So recently, I came across an interesting 'book' being offered for download that was about forum platforms and what ones you should use for a new community. Written by a group called CMX and promoted by pros like Patrick O' Keefe of Managing Communities.com, it was advertised as the be all and end all guide to forum software. The one book you should read when it comes to choosing a new platform for a community.
But as I'll cover in this short review, this is not a very good book. In fact, it does nothing to help anyone choose what forum or community script to use and seems to exist entirely to promote the services listed within. So here are my thoughts on the Community Platform eBook. Brace yourselves, there are some real cringeworthy comments included in this thing...
Let's start on a positive note first of all. The book does look relatively nice, with a professional layout and charming pictures littered throughout. It's quite clean and clear to read tables listing features, it's got a readable choice of font and the way the content is written is at least good enough that you don't end up getting distracted by the spelling and grammar mistakes. So on that note, it's at least better presented than my review of it (albeit with far less useful information).
Above: Thought someone really screwed up on the design for the tables of contents, the text colour looks horrible.
Unfortunately, the book then fails on the most crucial aspect.
Put simply, it doesn't actually give you any useful guidance about what software to use. And despite comments that it looks at scripts in depth or 'reviews' them, it actually does neither.
Instead, you get a summary which could have literally come from a Wikipedia page. Here's their summary for phpBB:
And then you get a few testimonials from longtime phpBB users. Of note, one of these users is Mr O' Keefe mentioned above, which makes you somewhat question his motives for promoting this 'book'.
Either way, what do you think of that summary above?
It sure doesn't tell you a lot, does it?
And that's the book's biggest problem.
It doesn't really review or compare the scripts at all. You get a summary (and with Wikipedia as a 'good read', that's not really saying much). You get the odd testimonial (which is pretty much useless, since every person referenced is merely talking positive about their favourite community script) and that's it.
What you don't get is a useful idea about whether you should use this script or another. Remember how Internet Brands screwed up vBulletin and hence drove it into a death spiral from which it'll likely never recover? You won't hear about that in this book, so you'll get the mistaken impression that everything's fine over there. Or that vBulletin 5 is actually a recommended piece of software to use.
Above: They didn't even search for vBulletin 5 information beforehand, given how they recommend it here.
They also cover online services with such a useless lack of information, so you hear Reddit mentioned as an option for an online community.
Probably not a good idea that. You seen what's happening over there? Censorship is going mad, users are in revolt and anything even remotely political is being removed left and right because of oversensitive SJW types. That might be something a community owner or brand might want to know before choosing the platform.
Above: Some of the comments about Reddits downfall on Kotaku in Action. Then again, I doubt the people in these community management sites even pay enough attention to this stuff.
And errors and misleading statements are made left and right here. You've got talk of PhpBB not being mobile optimised (or for that matter, most other software not being 'mobile optimised').
Unfortunately for them, this isn't a software feature, it's a style feature. Any forum script or community script can be mobile optimised, you just design a style that's responsive and adapts well to smaller screens (with larger touch targets and no on hover actions).
But the book makes it sound like these scripts can never be mobile optimised, which is rather misleading.
Other issues including associating each script with an 'ideal community size' (because apparently forum scripts have minimum and maximum limits when it comes to how many people can use them at once), mixing features from paid and free versions of the same software or service together (so Vanilla is somehow 'expensive' despite being open source) and assuming a really, really low level of technical knowledge is a given. In their own words:
Because apparently installing or setting up XenForo is a job for a technical guru.
Or for another funny one:
Tech gurus apparently only use vBulletin and the likes of Jive. Okay then.
And comments which imply that they don't really get community management or what people might want in a community site. Their general list of possible features that you could want is so vague that anything could do it:
- create user-generated content beyond conversations
- give feedback (product- or content-related)
- reply to user-generated content
- ask customer support-related questions
- crowdsource ideas for your product
- private message one another
- plan events together
- report bugs
- discuss topics
- follow each other to deepen relationships
- search past discussions to use as a knowledge base of some sort
- serve as a tiered engagement ladder
- serve as ambassadors for your product
- facilitate collaboration on projects or documents
Or their comment that 'discussing topics together is not a compelling enough reason for a community or connecting people', despite the fact that pretty much every community on the planet is just that. What is The Admin Zone?
Discussing topics about admin related things and managing forums.
What are my forums about?
Discussing various video games series with other people.
What is a service like Reddit about?
Discussing various topics divided into sub reddits.
Add how this is the reason for the existence of every community owned by anyone giving a testimonial in the book, and it comes across as rather hilarious that they're discouraging it and saying it's not 'compelling enough'. It's been a compelling enough reason for around 3 to 5 thousand years (probably way more), and it will likely be one long into the future.
Either way, that's the book for you. A nicely presented piece about community platforms that promises to give you recommendations but actually just listens a ton of different scripts with the bare minimum of actual commentary or criticism. You would be better off viewing a feature comparison table than downloading or reading this, especially given how you need to add your email to their 'marketing list' to even get the download link.
Just don't bother with this one. You're better off reading articles here or on various other community management sites like Feverbee or Managing Communities. At least they get useful, actionable information and recommendations rather than the ebook equivalent of marketing fluff.
A post about the book can be seen here. It's utterly useless and doesn't really say much about the book's content, but the site it's on has more useful information than the book its recommending.
The Not at All Best Guide to Community Platforms 2015 - Managing Communities.com
(Note that the title has been edited for comedy value)