Struggling Forum for Fantasy Writers - any feedback/suggestions

Discussion in 'Managing an Online Community' started by Jedi Knight Muse, Sep 19, 2017.

  1. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    Hi,
    This is going to be a really long post, but hopefully it all makes sense.

    So, I run a forum for fantasy writers/readers called Worldsmyths (not sure if I'm allowed to put the link into this post or not, so it's in my signature). It's over a year old and we use SMF for the forum software. We have 156 registered accounts, but only a small portion of them actually log in and post/respond to anything. And when I say a small portion, I mean...52 of those accounts of 0 posts, as an example. It's not AS bad as it seems based on that example, but it certainly doesn't help. (Keep in mind that those accounts have registered over the last year and a half or so.)

    To give another example, it's currently 2:30 in the afternoon in my time zone and six members have logged in (nine total including myself and my two staff members), with people mostly -maybe- responding to topics but still not starting their own. It's also a weekday and in the middle of the afternoon, true, but that's not the case in all time zones.

    I should say now that this is not the first forum for (fantasy) writers that I've run, but it's the first one that I've been really serious about keeping active and making it successful- I've bought a domain and hosting, and I've really tried getting the name out there on social media to draw people in. I've even advertised the site on role playing forums because they're really the only places I know of where I can freely advertise, even though role players aren't the direct target market (role playing is a form of writing, but it's not the same kind of writing). I've actually been told that I should stop doing that and do paid advertisements, but the thing is that any payments for anything involving this site currently come out of my pocket, and while I don't mind paying for certain things, I can't be going crazy buying a bunch of things for a site that's almost constantly struggling with activity (there have been some spurts where it's been pretty active, but then it gets quiet again). I've run many forums in the past, both for role playing and for writers, so I know how things generally tend to work.

    So one of the reasons my co-admin (who is on hiatus due to being in the Air Force) and I chose SMF was because we were hoping to use eFiction as the site's story archive...we did that for a while, but there was no bridge between SMF and eFiction, so members would have to register/log in to a new account on the eFiction library site - which the members knew would be the case. I think that was a reason we lost a lot of the members, was because of the log in issue with the eFiction site, which we didn't realize was going to be an issue at the time. A lesson was definitely learned.

    One of my staff members has a real life partner who knows how to build the kind of site that we're looking to have for the story archive and he looked at eFiction and told me it was terribly coded, and we needed to stop using it as soon as we could, basically. He's building us a new library site for free (which will only have one login, unlike the eFiction site), which will hopefully be done soon. In the meantime, we're using the forum itself (a members only section of it) for posting stories until the library site is ready, though no one's really posting anything- probably because they're waiting on the new library site. The library isn't really what this post is about, though.

    Also, I should mention here that we looked into the SMF fan fiction mod but most of the things that we'd need to be able to do are paid features, and the site with the pro version of it doesn't even work any more, so even if we WANTED to pay for those features, we couldn't.

    I have myself and two other staff members, because the site really isn't active enough to need more than that, and it works - we used to have two other staff members but they both stepped down/away from the site for different reasons. For some reason, the members that we've drawn in seem to have this fear of starting their own topics or even responding to other topics. The log in, maybe read a post, and that's it. Or in the case of one member, they log in, post their artwork, MAYBE respond to another post, and that's it. This is despite our best efforts to start our topics to draw them into discussions, including questions of the day.

    Disclaimer: I know that at least one of the reasons, possibly, for the forum having activity issues is because of the fact that it's focused on the fantasy genre, which makes things limited and makes it a bit harder to draw certain kinds of writers in. I've had multiple people suggest that we open the site up to more than one genre, but I've said no - and my staff members have agreed - for a number of reasons. I've run forums in the past that were open to multiple genres, and when I set out to start Worldsmyths, I decided to have it focus on the fantasy genre. Another reason is that it sets us apart from most writing forums- there really aren't many forums out there specifically for fantasy writers any more. I honestly think it would hurt the site at this point more than help it if we opened it up to other genres.

    I think one of the other reasons is because of social media. Facebook groups have definitely made things harder for those who still want to use forums, but I didn't want to make it into a Facebook group because 1. a lot of people don't use Facebook due to having to use a real name, so that would mean not being able to draw in the people who prefer not to use a real name online for privacy reasons (which is one of the advantages that forums actually have over social media, because you can use whatever name you want on a forum and keep your privacy). Also, Facebook groups don't allow for organization of threads, and there's also the whole algorithm thing - the more "likes" and comments a post gets, the more it shows up in someone's newsfeed, but it's so easy for someone to make a post and end up with no comments, and I didn't want that, especially given the purpose of the site - discussing the fantasy genre and writing, and sharing writing as well.

    So like I said, we currently have someone who is building a library site for us (think of it as being like Wattpad with similar features, but not directly like it or anything), but it's been a long process in getting it built. While that's being worked on, my staff members and I have been struggling to keep things going on the forum, due to reasons mentioned above - people log in, but they don't respond to posts. Someone actually recently asked if it was okay to make a post, and I'm not sure what gave them the impression that it wouldn't be okay to make the post that they did. I think it might be because for the most part, it's really the staff members who are starting a lot of the topics, so somehow this leads people to thinking that they can't start their own topics? But we always encourage them to do so, and yet we seem to mostly have people who are shy about it. We've also had people register lately/since the start of the forum who've either MAYBE introduced themselves before disappearing or have just registered but not done anything else. It's super frustrating, and I'm used to that from past forums, but I feel like it wasn't as bad on those forums, although I don't think they lasted as long as Worldsmyths has, either.

    So here are the things that we've tried doing:
    -We have a Facebook page (that doesn't have many followers, which means that there's not much for interaction on there), we have a Facebook group (this was made originally so that we could keep in touch with people while the site was being worked on last spring, but we ended up keeping it because it seems to be one of the only ways to keep in contact with the people who are also members of it but don't log in to the site that often), a Twitter account, and an Instagram, and a Pinterest account. We also have a Tumblr but we haven't been good about using it.

    -On both the Facebook page and in the Facebook group, I make sure to link to any important announcements. The Facebook page and group aren't where we mainly do things- the forum is for that- but I know that it's important to have a Facebook presence in addition to the forum.

    -On Instagram, we share writing prompts with the URL to the site, though it's been a while since the last time I've done so.

    -On Pinterest, we create prompts to pin up with the URL to the site, and we also have a lot of different boards with various pins up on it.

    -On Twitter, I've been making sure to tweet the link and use hashtags when we post a question of the day (we have it so that guests can respond to the questions of the day, though no guests have actually done so yet). We have a fair amount of followers on Twitter and sometimes one or two of them will retweet when there's a discussion topic that I've tweeted that interests them.

    -I'm also in a number of different Facebook groups that allow outside links and I try to post the link as often as I can without spamming, and comment with it when appropriate. Unfortunately, Facebook algorithms don't always allow people to see it when I post in larger groups, so it gets buried quickly.

    -I'm a member of a role play directory forum and have the site in their directory (for non-role-play sites) and bump the ad when I'm allowed to (once a month).

    -I'm a member of another forum for fantasy writers, and back in August I submitted an article to go up on their front page and made sure to include the link to Worldsmyths in the byline. I also have a post with the ad for Worldsmyths up on that site and I've bumped it every now and then, too, to try and draw some of their members in. (Who says you can't be a member of two of the same kinds of forums?)

    -I've also posted the link on the NaNoWriMo forums.

    -I have the link to it in my signature wherever possible.

    -I've posted the link when I can on Reddit in their fantasy writers subredit.

    -I've told a number of online friends about the site, and have gotten some to join. Some of my online friends are either too busy, are too shy about talking about their writing online, or they don't write fantasy, though, so that makes it harder.

    -I've asked those online friends to share the link, as well. Some of them have, but I don't think it really drew any (active) members to the site.

    -We have the questions of the day that we post at least a few times a week (we try to spread it out so that it's not obnoxious), which like I said are open to guest responses.

    -We have monthly writing challenges, and we make sure to give reminders about them as much as we can without being obnoxious about it.

    -We send out e-mails about the site with links to specific posts that people should check out. We don't send out the e-mails every month, usually, but we try to do so as often as we can when there's something to send an e-mail about.

    In the past, we've made several (over a number of months) posts asking for feedback on the site in general, or specific aspects of the site. Usually the same people give the same responses ("I'm busy" being the most common general answer). I'm trying to avoid having to do that again, but I'll do so if I have to. Although at this point I'm not really sure what else I can possibly say. I have an inkling as to at least one of the reasons as to why people aren't as active (I think some of it has to do with not having the library site yet), outside of people now having to deal with classes again since summer is over.

    I know that our rules and FAQs need to be updated (mostly wording, but also things to reflect things with the new library site when it's ready), but I'm trying to hold out on updating it officially until we at the very least have the beta version of the new library site...which will hopefully be sooner rather than later.

    We've (as in, my staff members and I. I haven't said anything to my members at all about it) talked about putting up a Paypal in the past to help cover expenses, but because of the activity issues I haven't gone forward with it. I don't feel comfortable asking people to donate with the site being so up and down with its activity.

    My questions:

    1. Is there anything else we can possibly do that we aren't already doing?
    Keep in mind that I'm trying to avoid having to put tons and tons of money into the site beyond paying for the domain/hosting and the occasional spiffy feature (i.e. I paid like $20 for the activity stream that we have).

    2. Is there anything else we can do to encourage people to post, especially with making their own topics? We can only tell people "don't be afraid to start your own topics!" so many times...the rest is up to them. And it shouldn't be all on the staff members to make the posts. If anything, we should be kind of sitting back while people make their own topics and discuss things, while keeping an eye on things from a staff member level but also still interacting with people in their discussions, and that's not really the case.

    3. Is there anything else about the site that you think we could work on fixing that we're not already aware of? (i.e. like I said, I already plan on updating the rules/FAQs, but maybe there's something else. There's probably some posts that could be archived, so I need to look into doing that.)

    I THINK those are the only questions I have for right now. If anything is unclear, let me know and I'll explain further. If you have any questions about anything I've said, let me know. And I would definitely appreciate any suggestions you have for what else we can do for the site. I'm hoping that once we have the library site, things will be better, but until that happens we won't know for sure.
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2017
  2. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

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    My two cents:
    It's an awfully busy looking site for such a few members. Maybe they are just too confused to post.

    I would lose the activity steam, from the top of the page. It's more of a distraction than anything. I'd also consolidate many of the sections together and trim some of the gamey things, if your intention is to focus on writing. Put what's important up front.
     
  3. we_are_borg

    we_are_borg Administrator

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    The activity stream was one thing you do not need at this point, such systems are for more busy sites. If you have some cash go look for a system that can support the writting and the stories that you have, if its free even better.

    If you can afford it do contests like once a month with small prices so people get interested into writting. Getting people to post is hard you and your staff should lead by example. Make topics that get discussion going and where people need to answer in more then one line, that you’ll need to do this for months is not a problem. Add content that people are looking for everything goes if it means explaining how to write make it so.

    Fix the layout its lacking in some places you’re logo is to short 1/3 of the end it stops. Where ever i look with the forums i only see the 3 moderators why have them in every forum it unneeded remove them it will cleanup the looks.
     
  4. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    Okay, finally responding to this.

    I'm not sure how or why they would be "too confused" to post, though? Unless- and this is something that someone pointed out they thought you meant- you mean that they're "too confused to post" because of the way the forums are set up...which, I disagree with. Maybe it's just because of the past forums I've run but also been a member of, but this is...generally the kind of set up I've seen on writing forums (and even role playing forums) before. To be fair, one of my staff members has suggested to me in the past that we try and condense the forums, but I said no, 'cause I didn't really see any way to condense them, and I still don't really see much of a way to condense them. I wrote out a list of the forums earlier in a notebook and didn't come up with much for possibilities.

    I discussed it with my staff members and none of us think that we should get rid of the activity stream, nor should we move it (even if I knew how to fiddle with the code enough to be able to move it). We think it's in a good spot, and I don't think putting it on the bottom of the forum would do any good. It would probably make things more of a pain than anything.

    Well, we have small "prizes"- we offer graphic signatures for the winners of the challenges. The problem is, I can't really afford any prizes that would be likely to draw people into participating in the challenges (I assume you mean that by the contests, unless you mean additional contests besides that). Everything is coming out of my pocket, and like I said, I don't feel comfortable enough to ask people for donations because it just makes things trickier. A lot of the members are just...too busy to participate in the challenges (so that's probably going to be the case with contests, too, even if we had a prize of some kind to offer). When we first started doing them, they ran every two weeks. Then people asked if we could make them monthly, so we made them go all month long instead. Gradually, the participation has gone downhill. I don't think it's a lack of prizes that's the issue, it's...people being busy, and not liking the prompts we choose, which are kind of subjective because what one person likes for prompts, the next one might not, and we can only do so much to try and please people.

    We ARE leading by example. If you look at our stats page:
    Top 10 Posters
    Jedi Knight Muse (me): 2,320
    Staff member #1: 433
    Staff member #2: 297

    Those are the posts counts for the three current staff members (myself, and two others). We're definitely not slacking off as far as that goes.
    So it's definitely not a matter of us not "leading by example" in starting topics. It's what we're almost constantly doing, is trying to come up with new topics that we can post, so that we can draw people into conversations. But it's not really working that well. I mean, granted, my staff members don't have nearly as many posts as I do, but they're definitely posting and logging in pretty much every day, as am I.

    The problem is that writing is so subjective. What interests one person isn't necessarily going to interest the next person and draw them into a conversation. We have at least one member I know of who basically has been on so many writing forums that she's seen nearly every discussion on writing under the sun, so a topic basically has to really pique her interest in order to draw her into a conversation, more or less. She's not one of those people who participates in forum games, either.

    Hm. It doesn't do that for me (the 1/3rd thing). But I'm also on a Mac laptop using Firefox, so maybe that has something to do with it? I have a friend that was the one who did the layout for us, basically.

    I'll fix the moderator thing.

    Like I said, we're discussing how to condense the forums more, but I don't really know if I see how else they can be more condensed outside of a few very minor things that won't make it seem like there's been a huge change to the set up.

    Does anyone else have any other advice/suggestions?
     
  5. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

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    It seems like what you're really after is validation, not constructive criticism. I don't think you'll get it. Your forum has the potential to be a really good, small niche community. What's holding it back, is lack of focus and poor organization.

    In the end, it's your forum, and you have to decide what's important, promoting your vision or giving your members what they need.
     
  6. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    I'm sorry if my response led you to believe that I don't want constructive criticism and I'm just looking for validation; that's not the case at all. If I just wanted validation, I wouldn't have come here looking for suggestions on what else I can do to help my forum head in the right direction to begin with.

    My intention with saying that I wasn't sure how people could be confused about posting was to ask for further clarification, but I guess I didn't do a great job of communicating that, so I apologize. While I don't really agree with the thought that the organization of the forum is why people aren't posting, I appreciate what I think you were getting at, though I would still appreciate further clarification on why you think that way. Like I said, I'm used to forums being set up a certain way, and they've worked for me and many others in the past and present with sites that I've been on, and I think maybe that's why I've been so adamant on continuing to use that setup and not change things around too much.

    Having said that, I did also say in my response that one of my staff members has suggested in the past that we try to condense the forums some, and at the time I didn't agree with it. Last night, however, I made a list of the forums in a notebook and tried to come up with a way to condense the forums, but I didn't really come up with much that's going to be an obvious improvement to the current setup. That doesn't mean that I'm just giving up and saying "I don't agree with it anyway, so we're not going to condense them," it just means that I need to discuss it further with my staff members and see what, if anything, we can come up with.

    So yes, I am looking for constructive criticism, and when possibly needed/asked for, further clarification on what you're suggesting when something is unclear on my end.
     
  7. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

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    Okay, fair enough. Here's why I think your site might be confusing to your members:

    The very first thing you see on the forum is the Activity Stream. Why? What are members supposed to do with that? On a busy site, it can provide a quick overview of new posts. You don't have a busy site, so I'm not sure what purpose it serves.

    Second, you have two fairly large sections Lounge, and Advertising & Affiliation that don't have much to do with fantasy writing. Again, why? What is their purpose? I understand having an off-topic section on the forum, but why devote so much space to things that take away from your subject?

    The sections in the forum don't seem to follow, logically. You jump from Inspiration to Workshop to Writing Craft. How are those related? How are they different? Almost any writing topic could fit in any one of those. I like the "Inspiration" section title. However, I expected to see subsequent sections that flowed from that, perhaps something like "Getting Started and Keeping Motivated", then "Editing and Proofreading", and finally a section covering "Publishing and Selling". It's a simple schema that follows the writing process.

    It gets more confusing as you go into the sections. For example, under Inspiration, you have games. I know they are meant to help motivate people to write, but they are still games. And they don't speak to the idea of inspiration and where it comes from.

    Lastly, I can't tell who your forum is for. Is it for fantasy writing fans? People who write fantasy? People who want to learn about writing? I can't tell from looking at the forum. It lacks a specific focus that would let me, and your visitors, know.
     
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  8. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    Like I said, when I first installed the activity stream, the site was a bit busier compared to what it is now. But here are a few of our reasons for choosing to keep the activity stream, and keep it in that spot:
    1. It does a better job at showing any new posts/replies than clicking "view new posts" does. I rarely ever miss a new topic or a reply because everything shows up in that stream. I used to miss replies/new topics not a lot, but sometimes, before we had the stream.
    2. It allows us to know which members actually vote, which is useful for our writing challenges since voting is done based on polls, since SMF's polls don't show the usernames once they've voted.

    Those, to us, are good enough reasons to keep it. And we've never gotten a single complaint about the activity stream from any of the members, so that's enough of a reason to keep it, as well.

    Okay, so here's the explanation for advertising and affiliation being its own section: like I said, I'm used to role playing forums (and writing forums, though it's not a common thing on writing forums, usually). These role playing forums typically have an advertising section set up exactly the way it is on Worldsmyths to be able to drop ads for role plays and draw members in. One of the only places I've been able to advertise the site, even though it's not the direct target market, is on role playing sites because I don't really know where else (besides Facebook and maybe Twitter) to advertise it without having to pay for it. Role playing is a form of writing, after all, and I've been role playing for ~eighteen years and have met a LOT of role players who also write stories and also writers who role play. My hope in advertising on those role playing sites was to draw people who also write stories on the side of role playing into joining the site.

    If I drop an ad for Worldsmyths on a role playing site, the staff members of that site are going to expect to be able to drop their ad in return. If they can't drop it in return, they are likely to drop an angry e-mail/message in a cbox (I've heard of this happening) and probably delete the ad that I've posted because of not being able to advertise their site in return. It's weird, but that's been my experience.

    I've discussed it with my staff members, and we've decided to do away with the advertising section altogether. At the very least, I'll still affiliate with role playing sites, and still keep the ad for Worldsmyths in the directory of RPG Directory.com, but otherwise we're just going to get rid of the advertising section altogether.

    If you have any suggestions for where else I could possibly advertise the site for free outside of Facebook/Twitter/any other social media site, I'd be open to suggestions, because I really don't know of any other places. The only thing I've ever been told is to do paid ads, and even if I did on, say, Facebook, from what I've gathered in posts here on TAZ, it's not really worth it. Plus, Facebook ads are pretty much meant for businesses, and Worldsmyths isn't a business.

    My staff members and I don't really agree with your critique of the forum sections not really following logically and we're not really that concerned about it, so we're not going to change that. And I mean...we do have a section for publishing and selling, for example, it just doesn't have its own category.

    So we are going to rearrange and take some things away, which will hopefully help a bit.

    It literally says "a haven for fantasy writers" in the header image.

    If you go to the FAQs post, it says:
    The name "Worldsmyths" kind of makes it obvious that it has something to do with world building, which might lead someone to think of writing or even role playing, too...it's why we chose the name.

    The image itself, with the dragons and such, makes it obvious that the theme of the site is fantasy.

    I'm not sure how else we could possibly make it more obvious what its purpose is beyond those things.

    Not to mention, all of the forum categories and sections kind of make it obvious that it has something to do with writing...as does, for example, the section "the fantasy genre." There are hints all over the place, ESPECIALLY in the forum header.
     
  9. Maddox

    Maddox Habitué

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    I agree with many of the comments above regarding the layout of the site and what features you have; it's your site and you know what you want to do with it, but it (and I mean this as constructive criticism, not just bashing) the style is rather sloppy, particularly the header. I've taken the liberty of doing a makeover (took about five minutes) to illustrate how much nicer and appealing the style can be; this is all done using one image and CSS. See what you think:

    Capture.PNG

    I've cut off the login bar at the top and would suggest that it be moved to the main menu bar on the right - that will declutter the header and focus on the title of the site. You may need to get your hands dirty in the back end files to move things around, but that shouldn't be too difficult.

    As for the forum layout - there is always going to be a problem with showing too much at the outset, I would move your welcome section to the bottom of the forum list and focus on the main content first. That's what will hit first time visitors and they should grasp what the site is about if the header fails to convey that message. Most important items first, everything else after; that appears to be the general consensus in other topics on TAZ.

    I notice the Articles category is empty and the Library returns a 404 error - I'd disable these until you have something to show, by disable I mean the menu items and not the the add-ons if you are working on them.

    Good luck and I hope you get things moving in the right direction.

    ;)
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017
  10. we_are_borg

    we_are_borg Administrator

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    A few people all ready have said lose the activity stream atm it serves no purpose, your site is just to slow with posts to give away that prime realestate. If you cant keep up with the postings on your site that you have now your way out of your league if people start posting a 100 posts a day or more. Polls with this many users well not interesting enough to keep track of it also polls should be anonymouse to start with, even Xenforo does not show who voted in a poll you’ll need to activate that when you make a poll but its not used that much. But like i sais polls with that many users is not interesting to keep track off.

    And how is that working out if its not used as much delete a forum you’ll need to pay attention to where it does the most good, the bread and butter stuff where people come for writing stories, that should also be on top for now not introductions etc your site is to new for that.

    Best choise you can make atm to have such section you’ll need more users but you still should lose a few sections like announcements and information could become one forum for now. It save space. Also love the header but on my iPad i all ready lost 50% of screen space to it with activity stream its 85% lost then i see the welcome section thats 100% filled, what i came fore i did not see so why continue on your site you all ready lost me you have max 15 sec to make an impression on someone before they leave your site. Dont get me started on the auto news the landing page when you get if you go to the url in your signature, not so active so why let people go there in stead where you want them the forum.

    Facebook and such is not for your site the people there use facebook to write so you will never get that many people to your site. You use Facebook to get your name out. Sometimes facebook offers like buy 10 get many dollars worth of ads. Use it to get your name out nothing more nothing less, if you cant cough up money for this its not the end of the world and let it slide then. What is interesting is Google ads you can guide it where to show etc but like facebook only use get when they double your money. Also free advertisement does not exsist its always payed or you’ll need to do something for it.

    First thing you’ll need to know people are not good readers they miss information what makes sence to you can have no effect on people visiting your site.
     
  11. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

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    So your answer is that the activity stream is really there for the convenience of you and your staff, not your members. Maybe that should give you a hint a placement. And while it's good that no one has complained about it, what percentage of your membership have posted how much they like it?

    Somehow, I had a feeling you would say that.

    You could change the header to say "a haven for pork pie eaters" and it wouldn't change a thing. What I'm trying to point out there's a big difference between saying it's something and making it that thing.

    Here's what I see based on your initial explanation of the problem and subsequent replies to respondents:

    • You built your forum based on your own preconceived ideas and how other forums are structured, rather than any deep knowledge of the subject or the audience.
    • You are unwilling to deviate from that concept, despite the overwhelming evidence that what you are doing isn't working.
    • You came here looking for someone to tell you that you've done a great job and it's somehow just a matter of time before your members will come around and start behaving the way you want them to.
    There is some good in all this, it does provide validation for something I've always maintained: The biggest threat to forums is the people running them.

    I still think you could have a good niche forum. So here's something you can try. You're an aspiring writer, yes? Write a profile of your archetypical forum member. Tell us as much as you can about her. If you can do that, you'll start to see how the forum could be revitalized.
     
  12. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    I don't mind what you've done as an example with the layout. I'm just not good enough at coding (I know pretty basic coding and that's about it. I'm far more used to drag-and-drop site builders, which doesn't do any good in this case 'cause it's all coding) to be able to go in and fiddle around with it. I'd end up breaking the site. (Trust me, I've had it happen quite a few times over the years. Not fun to have to deal with, especially if you don't have someone immediately available to go in and fix it for you.)

    From the looks of it, you were using the darker skin on the forum when you were browsing it, and not the light skin? I use the dark skin, but I think a lot of the members use the light one. I someone who coded and let me use the dark skin on the site (because she has vision problems, so she needs darker color schemes) and I could TRY and get her to go in and fiddle around with the coding to move the log in. She has it coded a specific way, though, so I don't know how much she's really willing to go in and change. Although I also have someone else (the person building the library site) who I could maybe get to do it, too, if it's something that could be done from the files on the site's hosting. He might be a bit more reliable to actually get it done (though probably not right away).

    See, I'm so used to having the welcome section at the top and not the bottom. If anything I'd expect it to be there because it holds the important stuff, and I would want to make sure that people actually see that it's there. I'll think about moving it to the forum...for me, it's weird to have it down there instead of up top. I don't want to ed up having people not see the welcome section, since that's where the rules/FAQs are, because of no longer having it at the top of the site and miss out on reading the rules/FAQs. I'll talk to my staff members and see what they think.

    As far as the articles thing, that's because SMF is a ginormous pain in the butt when it comes to installing/uninstalling mods. I think I uninstalled it and tried to remove it but it didn't actually remove it from the forum itself (it was a while ago so I can't remember exactly what happened) and I don't know how to go in and get rid of it without possibly screwing the forum up. So I'll have to see if that's something the library builder can do for me, too. The library returning the 404 error is because of the eFiction site we used to have (as I said in the original post) and I haven't been able to figure out how to remove that link (I think my co-admin was actually the one who put that in there). I'll see if he can fiddle with that, as well.

    I never said I couldn't keep up with the postings on my site. I said that sometimes the "view new posts" feature doesn't actually show all of the new posts, and the activity stream does the job that that feature is supposed to do a lot better.

    Also, you're right that general polls like "Batman VS Superman" or something aren't interesting enough to keep track of, but this is for writing challenge purposes, so it's different. And I disagree that poll should always be anonymous. It entirely depends on the purpose of the poll. For something like a writing challenge, it's helpful. For something more serious, I can see it being better to be anonymous. There's another forum host that we almost used (but didn't because it didn't have the features we wanted) instead called JCink and that shows the names of those who vote in a poll. It's a nice feature to have. Obviously if anonymity is really needed, votes could just be sent to PM to one account or something. But I seriously doubt we'll ever have to make a serious enough poll for that to be needed.

    Yeah, like I said above, I don't know how to fix that, so I'll have to see if I can get someone else to do it. Although I think it might also be a screen resolution/operating system/browser issue, too.

    Actually, there are plenty of (writing groups) that allow you to advertise forums/author sites etc for free, though depending on the group you have to do it on a specific day. That's what I was getting at when I mention Facebook, was that I'd continue posting ads in the Facebook groups. Also, I would say a large percentage of the members we have are people who found the site through those Facebook groups, so it's definitely a good place to find members on. Facebook is a competitor of forums these days but if you know how to take advantage of it the right way (i.e. post in Facebook groups), it's actually beneficial for free advertising and getting the name out there. I'll have to at least look into Google ads and see what that would cost.

    No, my answer to the activity stream is that I've discussed it with my staff members and we ultimately feel that the activity stream is fine and that there's no reason to remove it. We took the suggestion, we discussed it, and we decided not to remove it. No members have posted saying how much they like it or don't like it because we haven't felt the need to ask if they like it or not, and I think if anyone had any real issues with it, they'd let me know. But that doesn't mean they don't like it.

    No, I built my forum based on eighteen plus years of experience in creating and administrating my own forums for writers, in addition to being a member of forums for writers, and learning what worked and did not work with those forums. I understand how forums work. I understand how to administrate a forum, based on my own experiences and what I've seen work on other forums, and how interaction between members works and SEO and social media and many more things. What you're doing is assuming that I'm some rookie administrator with only a few years of forum administrative experience who refuses to believe that anything they're doing with their forum is wrong because I'm not listening to every single piece of "advice" that you're trying to force me into accepting. You've given your opinion and suggestions, we considered them, and we disagreed with some but not all.

    Obviously something we're doing is working, otherwise the site would have died within a week. Instead, it's been open for a year and a half.

    If I was unwilling to deviate from what I've found works based on those eighteen years of experience, I wouldn't have gotten rid of the advertising section. I wouldn't have moved some of the forum sections around and combined some of them together. I wouldn't have discussed anything you gave for suggestions with my staff members. I would have kept the forum set up the way it was before you gave the suggestions you did. The only thing I am really not agreeing to, because I discussed it with my staff members and we agreed that we didn't want to remove it, is removing the activity stream.

    As I said, I never came here looking for validation. Just because we don't agree with one suggestion you've been trying to push me/my staff members into taking the most doesn't mean I'm just looking for validation and that's it. I came here looking for suggestions, fully expecting to be given some that would work and some that my staff members and I would disagree with doing. I'm open to suggestions, but that doesn't mean I have to follow through with implementing all of those suggestions if I don't agree with them.
     
  13. we_are_borg

    we_are_borg Administrator

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    Jedi Knight Muse the first thing that you’ll need to learn is making a test site of your site. This way you can alter settings and work on the layout without in dangering your main site, after it works you do it on your main site and always make a backup when changing settings or alter the layout. If you do this for 18 years you should know this by know its basic administrator stuff.
    Poll’s are not interesting at this point at all you have around 160 members even if you ask the right questions your polling sample is to small to make use of the data. Polling can be fun but with that many members and the response rate that you should have well not interresting to do or react on polling.

    You said that you did no know how to change the setting for the landing page why not start by going to the developer of the "ADK portal" or start by asking on SMF forum.
     
  14. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    Edit: gah, I screwed up and posted the quote without replying. :p Apparently I'm more tired than I thought.

    I had a test forum but the person building the library site asked if it could be removed since it was taking up space and not being used and at the time I said yes because I wasn't using it for anything else at that moment and I just haven't installed a new one. That's more due to laziness than anything but I also haven't needed to test anything.

    I think you're misunderstanding the way we're using our polls.

    The writing challenges are monthly, and people have a month to enter their submissions. At the end of the month, we post a poll asking "which story was your favorite?" and we use the poll feature to allow members to vote for their favorite entry. The activity stream logs the votes, and it tells us who is voting and who isn't. Honestly, I think it also serves as an additional reminder to members to vote, if they see that someone else has voted.

    We don't do "what is your favorite color?" polls and stuff like that, we do polls for the writing challenges and, when there's a need, we make polls to ask the members about something specific for the site (i.e. I recently made one about whether or not to get rid of one of the (members only, so none of you would have seen it) sections that's not being used a ton on the site at the moment). So the types of polls we do aren't just random haha kind of polls, they're actually useful polls due to the writing challenges and asking the community about specific things for the site.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2017
  15. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

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    I wasn't assuming you are new to forums or running one. It might be easier if you were. It's a fact, the longer we do something, the more difficult it is to change how we do it. Nor am I trying to force you into following any particular suggestion or advice. I tried to get you to think about your forum differently, to see it from a new perspective -- that's something all of us need to do from time to time. I didn't put in the time and effort to write all this just to irritate you. I think the forum has potential to be really good. And I think you and your staff are holding it back by clinging so tightly to your past experiences and ideas.

    I gave you my impressions as someone interested in writing and coming into the site for the first time. I immediately had problems with the layout and the organization. I also had trouble figuring out who exactly the forum would appeal to. Your site says it's for writers, but much of the content seems to be geared towards people just learning about writing or for people who are general fans of fantasy books, movies, and television. I couldn't find any content that would really appeal to a working writer. That's why I asked the question about who the site was for. That you chose as evidence to point to the title, images, and the FAQ statement rather than the forum content made it more confusing.

    I was also serious about writing a profile of your archetypical member. That's a very powerful tool that is used across many industries. It allows you to visualize and understand just who you are talking to, which, in turn, makes it far easier to make content and organization decisions.

    As I said before, it's your forum. You have to do what you think is right. I hope it works out for you.
     
  16. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    Okay, so I think that maybe we got off on the wrong foot, here.

    I think we're both wanting the same thing for the site, but we're coming at it from different angles and experiences, which is making us clash. The more we've clashed, the more frustrated and defensive I've become, because it seemed like all you were trying to do was push for what you thought would be best for the site and try to convince me that it was the right and only thing to do and not accept that maybe there was some merit in the way I was approaching the organization and set up of my site. It felt like you were being very authoritative, like you were the authority on how forums should be set up and how MY forum should be set up, so that's how I took what you were trying to say.

    For what it's worth, we ended up deciding to make a poll to see how many people use the activity stream and get further feedback on it from the members, and then we'll go from there with getting rid of it or keeping it. If the majority of the members say that they like the activity stream and that they use it to view new posts...I think that will be reason enough to keep it. It'll certainly be interesting to see which way the votes go.

    The site is for writers of any experience, whether they're just starting out as writers, have been writing for years but aren't published or are professional, published authors. Most of the members on the site are made up of people who've just been writing for years and aren't anywhere near publication yet (like me). We do have a few members who've been published, but they don't make tons of posts about it or anything, like what they're doing to market their books and such.

    I showed my staff members what you said about "the working writer," and we're not sure what you really mean by that. I assumed that you meant those who are publishing and marketing or something, but wasn't entirely sure. It's hard to make topics for what I THINK you mean by that, because my staff members and I don't have any experience as a "working writer." It's hard to make a post about, say, marketing a book when you have no experience yourself doing it, unless you're specifically asking questions to those who have that experience already...but for me, I'm no where near being able to market a book, so I don't really have any reason to be asking those kinds of questions right now.

    I'm not sure that you're really making a fair assessment of the site based on its topics. Yes, there are recent topics about fantasy TV shows and books, but that doesn't mean the site focuses only on those things, it just means that those are some of the recent topics and that's it. Those TV shows and especially books are what give people inspiration to write fantasy to begin with. They're all connected in some way. They show us what works and what doesn't work in story writing and what those authors are clearly doing "right" to find success. There are topics about world building and plot and brainstorming (you can't see the brainstorming posts without registering an account, though, because we have it as members only to give people that extra security about posting information about their stories. Obviously it's not a foolproof method for keeping people from plagiarizing, but it's something) and a bunch of other stuff that are important parts of writing. The topics about TV shows and movies and books are meant to be more for being laid back and not as serious compared to other topics. That doesn't mean they're the focus of the site.

    My pointing out the title, images, FAQs and certain forum sections as evidence doesn't mean that there's no other evidence on the site that the site focuses on writing and fantasy. They're just four of the most obvious places to look for signs of what the site is for. There are plenty of other topics that should make it obvious.

    I think it's also an unfair assessment because like I said in my original post, it's been a struggle to get members to start their own topics instead of expecting the staff members to handhold for them and start the topics all the time. I'm not sure if it's because they're too shy to start their own topics, or they're too lazy or what, but we seem to mainly be attracting people who want to lurk and only reply when they have something to say. Otherwise, we're the ones left trying to figure out topics to post to generate discussion, which really shouldn't be the case at this point. I mean, there are some people who start their own topics, but it's not nearly often enough to make any real difference and I'm not sure why that is. I think if we could change that and get them to start their own topics more often, it would be an entirely different site...but obviously we can't force people to post if they don't want to. :cool:

    As for who the forum would appeal to:
    -Writers and readers of the fantasy genre
    -Writers looking to interact with other writers and talk about different aspects of writing
    -Writers who are looking to share their writing and give/receive critiques
    -Writers who want to participate in writing challenges
    -Writers who are looking for writing prompts to inspire them
    -Writers looking for a friendly community to be part of
    -Writers looking for other more experienced writers to mentor them
    -Writers looking to be able to promote their published writing when they can, and to celebrate when they accomplish something, whether or not it's writing related

    etc etc.

    We're working on trying to push things in the right direction, or what we feel will be the right direction for the benefit of the site and its members. You'd be welcome to join if you want, just keep in mind that we're still working on making changes and some of those changes will take place over time rather than immediately. The current set up for the forums still needs some work organizationally, it's just what I did the other night when I was able to work on moving them around.

    I'll think about writing something for the archetypical member profile. I've never heard of doing that kind of thing before on the level of a forum administrator.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2017
  17. Maddox

    Maddox Habitué

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    Actually there was no coding involved, simply some CSS changes. The dark theme I did not use, I actually changed the colour and styling with a few lines of CSS code (see below)

    Code:
    background: rgb(27, 31, 33) none repeat scroll 0 0 !important;
    border: 1px solid #000;
    box-shadow: 0 1px 3px rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.3), 0 1px 1px rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.2) inset;
    The heading was just an image found on Google images and the URL copied to replace the original in the CSS code. I also adjusted the width to fit the image, again using CSS.

    Actually learning CSS is very easy - you use the Google Chrome Console (press F12 on your keyboard). If you find the console has attached to the right of the screen click the three vertical dots and choose the bottom of screen option - it just makes it easier to work with. Click the arrow on the far left and then hover your mouse over any element on your forum and click; the associated CSS will appear on the right and you can fiddle and make changes with the CSS; don't worry, any changes you make will be lost when you either refresh or close the browser. If you want to make the changes permanent, just note down the element and look for it in the forum CSS files; if there is an 'Extra.css' file then you can make those changes in there. If nothing happens add the !important command (as shown in the code above) to the line of CSS you're changing and it should override the default.

    This is really basic CSS stuff, but very, very useful to know. As you become more confident using CSS you can become more adventurous. I taught myself, so there's no reason that you can't do the same.

    As for moving items, you look for code in the left hand side of the GCC of the element you want to change, find it in your forum files and highlight, copy and paste into the new location. Leave the original for now in case it doesn't work - if it does work delete the original lines of code and off you go. But always make a backup copy of the file before making changes in case it goes off the rails totally lol. It's a great way to learn and very satisfying when it works.

    With regards to making other changes (as others have suggested) we're all adverse to change; as a species we like to maintain the Status Quo whenever possible, however times change as do our audiences and what worked ten years ago doesn't really work that well now. People are so used to social media that they don't really understand forums as they used to. So, we have to try and make things as simple as possible for them - the adage 'less is more' often comes into play. It's difficult to change, but we must change and adapt to the way people think and work today.

    If it's any consolation I too suffer from not wanting too much change, but I am slowly beginning to see the sense in what is a new way of thinking.

    Good luck in your endeavours and I hope everything comes together for you and your members.

    ;)
     
  18. Jedi Knight Muse

    Jedi Knight Muse Participant

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    Yeah, see, my brain hurts just from trying to follow all that. :p

    Also, I have a Mac laptop. :p F12 is for turning the volume up and that's it as far as I can tell. I also don't use Google Chrome, I use Firefox. (I've tried Chrome and I hated it.) I'm definitely better off letting someone more experienced with CSS (I've had to go in and fiddle with CSS a few times before for JCink's forum layouts, but that was like...super quick and barely anything) go in and do it for me (which will be the guy building the library site in this case), once I can ask him if it's something he can go in and do for me.
     
  19. we_are_borg

    we_are_borg Administrator

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    Firefox easier download the extention firebug.
     
  20. Nev_Dull

    Nev_Dull Anachronism

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    To me, this is the most important thing you've said, so far. You've started to identify your real audience. Your forum really isn't for working writers (by that, I mean people who do it for a living). You won't see George RR Martin, JK Rowlings, or Margaret Atwood hanging out on your site. Rather, your primary audience is the fantasy fan who likes to write, for pure pleasure, or with the hope of eventually publishing. A few may have gotten something in print, but they aren't working writers. If you look at that group in more detail, figure out who they are, what they do, how they are different or the same, etc. You can focus on content that will engage them specifically.
     
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