Making forums a better place

Making forums a better place

Before starting my career in IT, I almost never went to online forums. However quickly after starting my career as an IT’er I came across multiple forums/communities in which I became (and still am) active.

The main reason I found behind this development from never visiting a forum to becoming active on multiple forums seems to be information gathering on topics that interests a person. For example, when I choose to start studying IT, the first forum I came across (as probably many IT’ers) was Stack Overflow. An awesome forum as a starting IT’er to find general info, solutions to errors, debates on why some code is best practice compared to others, etc.

After spending some years browsing forums/communities for information and such there are always some things about the forum itself that you think could make for a better experience of the users. But in the end, I (and maybe others of you) just let it go because we don’t know where to bring these improvements to word. Since it probably has nothing to do with the discussions for said forum or they simply don’t provide a place where you can mention this.

For me this first happened when I became an SAP BI consultant for Cubis Solutions. As I was new in the world of SAP I frequently made use of SCN (the SAP Community Network). It’s a great community for a beginner. There are a lot of interesting blogs on all the new technology, you can ask specific questions concerning errors or just general information on topics, etc.

As all forums do (and should do) overtime SCN made some changes regarding the community. One of these changes was to do a cleanup on the members to get a better view of the still active members. Of course, they don’t want to delete helpful questions and answers just because a user isn’t active anymore. So, all inactive members are now shown as ‘Former Member’.

When I was looking for an answer in the ‘answers and comments’ section I noticed that I became lost very fast as to who was the original poster (OP) of the question responding to answers. As to random other people that were now also ‘Former Member’ that were explaining their own situation but with a different setup. In the end I would just be unable to retrieve any useful information because of this post just having 50 ‘Former Members’ commenting to each other and me being unable to know if it were 50 people reacting or just 2.

Since there isn’t really a suggestion tag or anything to post improvements I just shrug it off and didn’t post a thing about it. This because I don’t want to spam users that don’t want to be involved with this in their tags.

However later on, I came across an interesting link on the SCN forum called ‘Coffee Corner Discussions’. Which after reading through some posts, it was actually a place on the forum where you can start discussions about things outside the scope of SAP. So I started a post there with the question about improving the forum: In the end I got a bit of feedback from different members including a link to a site where you can post your improvements and people can vote on them if they want this change or not (if it’s something that is possible to do of course). And you will also get feedback from the people that work on the forum on how they view your improvement or change.

In conclusion I think forums are a great way of gathering info and getting to know new people. And I personally think that having an off topic or improvement ideas tag can be a great help for forums to keep growing towards the future. Not all good ideas are possible or easy to just implement, but I think that just over time doing small improvement on things that sometimes ‘annoys’ a big part of the members can do wonders towards the community. So, if you have an idea on how to improve the user experience don’t just shrug it off as nothing and try to post it somewhere. Because what makes forums great in the end is the users of the community itself.

Blog by Sven Swennen