of managing communities.

You can take it and use however you wish. If you are a veteran, maybe it will confirm what you already do or maybe you’ll get a new way to approach something. I learn from others, always trying to improve. At the very least, I hope that it will make you think. If you are brand-new, then you’ve got a resource from someone who has done this for a long time.

There is not just one way to manage an online community. There are many.

What is the next 3 years like for forums?

I’m not one for predictions. I believe that innovation happens because we make it happen, not because we predict it. And then, after it’s done, we talk about it, praise it and criticize it.

However, I will say that I see forums as being extremely relevant. Some people, for whatever reason, want to divide forums from what they view as the hot social media tools, like Facebook or Twitter.

What gets lost is that these spaces are all related and deeply connected in many ways. For instance, what is the backbone of Facebook? Threaded, text-based conversations. That’s what forums are. Boil forums down to their essence, they are threaded text-based conversations. And in my lifetime, it’s hard for me to see that going away. Maybe 50 years from now I’ll look like a fool in this interview, but I don’t know that we are not going to want to type with each other in a thread of some kind! Today, we opt for text over the phone sometimes because of convenience, because of comfort, because of any number of reasons.

That’s what forums are to me. I know some people try to put forums in a box, because they think forums can’t be anything different – ever. It’s like Facebook has the patent on anything new, right?

That’s just not true. I just responded to a comment on Quora where the person wrote: “Forums are still partying like it’s 1999.” And that the forum space hadn’t evolved in ten years. I thought about that for a moment and said, “That’s not right at all.”

Even so, this a fairly common belief, especially among people who are relatively new to social media and think it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s as if forums were alien and different from social media, when it’s really all the same. If you were to go back to 2000 and pulled out the latest versions of vBulletin and phpBB and then you installed the latest versions of vBulletin, phpBB, Invision Power Board and Vanilla — you would see a startling difference and a lot of new things.

But what will not change is the text-based conversation. It’s here to stay and it will remain as the staple of what a forum is. And because of that, forums are very much similar to Facebook. Quora is more or less a forum. Just because somebody adds new features, makes it slicker or run better, doesn’t mean it’s some entirely new form of communication.

I think text is here to stay and that will be the core or forums. Sure, you can have video “forums” and already do and bandwidth adoption continues to grow, making it easier to share video and audio content on forums – but that goes for the whole web.

All of these spaces are influenced by each other and learn from each other and that is great. Forums will be affected by a lot of the trends that you see on the web as a whole, whether that is through mobile browsing, more seamless sharing or something else. One of the great things the social space does for people who run communities is that they learn from each other very well. Facebook has pulled a lot from “forums” and “forums” will learn from Facebook.

The bottom line is that everyone is learning from everyone else, and all of us are getting better and that’s good. It’s not a competition.

What is the hardest part of what you are doing?

The thing I struggle with as a one-man operation is balancing out my time and figuring out how to best spend that time. I have at least two or three ideas of things I’d really love to do right now that would be fun and (I believe) successful, as far as traffic and monetization. Yet I have these commitments already and that’s part of the challenge.

This is a problem for a lot of entrepreneurial people working online. It’s a lot of hustling and trying to get a lot done. And then you have to balance that out with having some semblance of a life. It’s about balancing out work, personal health, and family.

Tell us what a day in Patrick O’Keefe’s life is like?

I’ll take this from a professional angle and put aside personal responsibilities. I am responsible for the entire iFroggy Network. Everything that you see, I probably touch. This includes everything from keeping software up to date and writing content to managing finances and selling advertising. I am the point of contact for everything that happens.

Part of my day is routine, part of it is tackling other items on the to do list or working on new things. The routine consists of visiting various social sites where I maintain presences, checking and responding to e-mail (I’m at Inbox Zero most every day), visiting my forums and making sure everything is on track, reading new items in my feedreader for the blogs that I author, writing blog posts and more.

With my forums, as the administrator, I’m responsible for the management of those communities, completely. Updating software, making design tweaks, talking with members, monetizing, promoting and more.

This includes day to day operations – viewing new content, handling moderation related tasks, managing staff and more. When I visit my forums, I first read and respond to any private messages and outstanding post reports and then I view the staff forums, reading and replying as necessary and reviewing any and all post removal decisions that have been made by members of my staff. Most of them are good, but sometimes I will have to make a correction of some kind.

I’m also an active member on the forums I manage, posting and contributing where I can. Most days run smoothly enough but once in a while, you have some situation that takes a substantial portion of time to sort through.

As I mentioned, I also author a few blogs covering topics I am really passionate about. In addition to my personal blog, I also author ManagingCommunities.com and BadBoyBlog.com. For these sites, I also subscribe to and read various related publications and news sources, allowing me to stay on top of new information that I might have to cover or want to write about.

At ManagingCommunities.com, I write about online community and forums. At BadBoyBlog.com, I write about my favorite record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs. I like writing about online community and I am a big fan of Bad Boy and Mr. Combs. It’s a lot of fun for me.

I also have some professional pursuits that aren’t specifically tied to iFroggy, such as the book and speaking at conferences and events. I spoke over a dozen times last year, giving solo and panel presentations.

I also co-host two weekly podcasts, the Copyright 2.0 Show with Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, where we talk about copyright and plagiarism-themed news, and and the SitePoint Podcast with Brad Williams, Kevin Yank and Stephan Segraves. It’s a web development themed show and SitePoint is one of the largest web development communities in the world – a top-1000 site according to Alexa. It’s a fairly popular show and won the Podcast of the Year award during the most recent .net Magazine Awards.

What is your advice for anyone launching a forum?

I’ll provide some very general advice, as it’s a general question. If at all possible, try to start up with the structure you want, speaking specifically of your guidelines and policies. Don’t think “well, I won’t have any rules until we actually have some activity.” People get used to not having guidelines and then, when you add them in, it’s as if you’ve sprung it on them. You’re changing the rules and people don’t like change.

Change is important and will happen – you’ll need to change your guidelines, you’re design and who knows what else. But, there is no reason not to set some ground rules from the start, so that people know the type of community they are getting into. I’d say the same about ads. If you plan to have ads, start with some — even if they are just placeholders. Start with those things beforehand so that the proper expectations are set. I think that leads to a better experience for everyone down the road.

I also believe it is important to have a focus or a niche. Know whom you want to reach. One of the things that many people try to do is to be there for everyone. So they’ll say, “I want this community to be for everyone interested in subject ‘X’”. The reality is that not everyone wants a community that is for everyone. Every online community is like it’s own country. So two communities built around the same topic could be quite different from one another because they both have their own social norms and guidelines.

Know who you are, who you want to be and allow your actions to speak to that. Every decision you make, every guideline you write, they should all speak to what you are as a community. For me, my communities, the guidelines put paramount emphasis on respect for all members, speaking to each other in a respectful manner. Stricter than many other communities in that regard, I would say.

A few times a year, I find myself telling a member that the community might not be for them. They’ll complain that I have guidelines that are too strict or that I’m moderating in a heavy-handed manner. But, what is usually happening is that they want to be allowed to do something that isn’t welcome in our community. Our community isn’t for everyone – no community is.

You can’t be everything for everybody. Realize that early on and try to stay focused on your audience. If you chase everyone, you’ll probably lose the ones you really want.

The Importance of Forums

The importance of forums is something that we at Lefora and CrowdGather talk a lot about. Today Sanjay Sabnani, CEO of CrowdGather, had the honor of being interviewed by Tom Murphy at SocialMedia.net on just that topic.

The interview centered around the lack of love that forums have received from the mainstream and whether or not forums are becoming obsolete with the rise of social media.

Sanjay summarized the difference between forums and social media by stating that:

“What forums allow you to do is the sum total of everything you can do on the internet….There is nowhere else [besides forums] on the internet where your passions, your hobbies and your knowledge base is sufficiently given credit for.”

Read more at SocialMedia.net

Interview with forum-software.org

Forum Software Reviews

Today, I have the fortune of publishing an interview with Nicolas Ternisien who runs the very popular Forum Software Reviews site, forum-software.org. Nicolas is a professional Java/JEE developer with strong interests in Open Source (mainly the KDE desktop) and web technologies.  He lives in Brussels, Belgium with his wife and three cats.  In addition to running Forum Software Reviews, which keeps him quite busy with a backlog of forums to review, he works at the European Commision as an JEE consultant.  Nick does an excellent job of walking through dozens of different forum software packages and comparing them on a whole range of features.  All of this infomration is compiled into comparison charts, individual write-ups of each forum, and dozens of screenshots.  It’s a great reference website for any forum admin looking to start a new forum.

Stats:

  • Started May 2006
  • Reviewed over 43 types of forum software!  From phpbb, to zoho, to lefora, to google groups
  • Has over 10,000 admins visit each month!

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Why did you start forum-software.org?

I started Forum-Software.org (“Forum Software Reviews” name has been chosen after while, because Forum-Software.org was looking to the name of a the template website used in DNS squatting 😉 in 2006, because I noticed at this period that no websites were comparing, listing and testing forum softwares – or at least, I did not googled correctly. Obviously, some big communities around each softwares were really dynamic, but it was hard to find an unbiaised opinion in such community, that would of course promote the one they support.

I mainly develop and review softwares on my hobby time, so it could therefore explain why you could find intervals of time (the worst was maybe two months!) without any news. It is based on PHP and the famous – and awesome – Drupal CMS. It was my first experimentation of this CMS, and I must admit that still today, I could spend hours to fix my first misusages of it.

The first goal of Forum Software Reviews was to regularly review forum softwares (of any kind, well known, or not, classic or exotic, …), let the users be able to test them directly with live demonstrations, and try to be as objective as possible. At the beginning I did not want to give rating, to do not disappoint developer teams that work hard to implement such softwares, and because it is hard to judge in several hours the work of several months. But, finally, I added them because of a global needs from my readers, that want to be guided in the forum software jungle.

The Forum Comparator came later, and is really used now, even if it is of course oriented in a technical way (the comparator will not help you to know if the ergonomics or the appearance of a software are well suited for you.

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What are some interesting trends you are seeing in forum software?

The two main trends I noticed in the last years is the increasing power of open source, that really levels up the quality of free forum softwares. It is sometimes really sad, because some great projects have been given up, but finally, this Darwin’s natural selection in softwares is really good for final users. The other really important trend is the services oriented way to provide and distribute softwares. Lefora is a perfect example of this, as now, community managers do not longer want to install, upgrade and administrate a software, and prefer spending time to improve and manage their community. This is, in my opinion, the logical way from which the “cloud-computing” is coming from.

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What are some important features you like to see in forum software?

In my opinion, one of the most important thing is the ease of use of a software. You see too much often forums with thousand of buttons, to watch, quote, change the appearance, report a problem, create a new topic, rate an answer, register… for each topic pages where the only important action is, actually, to reply. This also requires a simple and clear layout and theme, not overloaded with images and so on.

One of the future important feature is the integration with social networks, like Twitter and Facebook. Users are tired to create a new account, upload their avatar, and describe themselves in each community they register. This is probably one of the reason why so many Groups are created in Facebook: one account to rule them all. Fortunately, many solutions exist, like Gravatar, Openid and Google Friends, and more and more softwares are implementing (often via plugins) such integration.

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What are your future goals with forum-software.org?

I plan to create a new module, in the next months (remember the “hobby time” in my first answer) to let users register the forum website they manage or administrate. This would be a good way to gather some statistics about type of softwares used, community size average, number of posts and topics,… I hope it will bring additional information about, for example, what is the general forum software used for an expected community of, let’s say, 2000 users, percentage of usage of a specific forum software, most used forum software in biggest communities…

Those information would be integrated through charts and inside of each forum software reviews. Obviously, this would be also a good way to create a directory of existing forum, and let users promoting what they were able to do with one software (theme used, list of plugins, local customization,…). This is in my opinion, a good way to see how much a software is flexible or not. I will keep you informed of such new improvements.

Thank you for this interview, it was really interesting, and please excuse my french way of speaking english 😉

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Author’s Comments: Nicolas made some really insightful point here, especially on the direction that forum software is taking.  I personally agree with his statement that ‘ease of use’ is one of the most important things in forum software.  When you have too many options, it just becomes overwhelming.  Tying in with social networks also hits on another pain point that we hear alot – people don’t want to create yet another membership account.  So if they can choose to login with their existing facebook or twitter account, many times they will choose that option – and from other hosting sites we’ve talked to, we’ve really seen this ‘third-party login’ usage take off in the past year.  It’s something we plan to add to Lefora in the future.

Featured Forum – Bicycle Tutor

Two weekends ago I took a 2 day bike trip and encountered some bike problems along the way.  When I came back from the trip I went to Bicycle Tutor for tips on how to keep my bicycle well maintained.   With all the useful help I received,  I just needed to interview the creator of the community.  So this month we are interviewing Alex Ramon from bicycletutor.com.  Alex’s site is primarily a video tutorial site but he showcases his forum section heavily.

*Threads: 850

*Posts: 3,189

*Members: 790

*Software: MyBB

How long have you been running bicycle tutor as well as the forums section?

I started Bicycle Tutor in December 2007, and launched the forums the following year to cope with all the email questions I was getting. The first year the forums were online I used bbPress, but recently upgraded to MyBB for the added features and functionality.

Where do most of your visitors come from? How do they first hear about your site?

Half of our visitors learn about the site when searching for answers on search engines. The other half come from other websites, blogs, bookmarks, facebook, and forums. Word of mouth has been the biggest source of traffic since the beginning. People really like the videos and are happy to tell others about the site.

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

1. Always be helpful and friendly.
2. Avoid making too many rules and restrictions. Make it easy for people to register and begin posting.
3. Make it easy for visitors to change their profile settings and subscribe to threads by email and RSS.
4. Always be helpful and friendly.

Have you had problems with trolls or inappropriate members on your forum? If so, how did you manage their behavior?

I’ve had a few severe hack attacks on the main site, but luckily not much trouble on the forums. A few times someone has set up an account and posted spam threads, but they are easy to spot and delete. I can’t recall any members being rude or inappropriate. I think it’s because cyclists are just awesome by default.

How have you promoted your forum, and are you still continuing to promote or does it grow on it’s own?

It seems to grow on it’s own now, but I also put links around the main site wherever appropriate. I use the forum category feeds to post the latest related discussions below each video. I also announced it on my facebook fan page and recently sent out a newsletter letting subscribers know about the upgrades. I will continue tweaking to make sure people find answers to their questions easily when they visit the site.

Being the bicycle tutor and forum admin, how often do you chime in and answer questions on your forum?

At first I was doing my best to answer every question, but soon found it difficult to keep up. Luckily other people started joining and offering their answers and advice. I want to encourage that because there are so many people that know things I don’t. I’ve gradually scaled back my presence, but I still post whenever I have something helpful to say. I also keep an eye on threads to make sure no questions go unanswered for too long.

Author’s Comments:  Alex’s forum has really utilized the main part of his site, video tutorials, in building a great community of bicycle maintenance experts.  He’s also done a great job in using other social media sites in promoting his forum to the point it’s growing on its own.  Thanks for your time Alex!


Featured Forum – Prince Jackson Board

Today we’re talking to Celina, aka princemj, founder and admin of the forum princemichaeljacksoni.lefora.com.  Celina started this forum just 2 months ago and has already passed 500 member!  They are sky rocketing up the Lefora charts, with over 6,000 monthly visits!

Prince Jackson Board Stats:

* Age: < 4 months

* Threads: 653

* Posts: 20,155

* Members: 527

* Software : lefora

Celina, why did you start your forum?

The reason why I wanted to create the Prince Michael Jackson message board is because I realised how many girls out there that are falling for this sweet boy. Including myself. I wanted to create a place where we could discuss the latest, share pictures and show our support. It’s all for love. L.O.V.E!

How have you promoted your forum so well, all within a few weeks of starting your forum?

Well, at first I started discussing with a friend wether or not to even open the forum. Then we decided it would be a good idea, so we started figure out ways to promote the forum. First I made a youtube account for the forum, then I made a badass trailer and uploaded it on youtube and suddenly the members just kept floating in.

Do you have any specific tips for people on Twitter about how they can use Twitter to promote their forum?

First of all its important to know how to promote without getting people pissed off. Twitter users are just like the rest of us in that they are blind to obnoxious messages after many years of receiving commerical messages in their in-boxes. Make your tweet interesting and capturing in a smart way.

What are some of the reasons you originally choose lefora over another forum service?

I asked my friend who is good with technology and stuff for advice and he told me about lefora. I then found out how easy and great it is to handle, and I’m glad I made this decision!

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

  1. Make a smooth and nice-looking design for your forum. A design that attrachs visitors to join.
  2. Promote your forum on different webs, such as facebook, twitter, myspace, youtube, and the list goes on.
  3. Treat your members with respect, be sympathetic, helpful, and professional in your way of dealing with problematic matters.

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And finally, is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to thank all the members of PMJ for making the board such a success in every way possible! Everything truly couldn’t have worked without their participance and loyalty. I’m greatful that eveything is going so well on the board, and thanks to lefora too for being so damn great and professional with their service. It’s all for love, L.O.V.E!

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Author’s Comments: Celina has done an amazing job of growing her forum, within a month of starting her forum we noticed her moving up the charts.  She’s used twitter a lot to promote her forum and reach out to the community and creating that video like she did on youtube was a really smart way to ‘advertise’ her forum with a viral video that people wanted to watch and would pass around.

Featured Forum – The Unofficial B-Cast Forum

This might be the first time we’re featuring a forum that is less than a week old.  Just 4 days ago James (veritas) started The Unofficial B-Cast Forum for fans of the daily B-Cast show.  What’s interesting, is this forum caught my eye within 2 days of launch due to its spread on twitter with ‘re-tweets’ and it’s enormously fast growth (over 200 posts from 30 members in just 2-3 days).

Unofficial B-Cast Forum Stats:
* Age: < 4 days
* Threads: 67
* Posts: 274
* Members: 37
* Software : lefora

What is your forum about? My forum is a “fan” site for Breitbart.tv’s The B-Cast, which is a daily M-F 4pm to 6pm eastern webcast with live chat, hosted by Scott Baker and Liz Stephans. They are very active in the conservative media and Scott Baker was recently featured on the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck Show.  They focus on the political topics of the day and various other news breaking events like the Acorn scandal along with other interesting stories and the occasional humorous viral videos. The forums seek to reflect that same type of information. Myself and several others of a growing audience have been involved in the chat aspect of the show for quite some time now. When chat was left open around the clock, we started noticing that people would show up at all hours of the day and night and just chat and share links. But as you probably know, chat is like dropping leaves in a stream. If you are not there at the time, you more than likely will miss whatever is said or posted. Because even though the chat runs all the time, it does clear from time to time. I thought that the same people involved in the chat all with very similar interests in politics might want a forum to give more permanence to posts and allow people to get their posts seen by more members and have more time to really expound on their points. Chat only allows for quick one line types of posts and with the viewership rising continually it was getting harder to get your posts seen. I think that the chat feature is what makes The B-Cast special because we can interact with the hosts during the live shows, but people still wanted to talk even after the 2 hour show was over. I floated this idea of a forum and several of the chat members thought it was a good idea. That is why I started the “Unofficial B-Cast” forums.
Have you run a forum before? I have been an Admin on a few successful political forums and have tried to launch a couple of others in the past.
I see you’ve had a lot of ppl retweet about your forum on twitter, how did you go about motivating other people to tweet about your forum? Well I would like to say I had a lot to do with it, but it was really just the chat members letting others know what we were doing.
How else have you been promoting your forum? I have really just been using twitter and our chat community at The B-Cast to promote it. Along with putting it in my signature when posting elsewhere. I tried to use the sidebar function to create a custom html widget to show The B-Cast’s twitter posts. I followed the directions in the support FAQ, but for some reason I can not get it to work.
Is there anything else you’ve been doing to help generate such high posting activity over the first few days of your forum? That is pretty much it. I happen to have a great pool of the B-Cast community supporting what we are trying to do. I think that was key. There was already a group of like minded people that were anxious to express their ideas, I just gave them one more place with a little different format to do so. I hope that as The B-Cast grows, our fan community will as well. The B-Cast’s URL is http://www.breitbart.tv/livestream/ the show is M-F from 4 to 6 eastern and the previous day’s show loops after that until midnight or for weekends when the next live show starts.
How did you find out about Lefora and what made you choose it as your forum software? To be honest, not knowing exactly how people would like the forum idea even though many said they would, I Googled for a free format and found Lefora. I like the WYSIWYG style for the posters. I will say that since most of the sites where I have been an Admin were phpbb, the Admin tools are a little limiting, but sometimes simple is better. I like the way this site takes many of the headaches most Admin face, such as spam, and tackle that for us. Also, the theme format that was available and I chose was perfect to coincide with The B-Cast.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with fellow admins? I would say that one thing I have learned is make sure you identify your audience before starting a forum. If you can find something that already has a following online, but not a forum, you will probably be able to get members. The trick after that is keeping them. I think it will work for The B-Cast forums, because this was started by me as a service to my other Bcasters. I believe in what Liz and Scott are doing and I want to promote it any way I can!

What is your forum about?

My forum is a “fan” site for Breitbart.tv’s The B-Cast, which is a daily M-F 4pm to 6pm eastern webcast with live chat, hosted by Scott Baker and Liz Stephans. They are very active in the conservative media and Scott Baker was recently featured on the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck Show.  They focus on the political topics of the day and various other news breaking events like the Acorn scandal along with other interesting stories and the occasional humorous viral videos. The forums seek to reflect that same type of information.

Have you run a forum before?

I have been an Admin on a few successful political forums and have tried to launch a couple of others in the past.

I see you’ve had a lot of ppl retweet about your forum on twitter, how did you go about motivating other people to tweet about your forum?

Well I would like to say I had a lot to do with it, but it was really just the chat members letting others know what we were doing.

How else have you been promoting your forum?

I have really just been using twitter and our chat community at The B-Cast to promote it. Along with putting it in my signature when posting elsewhere. I tried to use the sidebar function to create a custom html widget to show The B-Cast’s twitter posts. I followed the directions in the support FAQ, but for some reason I can not get it to work.

Is there anything else you’ve been doing to help generate such high posting activity over the first few days of your forum?

That is pretty much it. I happen to have a great pool of the B-Cast community supporting what we are trying to do. I think that was key. There was already a group of like minded people that were anxious to express their ideas, I just gave them one more place with a little different format to do so. I hope that as The B-Cast grows, our fan community will as well. The B-Cast’s URL is http://www.breitbart.tv/livestream/ the show is M-F from 4 to 6 eastern and the previous day’s show loops after that until midnight or for weekends when the next live show starts.

How did you find out about Lefora and what made you choose it as your forum software?

To be honest, not knowing exactly how people would like the forum idea even though many said they would, I Googled for a free format and found Lefora. I like the WYSIWYG style for the posters. I will say that since most of the sites where I have been an Admin were phpbb, the Admin tools are a little limiting, but sometimes simple is better. I like the way this site takes many of the headaches most Admin face, such as spam, and tackle that for us. Also, the theme format that was available and I chose was perfect to coincide with The B-Cast.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with fellow admins?

I would say that one thing I have learned is make sure you identify your audience before starting a forum. If you can find something that already has a following online, but not a forum, you will probably be able to get members. The trick after that is keeping them. I think it will work for The B-Cast forums, because this was started by me as a service to my other Bcasters. I believe in what Liz and Scott are doing and I want to promote it any way I can!

Myself and several others of a growing audience have been involved in the chat aspect of the show for quite some time now. When chat was left open around the clock, we started noticing that people would show up at all hours of the day and night and just chat and share links. But as you probably know, chat is like dropping leaves in a stream. If you are not there at the time, you more than likely will miss whatever is said or posted. Because even though the chat runs all the time, it does clear from time to time. I thought that the same people involved in the chat all with very similar interests in politics might want a forum to give more permanence to posts and allow people to get their posts seen by more members and have more time to really expound on their points. Chat only allows for quick one line types of posts and with the viewership rising continually it was getting harder to get your posts seen. I think that the chat feature is what makes The B-Cast special because we can interact with the hosts during the live shows, but people still wanted to talk even after the 2 hour show was over. I floated this idea of a forum and several of the chat members thought it was a good idea. That is why I started the “Unofficial B-Cast” forums.

Author’s Comments: In just a few days, James has done a terrific job of realizing another outlet was need for a community and so he started a forum on Eamped.com (running the Lefora forum software).  He took an active chat room and turned it into a thriving forum overnight.  From posting links in their chat room to his use of Twitter and of other members ‘re-tweeting’ his message to their network has helped contribute to this success.

It was also interesting to read his comments on the Lefora software – at first it seems limiting, but it’s simple and automatically takes care of the many headaches that admins have to deal with on other forum software, like spam prevention and theming.  Our goal is to hide complexities so that the admin interface is incredibly simple to use and not overwhelming.  We spend extra time programming automatic community functions into the forums, so admins can spend their time fostering their community, not tweaking a bunch of settings.

Interview – Martin Reed of CommunitySpark.com

Martin has been building and managing online communities for over 9 years.  He’s given talks and advice to a number of organizations about building communities, including the NYC Dept. of Education.  He’s been interviewed by the BBC, Web User Magazine, and other international newspapers.
His site, CommunitySpark, is an invaluable resource for any admin, new or mature.  As Martin offers great advice on growing an online forum, keeping your members happy, and promoting your community.
Hi Martin, would you mind staring off with telling us a little bit about Community Spark?
I built my first online community from scratch back in 2000. Since then, I purchased a dormant online community and brought it back to life and last September I launched another new community. Community Spark is where I share what I have learnt in over nine years of community building.
We are split nowadays when it comes to community building advice. When I started out, this kind of advice was hard to come by. Furthermore, I hate seeing online communities fail – and most of them do. The goal of Community Spark is to help people build successful online communities.
I’m still learning – even now. Not only do I share advice on my blog, but I also learn from my readers so the benefits run both ways.
You obviously have a natural affiliation for running communities.  Do you think there are a few personality traits that make for a good forum admin or community organizer?
Yes. Patience, dedication, passion and determination. Real communities don’t develop overnight. They take a lot of hard work and sometimes community management can be rather unrewarding. You need to be in it for the long term. Being passionate about the community or the subject matter of the community will get you through these tough times. You need to be determined to succeed.
Do you find that running different communities with different interest groups and demographics poses new challenges to you?  Or is it the case that there are a few fundamental concepts on running an online community, and these apply universal to different groups?
Every online community is different (or at least, it should be). Therefore, even if you manage more than one community on the same subject matter, there will be different personalities and a different culture.
The subject matter of the community shouldn’t hugely affect how you run that community – some subjects may require more sensitivity or different moderation policies but at the end of the day, you are still dealing with people. People want to feel recognized and rewarded – the subject matter comes second to the human element of community.
My newest community is Female Forum – an online community for women. I am the community manager and all the members know I am male – I make no secret of the fact. Some new members are a little wary at first, but they soon recognise that my gender has no bearing on my ability to manage the community.
Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins in order to run a fun and active forum?
Only three?!
1. Know why you want an online community, what will make your community different, and why people will want to join.
2. Forget quantity. Instead, aim for quality.
3. Always listen to your members (don’t confuse this with always saying yes), be approachable, and keep them in the spotlight.
.
What are some of the more ‘shocking’ things you learned throughout your 9+ year career of running online communities?
The anonymity of the Internet can be both a curse and a blessing. People will share information that they would never dream of discussing face to face. This can lead to some very frank, open, honest and often touching discussions. On the other hand, some people can be so abusive and offensive you may sometimes question people’s humanity.
As a community manager, you’ll receive abuse at some stage. Sometimes it will be awful – you need to ignore it and rise above it. I’ve been told to ‘watch my back’, some people have told me they know where I live (handy in case I forget, I suppose) and others have threatened to destroy the community by attacking the server.
What are some tips you might share to reinvigorate communities that might be loosing steam?
You need to work out why your community is losing steam. Is it boring? Are members feeling undervalued? Are you involved in the community yourself? If you aren’t involved, why should others contribute? Make sure the community is easy to use – focus on functionality rather than features. Make sure members feel rewarded and valued (remember to say thank you). Create a culture where members form real relationships with one another – they’ll find it almost impossible to leave a place that is full of people they regard as friends.
Finally, for all those new admins out there, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Don’t think that members will flock to your online community just because it is there. Community building is harder than that. Aim to get members before you open – invite people you respect and those that are interested in the subject matter of your community to help with the development process. Tailor the community around these initial golden members, and ensure there are discussions and content in the community before it goes live.
Author’s Comments: Martin, thank you for your concise responses.  I recommend all forum admins head over to CommunitySpark for more indepth articles.  Martin’s last point for new forum admins is really good advice.  Frequently I see admins in our support forum get frustrated when members don’t ‘flock’ to their new forum.  It takes time and sweat for an admin to incubate a new community.  Just creating the shell of a forum won’t get members there and certainly won’t provoke them to start posting.  An admin must work hard to invite those ‘golden’ members first and spur conversation and questions between them before attracting more members.  Lefora will continue to post best practices around starting a new forum in the coming months.

Martin has been building and managing online communities for over 9 years.  He’s given talks and advice to a number of organizations about building communities, including the NYC Dept. of Education.  He’s been interviewed by the BBC, Web User Magazine, and other international newspapers.

His site, CommunitySpark, is an invaluable resource for any admin, new or mature.  As Martin offers great advice on growing an online forum, keeping your members happy, and promoting your community.

.

Hi Martin, would you mind staring off with telling us a little bit about Community Spark?
I built my first online community from scratch back in 2000. Since then, I purchased a dormant online community and brought it back to life and last September I launched another new community. Community Spark is where I share what I have learnt in over nine years of community building.

We are split nowadays when it comes to community building advice. When I started out, this kind of advice was hard to come by. Furthermore, I hate seeing online communities fail – and most of them do. The goal of Community Spark is to help people build successful online communities.

I’m still learning – even now. Not only do I share advice on my blog, but I also learn from my readers so the benefits run both ways.

.

You obviously have a natural affiliation for running communities.  Do you think there are a few personality traits that make for a good forum admin or community organizer?
Yes. Patience, dedication, passion and determination. Real communities don’t develop overnight. They take a lot of hard work and sometimes community management can be rather unrewarding. You need to be in it for the long term. Being passionate about the community or the subject matter of the community will get you through these tough times. You need to be determined to succeed.

.

Do you find that running different communities with different interest groups and demographics poses new challenges to you?  Or is it the case that there are a few fundamental concepts on running an online community, and these apply universal to different groups?
Every online community is different (or at least, it should be). Therefore, even if you manage more than one community on the same subject matter, there will be different personalities and a different culture.

The subject matter of the community shouldn’t hugely affect how you run that community – some subjects may require more sensitivity or different moderation policies but at the end of the day, you are still dealing with people. People want to feel recognized and rewarded – the subject matter comes second to the human element of community.

My newest community is Female Forum – an online community for women. I am the community manager and all the members know I am male – I make no secret of the fact. Some new members are a little wary at first, but they soon recognise that my gender has no bearing on my ability to manage the community.

.

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

Only three?!

  1. Know why you want an online community, what will make your community different, and why people will want to join.
  2. Forget quantity. Instead, aim for quality.
  3. Always listen to your members (don’t confuse this with always saying yes), be approachable, and keep them in the spotlight.

.

What are some of the more ‘shocking’ things you learned throughout your 9+ year career of running online communities?
The anonymity of the Internet can be both a curse and a blessing. People will share information that they would never dream of discussing face to face. This can lead to some very frank, open, honest and often touching discussions. On the other hand, some people can be so abusive and offensive you may sometimes question people’s humanity.

As a community manager, you’ll receive abuse at some stage. Sometimes it will be awful – you need to ignore it and rise above it. I’ve been told to ‘watch my back’, some people have told me they know where I live (handy in case I forget, I suppose) and others have threatened to destroy the community by attacking the server.

.

What are some tips you might share to reinvigorate communities that might be loosing steam?
You need to work out why your community is losing steam. Is it boring? Are members feeling undervalued? Are you involved in the community yourself? If you aren’t involved, why should others contribute? Make sure the community is easy to use – focus on functionality rather than features. Make sure members feel rewarded and valued (remember to say thank you). Create a culture where members form real relationships with one another – they’ll find it almost impossible to leave a place that is full of people they regard as friends.

.

Finally, for all those new admins out there, what is one piece of advice you’d like to share with a new forum admin starting their first forum?
Don’t think that members will flock to your online community just because it is there. Community building is harder than that. Aim to get members before you open – invite people you respect and those that are interested in the subject matter of your community to help with the development process. Tailor the community around these initial golden members, and ensure there are discussions and content in the community before it goes live.

.


Author’s Comments: Martin, thank you for your concise responses.  I recommend all forum admins head over to CommunitySpark for more indepth articles.  Martin’s last point for new forum admins is really good advice.  Frequently I see admins in our support forum get frustrated when members don’t ‘flock’ to their new forum.  It takes time and sweat for an admin to incubate a new community.  Just creating the shell of a forum won’t get members there and certainly won’t provoke them to start posting.  An admin must work hard to invite those ‘golden’ members first and spur conversation and questions between them before attracting more members.  Lefora will continue to post best practices around starting a new forum in the coming months.

Featured Forum – The Budget Queen

Today we’re talking with Teresa Theriot, Founder, CEO, and admin of The Budget Queen Forum.  Teresa has done an amazing job of integrating a lefora forum with her website.  The layout and colors have been matched across the two sites, so that a member on the forum, doesn’t feel like they’re visiting a different site when they visit other areas of her website.  Teresa is a stay at home mother of three children, she is an expert on saving money and founder of www.thebudgetqueen.com.  She has a weekly TV spot on  KATC’s Good Morning Acadiana in Lafayette, LA and a weekly column in The Daily Advertiser.

The Budget Queen stats:
* Threads: 492
* Posts: 1,861
* Members: 96
* Software: lefora

Teresa, could you tell us a little bit about how you became the Budget Queen?
Of course! A few years ago, my husband I decided very suddenly that I should stay at home with my kids. Being that we were both professionals, it cut our income in half. I had no choice but to make it work, so I started researching books, magazines, and websites on frugal living. There was a lot of information out there, so I had to work to compile it into a system that worked for me and my family. My main concern was that I wanted to continue the same lifestyle that we were living for a whole lot less money.

As friends and family noticed our success, they started asking us how we were making it work, because they wanted to stay home too. I began e-mailing deals and sales to everyone. When that got overwhelming, I decided to compile all of my data into a website so that anyone and everyone could access at anytime. I wanted it to be a one-stop-shop for all things frugal so that people wouldn’t have do all of the research that I had to do. I really wanted to help people share the same financial success that we were. So www.thebudgetqueen.com was born.

As the economy worsened, the popularity of the site grew into a full fledged business. I now offer paid advertising on my website and forum, corporate classes, group classes,  and private consultations. I also have a regular segment on KATC TV3’s Good Morning Acadiana, here in Lafayette, LA and I have a weekly column in the Accent section of The Daily Advertiser. Coming soon, I will have an eStore that offers money saving tools and products.


Who is your target audience and how do you go about marketing to them and bringing them to your forum?

I am not purposefully trying to target a particular audience because the information that I offer is useful to anyone and everyone, although it does seem to be majority female of all adult ages. The forum is devoted to sales, bargains, coupons, deals, etc. which is mostly relevant to women because they generally do the household shopping.

There seems to be about a 50/50 ratio of working vs. stay-at-home moms. There are also a couple men on the forum as well.  I really am trying to get the message out to everyone about this different way of living, so I am hoping that the number of men on the forum will grow.

Being that I am The Budget Queen, I generally only do marketing that is free. I do lots of word-of-mouth marketing, I am a member of a networking group, I am doing the weekly column in The Daily Advertiser as trade for advertising on their www.acadianamomslikeme.com website, I promote my site on my KATC segment, and I send press releases to the local papers when something new and exciting is happening with the site. I also take advantage of marketing myself for free on sites like StumbleUpon, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I am always looking for and taking advantage of free marketing tools.

Have you noticed the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on Lefora bringing new traffic to your forum?
Yes is an understatement. When I started the site, I was getting at the most about 3,000 unique visitors per month. Thanks to Lefora’s Search Engine Optimization I have seen numbers as high as 22,000 unique visitors per month, with no other national advertising of any sort. I have only been with Lefora for 5 months, so this is a huge success. Lefora’s SEO is going to be the key to helping me reach my goal of a national website. I am so grateful for the services that Lefora provides!
.

What goal did you have in mind when you first started your forum? What goals would you like to achieve at this point?
When I first started the forum, it was my goal to have a community where frugal minded people could come together and share their ideas, deals, coupons, recipes, or anything related to frugal living. Originally, I was targeting stay-at-home moms in an effort to help keep them from returning to work out of financial necessity. As the site grew, I realized that it was more than stay-at-home moms that needed the help, so I changed my focus.

Now that I realize the value of the information I have to offer, it is my goal to take the site to a national level to teach Americans a new perspective on money. As a culture, we are very frivolous and unconscious with our money. I would like to teach people that there is a better way to live. The truth is that we can live the same lifestyles on a lot less. My website www.thebudgetqueen.com has all of the tools to help people live better on less so that they can get out of debt and start saving towards their goals. The Budget Queen System is the key, and the The Budget Queen Forum is part of that system. It allows people to come together to discuss issues and share ideas on smarter spending. It has been a valuable tool in the growth of the site.

What are some of the reasons you originally choose Lefora over another forum service? Have you worked with other forum software in the past?
To be completely honest, I originally chose Lefora because it was free. As The Budget Queen, I always opt for something free over something that I have to pay for. The lower I keep my overhead, the more I profit. Plus, when I first started the site, all of the elements had to be as cheap as possible in order for me to stay afloat.

I tried other free forum services, but they always had problems that were never resolved. I loved the set up of the Lefora forum and felt as if it worked best for my readers. It was similar to some very popular forums that I saw in the past, so it was love at first site! Since then, Lefora has grown, changed, added new features, and I love it more each day. I feel that they listen to my needs and concerns and make a continuous effort to give me what I need. I am enjoying watching Lefora grow along with my own site.

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

  1. First and foremost, you need to be present on the forum. It is essential that readers know that you are there, so I recommend trying to post at least twice a day. Any random conversation is enough for people to know that you are there and that you care about their questions. I try to make an effort to get on and at least respond to some of the posts twice a day. Be as genuine and personable as possible so that others feel comfortable posting on the site.
  2. Secondly, post valuable information that keeps readers coming back. Random conversation is great, but to really hold people’s interest and keep them returning to the forum, you need to have valuable content for them to look forward to. For instance, on Sundays I post all of the drug store sales and deals. On Tuesdays I post all of the grocery sales and deals. On Wednesdays I try to post my menu plan for the week or some new recipes. Fridays are what I like to call “Freebie Friday” when I post all sorts of free samples, events, downloads, etc. This information reduces the workload for the reader by compiling the data so they don’t have to, thus making it easier to keep their budgets low. Anything that saves people time and effort is valuable information. My readers are aware of the routine, so they come back regularly to check out the deals.
  3. Last, get readers involved. When there doesn’t seem to be a lot of activity on the site, create a contest or other fun game to get readers involved. In the past, I held a contest asking for new money saving tips. I chose the winner at random and sent her an Entertainment Book as a prize. I think I got about 52 responses to this post. I also posted a request for pictures to get readers to add their pictures to the site. There are all sorts of creative ways to get readers involved based on your forum topics. When things are super slow, this really seems to renew the passion on the forum.  I also try to do or add something new to the site each month to keep the site growing and constantly interesting.

.

I hope this information helps everyone! It’s been a pleasure working with Lefora. Thanks so much for your interest in my site!

Author’s Comments: Thank you Teresa for sharing such valuable tips on how to grow a successful forum.  I particularly like what you mentioned on how you go about marketing your site for free, from sties like stumbleupon, twitter, and facebook.  Word-of-Mouth marketing is very powerful, espically when that happens online where it’s easy for people to share.  It’s always helpful to make something understandable in just one sentence on how it would benefit an interested party – that is sure to get spread around.

For the admins, you are right on the ball about being present on the forum.  There have been many members that come to us asking why their forum isn’t popular, but the #1 thing they are forgetting to do is post consistently on their forum.  By posting a few times every day like you suggested, it ensures two things.  #1 that when members come to the forum, there is something to catch the member’s interest and make the forum feel current.  #2 it helps google crawl a forum if there is new content added each day – and that will send potential visitors to the forum.

Featured Forum – vBulletin Fans Network

Today we’re interviewing Floris Fiedeldij Dop. Floris has been active on the internet since 1993, creating web sites, communities and helping forums be content rich.  He runs a number of forum sites such as wetalk, and the vbfans network, assists the support team at Jelsoft Enterprises Limited (vBulletin) and Headstart Solutions (DeskPro) and runs the popular forum for vBulletin board owners, staff and users.

vbfans network stats: (http://vbfans.com)
* Threads: 27,474
* Posts: 147,405
* Members: 14,645
* Software: vBulletin v. 3.8.2

wetalk network stats: (http://wetalk.tv)
* Threads: 16,000
* Posts: 24,300
* Members: 2,750
* Software: vBulletin v. 3.7.6

How long have you been involved with the vBulletin community?
After closing my web creations studio company at the end of 2000, I have been creating the creations.nl forums, but was never satisfied with the software packages. I had my eye on vBulletin and we manually imported the data and went live with it on January 1st, 2002. A year later. It has instantly impacted my site, doubled in users and posts.

When version 3 of vBulletin was announced I got involved in the private testing, and used my live site creations.nl – renamed to vBulletin.nl which later was renamed to vBulletin-Fans.com.

I have joined the vBulletin Support Team March 2004.

What are your favorite vBulletin Hacks?
I have always found a single feature missing from vBulletin, the statistics modification from Bane (if I remember correctly). Providing you and your users with live statistics of visitors, referrals, search terms, etc. It was very feature rich for a modification for just version 2 of vBulletin. Unfortunately it never continued after version 3 was released, and I still miss it.

Other modifications that I liked have become default features in vBulletin. And I believe the ‘friendly url’ rewrites I personally prefer – will be default in version 4 too.

Have spammers been a large problem for you on any of your forums?  What tactics are you using to help prevent spam?
Yes, spammers are malicious users in my eyes, and have no regards for the service one offers with their site. It ruins the overall mood and impression one has of a site when visiting it and seeing it infested with spambots and what not.

It is a problem on not just my board, or a vBulletin powered board. It is a problem for bloggers, any forum owner, and other online application.

Thankfully reCAPTCHA is pretty good, and the features that sites offer, such as vBulletin’s human verification system, and the built in Akismet support. They help block most of the registrations and their posts (moderation queue). Keeping the front end of the site clean and usable – so visitors can find what they need and participate.

How do you think other forum software stacks up against vBulletin, such as phpBB, IPB, and Lefora?
Bluntly: They’re all pretty crap. Free alternatives live up to the stereotype : You get what you pay for. And there is a reason why I choose and stuck with vBulletin version 2 and 3. I have a feeling this is changing though, in the last few years; and years to come.

IPS is finally taking their software products serious and is making great progress moving from a consumer platform giving free licenses, to a paid solution – even worth enough for small companies.

Lefora is a fresh breeze of air and trying to be ahead of the technology and stepping into the market where todays services and social networking is a constant task for admins and users/visitors. Hopefully it grow big and quick and fix what others have been longing to get but can not find in solutions currently available.

When people ask me what free alternative to pick over vBulletin, I tell them to consider SMF, and inform them to get donations or funding, so they can import later into vBulletin.

When people ask why they need vBulletin or if it is worth the money. I ask them “If you are serious about your site, why go for second best?”

Do you think there are any downfalls to a hosted forum solution?
Yes, control. You leave a lot of trust into the hands of others. And their policies usually include ‘unexpected data loss and down time are out of our hands, and we are not liable for any direct or indirect damages as a result of this’. Leaving the service provider almost completely covered, while the user who ‘trusted’ the hosted solution with the problems if they arise. Additionally hosted solutions means that unlike vBulletin you probably do not decide when you upgrade, you can’t improve performance by changing a hosting provider, or when you need to grow. And costs can add up quite quickly while a $25/month VPS could sometimes fix all of this.

Are there any features you want to see added to vBulletin?
Let’s start with the top ten suggestions from the customers, and this hopefully includes the statistics mod I was talking about earlier.

The biggest request is user-friendly, innovating, modern, intuitive, user interface. Can all these software solutions come up with an interface that is quick to learn for the guest browsing the board?

What do you think forums will be like 5 years out?
They will hopefully have the customer requested features available in every forum product out there, hopefully free and paid alternatives caught up with vBulletin. And hopefully forums will have grown to a solution that is not just for consumers and a business, but also easy to expand, modular, scalable, and finally ready for the social as we will know it in the next few years. Supporting OpenID / Twitter, Google, Yahoo oAuth / Facebook Connect, or having matching features / API integration / and simply put .. be a SN in a box with the ability to connect to the cloud. So you don’t sign up on 50 forums and have 50 profiles. But have an online social profile and can use that on 50 forums. Let’s stop calling them forums and just make them ‘sites’. Be it a blog, forum, social group, gallery, etc .. hopefully software such as vBulletin and IPS and SMF/phpBB can serve as ‘engines’ to generate and power dynamic and flexible social sites.

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

  1. content is everything – good content, is worth everything
  2. consistency, dedication and passion – without it, you can not make it work
  3. business plan. a short and long term road map, and build a team to help reach the goals. build an advertising ring to generate income, generate a fund to have a budget to invest in hiring developers, designers, marketing, advertising, etc. No guts to think big, no glory will happen, ever. Know what you want, know who you want, know when you want it.

.
And do not be afraid to love your audience. Show your staff that you care, have your staff show they care about the members. Have the members show they care about the newcomers and visitors.

And finally: Stop spamming. SEO is fine. Fighting over a rank shows you have no passion for your site, voiding the above tips.

Finally, Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yeah, my cat is on twitter, she’d love it if you follow her : http://twitter.com/sashapurr ; But in all seriousness, if anybody wants to know more about me, I invite them to my blog on http://mrfloris.com – and thank you for taking the time to interview me. I wish you all the best of luck with the Lefora project.

.


Author’s Comments:
Many thanks to Floris, he packed in a lot of great information here.  Floris mentioned a few times about the direction of forums and some important technologies required to get us there.  Like the frustration of dealing with 50 forums with 50 profiles and how that’s just not scalable.  It’s one of the problems we’re solving here at Lefora, by creating a global account system that allows a member of one forum to join any other forum on Lefora without creating a new account and a new profile.  Floris mentioned the open authentication systems vBulletin supports, and that’s something we’ve built out as well with Lefora’s Single Sign-On API (SSO) – this allows a Lefora forum to hook directly into the login system of another website, so members of that website are automatically logged in and ready to post on their first visit to our forum.  Lefora is vastly expanding our API over the next few months, including integration with services like Facebook.

“Control” and “Trust” are two other items Floris talked about in reguards to hosted forum solutions and it’s feedback that we’ve heard frequently from both existing forum admins and potential new admins.  To address these concerns, we’re building out a Lefora exporter into our API so that admins of a forum have free direct access to their forum’s data – which ultimatly helps build trust in our service.

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”

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.

Featured Forum – Lifehouse on Lefora (LoL)

Today we’re talking with Nicky James, who runs a forum on the popular band Lifehouse.  His forum is growing fast, with over 7,000 posts in less then a month since it’s creation. For those of you unfamiliar with Lifehouse, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of their songs on the radio, such as Hanging By A Moment.

Welcome Nicky James.  Besides being a Lifehouse fan, what made you decide to start a forum?
I felt that there was a major lack of moderation and an overall sense of fellowship on the “official” Lifehouse forum at lifehousemusic.com.  And after being bogged down by a horde of clones and forum trolls I simply had enough. I didn’t want to fully drop out of the Lifehouse community because of the people I met. So with determination and a whole lot of free time I looked for an answer and eventually, after doing some homework, came across Lefora.com and set up shop. Plus, the name “Lifehouse on Lefora” has a cool ring to it and abbreviates well; “LoL”.


Are there other Lifehouse band forums out there that you have to compete with?  Is there anything you’re doing differently?
Hmm… I wouldn’t say that we “compete” with any other Lifehouse fan communities/forums. In fact, my ideal goal is to come to work closely with the other 2 forums that are largely focused on Lifehouse fans (lh-bsides.shortURL.com and lifehousemusic.com) in order to provide an awesome experience for Lifehouse’s fans. But my personal thoughts are that we that there was a certain niche that needed to be filled that no existing forum was addressing. The official boards will always have the stigma of being “Official”, and that can carry them for a long time. The B-sides forum is the next step in that it is separate from being official and is built by Lifehouse fans, for Lifehouse fans. And because of those reasons, that forum is pretty successful. I feel that Lifehouse on Lefora is the next step in that evolutionary process. One of the LoL members said it perfectly. She said “LoL fills a hole that the other forums do not fulfill. People here can joke around and laugh at funny video clips or talk about current events. There’s a more concrete sense of fellowship on LoL.” We take the best parts of other places and put them all on our forum.


As for what we do differently? Myself and my admin team keep in very close contact with members, were not some no name face that looms over everyone. Our forum also hasn’t looked the same since day one. Which was a big problem I had with other forums that all looked so bland or looked good but had looked the same for the last 2 years. We’re updating our look every week. We currently have 10 themes that we switch off every week and it keeps things looking fresh. We are also heavily involved with contests and giving prizes out to members for something as small as posting, say the 5000th post, all the way to full blown month long contests. We even have a special day coming in June where were going to be giving out more than $300 in prizes. you can go to one forum to be official, one to be more intellectual and serious, and one to just have fun and laugh your butt off with people that you’re on a first name basis with.

Where do most of your visitors come from? How do they first here about your site?
Thanks to the very close-knit community of fans that are out there over MySpace, Facebook, and other forums,it makes it extremely easy for us to cast a wide-net and reach many fans with ease. I’ve spoken with other admins of different forums that are struggling to find an audience and I think it all comes down to the demographic you’re trying to reach. If you run a video game fan forum, what happens then? You’re mainly going to be trying to attract males from ages 15-25. Lifehouse doesn’t necessarily have a target demographic or part of the world. We have members ranging in age from 13 to their 40’s and we’re represented in the US, UK, the Philippines, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and beyond. From what I’ve seen thus far, new members come to us mainly from Google. I’ve brought in quite a few members simply by contacting them directly and asking them to come check out LoL and because I have enough faith in my forum to where I know that they won’t be disappointed and sooner or later, they will want to get in on the all the fun and interesting conversations were carrying. The word “addicting” comes up quite often from members when describing why they spend so much time on the forum. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve also had some members hear about us on the other existing forums and will come from there as well.

What first drew you to Lifehouse?  Are there any Lifehouse lyrics that you find inspiring?
Lifehouse’s lyrics have been described as the sonic equivalent of a good friend, or a warm blanket. It’s a divine mix of honest lyrics, and great musical hooks. They don’t pretend to have all of the answers but they sure make the questions sound interesting. A lot of Jason’s lyrics revolve around deep and sometimes spiritual self questioning and trying to find out who you are. You know, there are some artists Like Johnny Cash, or Bob Dylan that can tell one hell of a story but fail to make you look within yourself and question. Lifehouse really fills that niche and that is why I am continuously drawn to their music. Asking a Lifehouse fan to choose a favorite song or choice lyric is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child. But if I had to choose one lyric I would have to quote a lyric from this song:

“I’d rather chase your shadow all my life,
than be afraid of my own,
I’d rather be with you,
Id rather not know
where I’ll be than be alone and convinced that I know,
cause the world keeps spinning around,
and my world is upside down,
and I wouldn’t change a thing,
I’ve got nothing else to lose,
I lost it all when I found you,
and I wouldnt change a thing,
No, you and I wouldn’t change a thing.” – Spin

Just recently, you were sitting on the other side of the interview desk, interviewing an award winning music video director (both Billboard and MTV awards).  How did you go about arranging that?  And has the interview spurred more interest on your forum?
I was setting up a forum section dedicated to Lifehouse music videos and came across the video for the 2005 song; Blind. I wanted to find a little more information on it. So while searching for some info I found out that the video was directed by Nigel Dick. I am very familiar with Nigel’s work and was surprised to see that this Lifetime Achievement Award winning director that has worked with such acts as Tears for Fears, Green Day, Elton John and has directed over 300 videos was working with our little band. I was definetly intruiged and wanted to look further into it. To my fortune, Nigel was very pleasant and we had a correspondence over the course of a couple weeks and I eventually just asked him for an interview, because that’s essentially what I was already doing. He obliged, and like in everything I do on LoL, I included the members and let them take the helm and ask the majority of the questions. They did a fantastic job and asked some very deep and intellectual questions. I posted the interview yesterday morning and we’ve had the single most busy day since the inception of LoL. I am currently trying to land an interview with Tina Majorino who has acted in over 20 movies and tv shows, but is best know for her role as Deb in the 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite. She played the protagonist in the same music video that Nigel directed. I am also working on an interview with Lifehouse’s manager Jude Cole.

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

  1. Include your members!!! They are the the lifeblood of the forum. This is especially important for a young forum. I rarely make changes on LoL without informing the members. I issue a weekly update usually including what has changed, why it has changed, and what’s coming up as far as new forum features or contests. If you give your members something to look forward to while also keeping your forum fresh in their minds, they will keep coming back. Another way I do this is by personally sending out welcome messages to every new member as they join the forum rather than just a cookie cutter message. Or worse, no welcome at all.
  2. Never make your forum about one thing. Sure, this is a Lifehouse fan forum. But people sometimes get confused, thinking that it is a place where you can only talk about Lifehouse and that’s not true. It is simply a place where Lifehouse fans gather. Our most popular thread right now is a thread that’s simply titled “I like cheese.” WTF, right? It’s fun to know that you can talk about anything and because you are all like minded, you can always bring it back to your forum’s purpose.
  3. Remember, you’re a leader, not a tyrant. Everett Dirksen said “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles. The first of which is to be flexible at all times.” Have fun with your members! You’re a member of your own forum, it shouldn’t be a chore. If you can find that space between being a “boss” and being a member, you will be in the perfect position to manage a successful forum. Being an admin can be a very thankless job. keep your chin up!

.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add?
Yeah! This is probably totally cliche to Chief [admin of lefora support] at this point but I want to take the time to sincerely thank you for all the help you’ve given me and all the one on one time you’ve spent with me helping to hammer out technical issues with my forum. I know that yourself and the Lefora team are working your tails off to bring us this free service and sometimes it can be very very thankless. But everyone over on LoL is so grateful for you guys because if it wasn’t for you, we would not have met some of the awesome people we have come to know. So off with the nay-sayers! lol.

To forum admins: Keep working away at that forum. Fact is, that you’re going to have to put in a whole mess of your personal time into this forum to make it successful. Utilize the Internet. if you don’t have a Myspace, get one. Also make sure your mods and admins are properly trained. There’s no better way to annoy members than to anger them with power tripping mods who want to edit or delete every post.

I also want to thank the Lifehouse on Lefora team for all the hard work and dedication they put into helping me run this successful forum. Oreolover000 and cmacd, you guys are the best I could ask for. Thanks for all your help.

I’m also going to shamelessly plug Lifehouse now. *Shameless plug* Lifehouse is currently in the studio working on their fifth album that is slated for release this summer, but until then, you can buy their newest Gold certified album Who We Are. Also be on the look out for a new music video for the song “Make Me Over” coming soon!!!


Author’s Comments: Nicky James provided some great commentary here.  I’ve visited the forum a number of times since it was first started, and Nicky James does keep the themes active and changing – which I think is great.  It always makes the forum look ‘fresh’ and hopping.  It’s very easy to change colors, background images, and header images on Lefora without changing your layout.  So members still feel comfortable on your forum, but they’ll know you’re interested in keeping things fresh.  Prize offerings are another great idea to spur activity – it doesn’t have to be anything large.  And finally, interviewing well known and respected people related to the forum is always a great way to spur interest and get new members to join – and asking for interview questions from your community is smart.

Warning! Do not feed the trolls.

Trolls… We’ve all come across them, they were around before the web even existed, hanging around in dark corners of Usenet, lurking, waiting to bait an innocent subject.  Today, they’ve evolved into much more sophisticated creatures, not only inhabiting online forums, but living on blog comments, twitter accounts, yelp reviews, and online games – pretty much anywhere a lonely individual sitting at home can find a way to compensate for lack of ‘real-world’ friends.

Today, we’re talking with Andrew Heenan, and his site www.flayme.com/troll.  Andrew is well versed in how to deal with ‘trolls’ on the internet and took the time to share some of his knowledge with our audience.  His advice is great, and for anybody having a headache dealing with a troll, I suggest reading his website and comments below.

For any readers that might not be aware, could you explain in your own words what an internet troll is?
One who sets out to disrupt a forum, by posting in a way that will annoy or humiliate members – the motivation and methods vary, but a troll is no more than a troublemaker, who does it ‘because he can’!

Your site reveals an interesting fact, that the term ‘troll’ does *not* in fact come from slimy creatures living under bridges – so where did it come from?
The anglers among your readers will know that trolling is the art of trailing a bait, hoping that a fish will bite; for the internet troll, it’s all about the response. Just as many anglers will put the fish back after the catch, so the Internet troll has no real interest in the issues being discussed; they are simply entertaining themselves by causing frustration in others. It’s about power – trolls create the illusion of power by manipulating others.

Do you think there are any subjects or behaviors that attract trolls?
Though there are exceptions, most trolls don’t really put a lot of work into their hobby; so you’ll find sexist comments placed on feminist forums, racist or homophobic comments on political forums, and so on. All easy, obvious targets. A particular favorite seems to be the ‘fundies’ (religious fundamentalists), because they seem to be almost guaranteed to bite, however lame the troll’s bait.

What are some steps to get rid of a troll?
The most effective method of troll management is ‘Don’t Feed The Troll’; if it does not get a response, it will move off and try elsewhere; any response is validation of its sad existence, so should be avoided. But we’ve all been taken in; the skilled troll may start with a question or comment that may seem odd, but is not rude, wrong or particularly inappropriate. Once it has you hooked, then it attempts to manipulate you into anger or humiliation. One of the most effective troll tricks is to cause group members to disagree – often ‘planting’ a new member to defend them, with a plea to members to ‘give him another chance’. The resulting dispute allows the troll to leave the members fighting, with no further effort required.

Think back to the most difficult troll you had to deal with, how do you finally stop them?
This question goes straight to the heart of the problem – you cannot stop a troll, unless you are an owner or moderator. But you can manage it.

I’ve never had a problem in dealing with a troll to my satisfaction; I ignore it, I move away, or  I indulge in a little troll baiting to amuse other members. But while I may be happy with that, none of these actions will necessarily stop the troll, and the damage to the forum can continue.

It requires every member to ignore the troll; every moderator to spot them and take appropriate action … and that’s not always going to happen.

If you use newsgroups, it’s no trouble to ‘killfile’ trolls – but you still have to deal with other members’ responses to the troll. They cannot be stopped, because there’s effectively no moderation.

In forums or blogs, it’s a matter of moderation, and on more than one occasion, I’ve ceased to read a blog because the owner failed to prevent troll abuse to the point where the readability was reduced to zero. Trolls can only succeed if someone feeds them – or fails to moderate them off the board.

Any advice you’d like to give to mods or admins dealing with a troll?
I think the best rule for moderators is that it’s important to give the loyal members the benefit of the doubt, rather than worry about the troll’s ‘rights’. If it acts like a troll, and smells like a troll, then delete the posts and suspend membership. Then forget about it! Very occasionally, you may get it wrong, and the ‘troll’ was a confused or inarticulate ‘newbie’ – and that’s shame. But the priority must be to be fair to the forum.

I’ve been told ‘trolls have first amendment rights’ to free speech – it’s a civil rights issue’. Sure they do, on their own websites, and I respect their right to post whatever they want, subject to the law, on their own sites. I’m not saying they cannot troll, simply that they cannot troll on my property – and that’s my civil rights!

And never, ever, negotiate with a troll. Always ignore any email or other approach, as there’s a small risk of a frustrated troll becoming a stalker. But that’s another story …

Finally, is there anything you’d like to mention about your site or what you’re up to in 2009?
I’m always on the lookout for more tips on troll management, and I’m hoping to spend more time on updating the web site this year. But I say that every year!

Featured Forum – Zelda Universe Forums

Today we’re interviewing Jason Rappaport of Zelda Universe Forums.  Zelda Universe (ZU) is running on vBulletin 3.8.0, with a number of modifications including a Search Engine Optimization mod, vBSEO.  (One of the features we offer here at lefora, is automatic search optimization for all your forum’s topics, optimizing the keywords on your page, ensuring that google and other search engines crawl your forum a few times a week.)

Zelda Universe Stats:
* Threads: 79,964
* Posts: 2,461,402
* Members: 52,570

How did Zelda Universe Forums start?
The founder is a very good friend of mine named Lars Christian-Simonsen. Initially, Zelda Universe was an offshoot of his personal site, and his little guides garnered so much praise that he split it off and formed a standalone site around it. Naturally, there’s a huge community of Zelda fans out there who want to gather and discuss the series, so it was a no-brainer to have a discussion forum to go along with the main site.

What have been some goals with the forum?
The common goal of the forum has pretty much always been to bring Zelda fans together in the most convenient and interactive way possible. I can’t tell you how many friendships and bonds have been formed as a result of the incredible community that has gathered on Zelda Universe – recently, two of our members married each other! When the forum first began, no doubt it was meant to be a hub for Zelda discussion, but it has grown into its own little metropolis. I’d like to see the forum more integrated into the main site to bring that community effort over to the content-side of things, but for the most part I just want to see the forum continue to grow and spawn projects of its own. The next step is complete crowdsourcing – taking the Zelda community’s projects developed on the boards and turning them into serious endeavors that we can share with everyone on the internet.


How did you go about first promoting your forum?
Google is always a huge help, but most of our members were longtime visitors before they decided to join up! It’s not uncommon for members to pop in, make their welcome thread, and say that they’ve been visiting the site for several years and only just decided to join the forums. Obviously it wasn’t just search engine traffic that brought us up – friends bring friends, word of mouth helps things out, and I know for a fact that Lars would run around showing off his latest projects and updates to the site on other forums. The culmination of all this “press”, if you will, drove a good deal of traffic to ZU and the forums. Not to mention our Zelda information was (and is) pretty in-depth.

Do you still need to promote your forum, or does it grow on it’s own?
Nowadays it grows on its own, though I still promote it as much as I can. But at this point we’re nearly eight years old (turning on Feb. 21st!) and we’ve got a reputation as the largest Zelda community online, so people do end up gathering at ZU one way or another, it seems, even if they go to other Zelda sites. I’ve done a lot of work to make ZU more visible – both in search engines and through word-of-mouth – and I hope it’s paid off as even more Zelda fans discover our great community. I know there are still millions of Zelda fans out there, so there’s always reason to promote!

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

  1. Encourage your active members, and don’t be discouraged by the number of “inactive” members. Many people register just to get a glimpse at the site – the number of active participants on ZU at any given time is far less than the total number of registered members. A good rule to stand by is that 90% of your members will be inactive, 9% will be moderately active, and 1% will probably post more than you do. As long as you make sure the members posting are enjoying their time in the community, more people will come. Your boards will grow.
  2. Encourage your community to create their own projects, or suggest projects for you to create. By far one of our most active boards on ZU is the Feedback, Suggestions and Questions board, where people not only ask for help but also suggest new features to add to the site – and I daresay most of our new features are user-generated ideas. Now our members use these features daily, post in subforums that they wanted to be created, etc. It’s a community – build it together with your members.
  3. Encourage users to go off-topic. Don’t keep your boards to a single subject – we may be Zelda Universe, but our members discuss everything from Zelda to XBox to football to anime, and every so often I make a thread that’s just for laughs (usually in the Feedback section), and everyone spams it up and has a good time until we all decide it’s gotten out and hand and lock it up. But never limit your members – they’ll thank you for letting them have any kind of discussion they want to have. Freedom is the freedom to express oneself; never forget that.

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And for all the Zelda fans out there, classic and new, which is your favorite Zelda?
My first Zelda game was Link’s Awakening, but by far my most favorite is The Wind Waker. The Wind Waker really brought me into Zelda and solidified my Zelda “fandom”, if you’d call it that and not an obsession! The Wind Waker, I believe, had a certain magic none of the other Zeldas had. Perhaps it was the art style that truly drew me in, because the storyline is pretty samey for a Zelda game. Whatever the case, many people are shocked to find that I found Ocarina of Time quite boring and never finished it, but loved The Wind Waker and have played it many times over. I don’t think that makes me any less of a Zelda fan; in fact, I’m proud not to be the generic Ocarina-of-Time-loving Zelda geek! The Wind Waker totally doesn’t get enough love.

Is there anything you would like to add?
If you’re board is just starting out, you’ve got to keep at it and really make a serious effort to grow the community. Just letting it sit there won’t help – like I said, Lars went out and made a fuss about ZU all over the internet, and if you really think your board has potential, you should be doing that, too! Once you get the ball rolling, it’ll pick up momentum and eventually become an unstoppable force. But only if you put in the effort, and only if you really believe it can go somewhere. If you don’t believe in your own project, well, who else is going to? Nobody, that’s who! So build up your community and make it great, because that’s the only thing it can become.

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Author’s Comments: Jason provided some great knowledge here.  Some points of his I think everybody should take away from this:

  • “It’s not uncommon for members to pop in, make their welcome thread, and say that they’ve been visiting the site for several years and only just decided to join the forum.”
  • “A good rule to stand by is that 90% of your members will be inactive, 9% will be moderately active, and 1% will probably post more than you do.
  • Word-of-mouth is very helpful, one way to do this, is an admin, go to other forums and show-off your latest projects
  • “Encourage users to go off-topic” – after all, you’re creating a community of people that share interests, it’s very likely they’ll have fun talking about other topics on your forum.

Featured Forum – Monkey Steals the Peaches

monkey steals the peaches

Today, we’re talking to Doctor Death, founder of Monkey Steals the Peaches, a fun forum that we’ll keep you laughing between videos, photos, and of course, the commentary.

Do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins in order to run a fun and active forum?
Sure thing! I would say the most important thing is to keep it lively. If your members go onto your site to see whats new and theres nothing new since the last time they were on… they are going to get bored with it very quickly.

Second, keep your posts short and to the point. If you go rambling on and on, your members are going to lose interest. People have short attention spans.

And Third… Keep it Fun and open-minded. Nobody want to be on a site where all the members are Die-hard subject-Nazi’s who cant see the other side of the coin.

What are some of the reasons you originally choose lefora over another forum service?  Was there any other software you ran a forum with in the past?
I searched through quite a few forum sites before I chose Lefora. Almost every one of them would say they were free, let you create a site and then want you to pay to use it. Not Lefora. Besides, Lefora had the best looking and most functional page layouts that I could find.

Yea, I tried a few of the ones I found online but I couldn’t even tell you the name of them now… Once I found Lefora, I never looked back.

If you could make improvements on Lefora, what would you like to see?
The only thing I would like to be able to do is to place Images in the middle of a post without using an outside image source like Photobucket. Using one of those deals for your images is a royal pain in the butt. I am pretty good with the Photoshop, and I love to post images. Being able to Drag & Drop images would be Awesome! And One of my members wants to be able to change his user name without losing all his post counts and links. Other than those small things, I would say that Lefora runs perfectly!

How did you go about first promoting your forum?
Word of Mouth… at first. Then through the Lefora Help page. Then I started going to other peoples forums and chatting with them. I use the “monkeystealsthepeaches.com” as my signature on my profile wherever I go. I am currently looking for more ways to promote… we always welcome more members at the monkey!

Finally, is there anything you would like to add?
Yea! I just wanted to add that Chief has really helped me out in to months that I have been at this and he and Chatham were the ones that helped me become a dot-com as well. My friends and I have had a ton of fun on the monkey and I feel like we are just getting started. Things here are awesome.

And just how awesome are you personally Doctor Death?
Well, as you know… I am Incredibly Awesome in every way possible. Being an Ex-Wrestler/Astronaught and Administrator of the Greatest Forum ever, I just don’t see how I could get much more Awesome than I already am. Just come to Monkeystealsthepeaches.com and you can revel in my Awesomeness too. See ya there Kiddies!

Author’s Comments: Thanks for that feedback Doc, we’ll be introducing a new posting editor soon that will make it easier to upload photos from your computer (though you can do it now, by clicking the ‘upload files’ button.

Featured Forum – Nature vs. God Forum

Nature or God Forum

Today, we’re talking to Wrenna and Tete who recently moved over to Lefora from MSN Groups.  If you have an MSN Group yourself, and would like to learn more about our MSN Groups migration options, send us an email at ‘upgrades -at- lefora.com

Wrenna and Tete are running Nature Or God, a group on religion, philosophy and politics.  As their description states, “Because listening to each other can change the world.”

So to start, what topics are covered in your forum, are they philosophical, religious, political, or some combination of all three?

All three topics are discussed. We are mostly a religious debate forum but news topics are regularly covered also. Religious debate is usually between theists and atheists, and covers topics like evolution vs. intelligent design,separation of church and state, the meaning of free will, and whether children are born believing in God. These are some of the topics on our general board right now.  some science topics arise and we now have a sister site at Lefora, Science and Religion.

We do have a political board because we found during the recent election that some members couldn’t stop talking about it and some didn’t want to talk about it, so with its own board they have a choice.

We have found that all three of these major topics, philosophy, religion, and politics will intersect at various times. They are really inseparable.

With such controversial topics, what steps do you take to make sure your group stays focused?  Do you ever have to intervene to stop personal attacks?

That’s a very good question. Both of us are completely un-invested in who’s right and who’s wrong. We care about civil dialogue. Tete is a natural diplomat, and a very talented one. We try to be very patient and give lots of chances to people who lose their focus. Only rarely do we have to cancel a membership and more often than not that person gets another chance later on.

Most of the time though, a simple request or reminder is sufficient.

Your group on MSN was incredibly popular, I saw over 1/2 million posts listed through the topics.  What helped drive that activity?

The members. They are what make or break a group. We have been fortunate to have lots of really great members who have a passion for this type of discourse. It’s always great to see unlikely friendships form, or even see people change they’re thinking and opinions. People are endlessly fascinating and so is the way their minds work. And that gives rise to our other motto: “Let’s dare to think together”.

You’ve been using Lefora for about a month now, as ‘fresh’ admins to Lefora, what do you think about Lefora compared to MSN Groups?

We like Lefora,We like the simplicity and the layout of the boards. Many MSN groups were devoted to PSP and Graphics, but we are a place of words (to quote one member, Peltigera). Lefora is a great place for words. It’s also great to have a help group to go to and get answers or a fix almost immediately. It shows that the “Man in charge” cares. I find that pretty impressive. We don’t want to bash MSN but there you are lucky to get a form letter.

For managing your group, are there any features you found on Lefora that were new to you?

Spam control, being able to move an entire thread with just one click, and thumbs up or down come to mind. I’m a big fan of all three. It was also nice to be able to send invitations from our management email through Lefora. We are used to doing one at a time.

Finally, do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run an engaging and active forum?

Three tips?  Don’t abuse your power, be humble (learn how to say ‘I don’t know’; ‘I am sorry’; ‘Thank you’, among other phrases that will show people that you care) and let people be as free as is possible.  The key?  Management appears as little as possible.

Wrenna & Tete: Thank you for having us, it is an honor.

Vincent: Thank you for your commentary, I’m sure many other forum admins will find this interesting and helpful.

Featured Forum – CU Freebies Only Forum

Today, we’re talking with Laura of CU Freebies Only Forum. Their forum is a place for designers to share Commercial Use freebies items. In less than 2 months, Laura has build a forum with over 800 members and 3,400 posts. Quite an accomplishment to happen so quickly.


So Laura, the first question everybody would like to hear, how did you grow your forum so fast? How did you get so many members participating?

CROSS PROMOTE and Always Invite folks to join daily!  My Admin and my members also do the same thing, they can’t help it!

Lots of Designers join the Forum to generate traffic to their stores and blogs….they offer free items to get them there and when the members buy they will buy from the other members in the end. And the members are looking for those free items to practice with and create with.

Are there any promotional or marketing tips you would like to share with other forum admins?
I belong to other forums with the same interest.  I cross promote on my 2 blogs and the forum.  I sponsor a Blinkie (ad exchange) on my Forum for my members for free. They sport the forum blinkie and I in turn sport their blinkie on the forum.  I advertise on freebie scrap booking exchanges , both blogs and the forum.  I use Entire Card…it works I only taking ads that are relevant to my topics.  And I place ads only on other relevant blogs all for free.  Giving away something free helps.  I am listed in a lot of Topsites that are relevant to my topic.

My Admin team does the same thing cross promoting and hosting challenges.  I really must say without them I would not be able to keep up. And the forum would not have grown so fast…..having a Fantastic Admin Team is a Must have!

Where do most of your visitors come from? How do they first hear about your site?
They first came from my blogs where I always post an invite in every post….now they come from Google, Yahoo, and MSN searches, and even from Lefora itself, personal blogs, Kaboodle, forums, sharing groups, designers, when I check to see where my visitors are coming from I visit that site, blog or forum…..thank them and leave a comment with my URLS.

I started my CU Freebies only Blog after my other Blog…..it became so popular that folks were leaving notes about cu freebies and asking me to feature them….wow it took off.  I featured them and then cross promoted them to get traffic to their sites.  Win Win!!

What goal did you have in mind when you first started your forum? What goals would you like to achieve at this point?
I actually was getting overwhelmed with keeping up with folks who wanted to be featured and not being able to keep up….I thought how about a forum where the designers can post their freebies and I can feature them from the forum on my blog.  I won’t have to search everyday for good stuff to feature.

I am now in the process of testing to see if the designers want to post some of their creations that they sell on the forum and give forum members a discount.  I provide a free way to advertise and reach new folks everyday.

The forum has grown fast and takes time to keep it cleaned up and running smooth…I was surprised when my blog took off and mostly very surprised when the forum surpassed the blog.

What was some of your reasoning for choosing Lefora over another forum service? What other forum software have you worked with in the past?
I have never ran a forum before, so I searched for something that would be easy to navigate for myself and my members….we all like the format, and it is very simple to work with….doesn’t have all the bells and whistles but sometimes that is what complicates things for the members.

I’ve been a member of forums but not even an admin or moderator and I simply was confused with the forums I belong to…. I get lost easy.

So Lefora offers simplicity and consistency….Win Win!!!

Lastly, do you have 3 simple tips you could share with other forum admins to run a fun and active forum?
Check out others blogs, forums and sites that are relevant to your topic….be active and cross promote…offer something they don’t and be consistent…..work at promoting and being active in your niche and the growth will come as long as you are having fun!  Put your URL in your signature, comment on the other blogs, forums etc…. always leaving your URL when ever you comment or contribute anywhere.  And never stop Inviting folks to join.

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Follow-up thoughts: Laura is doing a fantasitic job at promoting her forum and one of the fatest growing Lefora forums.  It’s interesting to see that she’s been doing some cross advertising between her forum and other forums – as a free trade.  That’s a great idea for anybody running a forum on a topic that shares similiar interests with other sites.  Reach out to similiar sites, and let them know you can advertise their site on yours by putting an image and link on your sidebar in exchange for the same. Additionally, you could always purchase google ads on google’s search result page, it may run you only 20c-40c per thousand impressions.

Featured Forum – SuSE Unbound Forum

Today, we’re talking to mattb4 from the SuSE Unbound Forum. Matt has been very active in our support forums, helping other forum admins and providing feedback.

Hi Matt, do you you have 3 simple tips you could offer for running an active forum?

  1. Find and enthuse folks that have a like philosophy. Their contributions will create the life necessary to have an active Forum.
  2. Be ready to inject into your Forum unflagging attention. Never leave someone to feel that no one is paying attention to their postings.
  3. Have fun yourself.

I noticed your forum was linked from the Wikipedia SuSE article. Do you know if that’s been a good source of traffic?
It has helped bring in some. All mentions through out the Internet will help others to find your Forum. Ultimately, Word of Mouth is the strongest advertisement.

How else have you been promoting your forum?
In the Linux World, Forums have been instrumental in helping people that are new, into learning and adopting a Linux Distro. Linux has created many groups of folks that share the idea of Open Source as well as perfecting their skills with using it. You tend to get to know through participation many savvy, smart, and clever people this way. So by accessing this group there is a source of potential members.

What are some of the reasons you originally choose lefora over another forum package?
It has potential and I feel the folks behind Lefora are dedicated to improving the experience and providing a high level of service not readily obtainable by some of the other Free Hosting services. Many features have been added in the relatively short time since I started suseunbound.com.

Anything else you would like to share?
For those contemplating starting a Forum, be not discouraged, keep adding fresh material. Understand that you need to be active and creative in making your Forum interesting. Also keep track of what might be going on at Lefora. Promote features to your users so they know what is available.

Most importantly, if you can get good people to help like I have with my 2 Admins: Deltaflyer and Feathermonkey (Who handled the css for the Forum) and Great Moderators: Bozo and Badgerfruit, who add many hours of their own time. Plus many regular members that find a place, you will be successful.

In conclusion; My Thanks to the good people at Lefora for providing the place to create my Forum.


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