Community: Turning your forum into a portal

Ted S

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Ted S submitted a new Article:

Community: Turning your forum into a portal

So you have a forum, well established, the biggest in the industry or just hitting your hundred thousandth post, the precise numbers don't matter, your forum is successful and that's what counts, right? Wrong. For many sites a forum is the entire basis of the network, there is no introductory page, no articles, photos, nothing but a forum and a few nice addon modules. While this may seem sufficient, after all, your forum is growing by 125% a year, in many ways it is not.

Starting from a growth or internal standpoint a forum is a very good idea but also a very limited one. Imagine for a second that you are a web surfer looking for information on photography. Offline you are an avid amateur photographer and lately you've been looking to step up your hobby by optimizing your nice, new camera. As you surf the google results, you find an interesting page with people discussing cameras, this is good. A few pages into the thread and a discussion about your own camera comes up with some tips, this page looks great! Then before your eyes the post turns a corner and just stops, the conversation fizzles out, there is little mention of camera settings and after another page of chatter there is nothing more at all. Now what you do not know is that on this site there are hundreds of posts about this camera, but really to you that is unimportant. Even if you decided to register for the forum, you would probably avoid searching the archives for information and instead open up a new thread about the camera looking for information. In short, you are doing exactly what is opposite of the intention of a forum, you aren't utilizing the available wealth of information.

What may surprise you is that users like this, who come to a site and leave after not finding the right answers or who make new posts when old ones explain the question, are extremely prevalent on the web. On the average forum the majority of users are not just involved in a niche, they are avid followers of the niche, or they are very already computer based and find a forum understandable. This means that while you may be growing by 125% a year, your site is really only catering to a small percentage, say 10-15% of the users in your niche area. As proof of this, look at the number of guests you maintain at any given time. Ignore the spiders and users who forgot to login, chances are you still would find that between 40-60% of your users viewing the board at any time are guests. This...

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Kathy

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Jan 1, 2004
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Excellent article, Ted, and a good reminder that expanding the site isn't always within the forum but around it!

And making sure content is available to the quick visitor looking for info without searching discussions on the topic of the site.

:2thumbs:
 

Razgo

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Mar 30, 2004
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154
i am patiently waiting for vbulletin cms to come out :) and i agree with your article too. well put.
 

calvin

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Feb 17, 2004
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238
The article was well written and long, eyes got tired reading it. I’ve thought about having a portal but still can’t find a good reason to. I disagree with his assumptions on the value of having a portal. Portals make sense when you have a related service or product to sell. But most portals I’ve seen are filled with forum stats, ads, a welcome message, and maybe a few articles. I can do all this tasteful on my forum without annoying my members by taking them to a portal page first.

I have a few paying advertisers with banner ads. When I market my forum, I note that I have a dynamic ever changing website with a reason for people to come back. I show number of unique hits, membership growth, and the only place to get a captive Black Adventist market. There are plenty of large forums only (no portal) that are making money. Don’t buy the argument that I need a portal to attract advertisers.
 

Ted S

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Feb 19, 2004
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calvin,
I assume that you got fed up with reading such a "long" article (I'm not sure how 2 pages is long but ok) and stopped or just skimmed it as you missed my point. I am not talking about turning on a so called portal script and having a portal, I am talking about making a functional and useful gateway to your site. A successful portal combines many elements that may or may not be available in a single script along with an appealing layout, just to get started. Of course a portal is not needed to have a successful forum monetarily (WHT does very well with no direct portal that I can recall), again, I never said it was. What I said is that in the long term you can market a site better that has a portal and is thus more than just a forum. It is well documented that forums make less money than content driven sites because of the level of repeat users, if you start adding content sections to your site (like articles, a gateway page, weather, etc...) you can expand your media kit and build reliability. Not every site needs to worry about this, some sites have such a valuable niche with such good traffic that nothing really hinders them but this article wasn't written for the administrators of those few forums. I've attended trade shows to sell advertising for forums sites and time after time people ask why they should advertise on a place where people just "flame each other" or "spend all day chatting". If I replace the words forum with "website" and call it a portal, a network or whatever buzzword you like their tune changes. It's not an absolute rule but it can help, especially for a lot of sites that are competing in very busy markets with a strong offline presence like a bike forum.

You are of course welcome to your opinions and to disagree with me, I just ask that you read what I wrote first. Of course I may not have worded things as directly as I thought I did, it's easy to see an article how you wanted it to read instead of how it actually is read by others. But that’s why I have this post to clarify the issues.

And no, a cms program is not necessarily a portal.
 

calvin

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Feb 17, 2004
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I did read your entire article, twice even. Doesn't change my opinion.
 

Ted S

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Feb 19, 2004
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Great! That's what makes communities so great... the ability to state ideas, discuss them and agree or disagree all at the same time.
 

calvin

Enthusiast
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Feb 17, 2004
Messages
238
You got that right Ted. Wish it always worked this smooth on my forum.
 

Erwin

<B>Big Board Admin</B>
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Jan 12, 2004
Messages
634
I use my forums as a "portal" too. :) Seems to work. I know that as a user of other forums, I always bookmark the forums and bypass the front page.
 
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