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.


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