Struggling Forum for Fantasy Writers - any feedback/suggestions

Jedi Knight Muse

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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.
Actually, those published authors I mentioned? At least three that I can think of are retired, so they are working writers, because they're using writing as their "job." There's at least one person I know of that's been published who is a stay at home mom and whose writing is her career. You're right that for the most part, we haven't drawn the "working writer" in, but they are there on the site, even if they're not actively promoting their books to death or something on the site.

We've been posting content that should draw the people who write for pleasure in, but it's kind of hit or miss as to whether or not it actually draws them in enough to register and actually post, despite the fact that they're usually pretty interesting topics. It's hard to explain, but it's like...we've somehow managed to get the people who are really shy/lazy/only looking to respond to things when they feel like it, which is what's causing the community to struggle. It can't be the staff members being the only ones posting and logging in, but we also need to lead by example...so there needs to be a balance between the two. Now, granted, we do have the members who will actually post and reply to things, but...not as many of them as we'd like.
 

Nev_Dull

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You're bound to have a few members who have published some work. You'll also likely have some members who have no intention of ever writing. They come to read what others are writing. And, of course, you have the ones who simply visit but never join. I would place all those as secondary audiences; nice to know about, but not necessarily the ones to focus on.

I would say you have one other serious problem that you need to overcome. Most writers are introverts. They tend to observe rather than interact. Fiction writers, especially, can also be quite reticent about sharing their work before it's ready. You may have to factor in some of that when it comes to finding ways to engage them.
 

DaddyCool

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I’ve mentioned that you said nothing about search engine optimization. But this is one of the most important things you need to do to receive more interested in your content users. You need at least to write titles, descriptions and keywords for each page. If you are noob it this field try to look some videos, read books and the result will be not long in coming!

For sure I agree with other comments on the content troubles.

And one more advice. Organize writing contest or quiz where the winner will receive a valuable prize. It will motivate users to communication
 
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Jedi Knight Muse

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I’ve mentioned that you said nothing about search engine optimization. But this is one of the most important things you need to do to receive more interested in your content users. You need at least to write titles, descriptions and keywords for each page. If you are noob it this field try to look some videos, read books and the result will be not long in coming!

For sure I agree with other comments on the content troubles.

And one more advice. Organize writing contest or quiz where the winner will receive a valuable prize. It will motivate users to communication
Old thread is old and probably most of what I originally said doesn't really apply any more, but.... :p

The problem with SEO is that it's not an actual, typical web page that we have where I can easily set up the titles and descriptions and keywords for all of that stuff, like I would on a Wordpress blog. It's a forum, and as far as I'm currently aware (I'll go into the ACP of the forum and see what I can find), there isn't an easy way to change the SEO settings. There's probably some setting in the ACP for it, I just haven't found it.

I already said this before, but I'm paying for the hosting of the site out of my own pocket and since we haven't yet gotten to the point of being comfortable asking for people to make donations (plus, asking for donations for something like this just opens up a totally different door of complications with figuring things out (like if people somehow donate too much money, what do we do with the rest of it? Or if the forum ends up having to close, what do we do? Things like that), unless I suddenly get oodles of money and can start buying prizes for contests and the like, so I can't really justify offering some kind of a prize just for the sake of getting people to participate in the writing challenges.

Also, considering it's a forum for writers, it shouldn't take a prize to get people to participate. It should be enough just to participate in the challenge. I can totally see why having a prize helps, but...I can't offer a valuable prize that I can't really justify spending the money for, so until something with that changes, just entering the challenges for the fun of it and to get feedback on the submissions should be enough.
 

Jedi Knight Muse

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I checked the ACP and as far as I found, there's...nothing in them (it's an SMF forum) for settings for SEO.

The only thing I found is a $30.00 mod that I could install from SMFPacks. Which, tempting, but I would probably wait until they have a sale code for it before buying it if I was going to do it at all.
 

Pete

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Wouldn't recommend Nibogo's stuff in general, usually fairly buggy.

The SMF mantra has always been that content is what gets people in, not fancy tricks or mods.
 

Jedi Knight Muse

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Wouldn't recommend Nibogo's stuff in general, usually fairly buggy.

The SMF mantra has always been that content is what gets people in, not fancy tricks or mods.
Is that who created that specific mod, or is that who owns the SMFPacks site? We're using the activity stream from there (yes, I was told to get rid of it by people in this thread, actually, but we decided against it. And now the activity has picked up a lot since making this thread so there's more happening in it) and have had 0 issues with it. If that's who also made the SEO mod, then I'm fairly confident there wouldn't be any issues with it. And there's also always going to be bugs no matter what. Even SMF itself has bugs sometimes.

Not that the mod matters much at the moment, because it's $30.00 and I'm not about to spend that any time soon.
 

Pete

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Sorry, forgot not everyone was uber-familiar with the wider community. Yes, Nibogo is the guy behind SMFPacks. The activity stream mod is also kinda buggy and adds server load but it seems to go down quite well with people.

Trust me about the SEO mod, I've had to fix more than a couple of sites actually broken by it. It's only really safe if you have no other mods in play, and honestly the main thing it does is pretty URLs - which hasn't been that huge a deal for SEO for some time. Meta keywords has been useless for a long time, the only one not useless as far as I know is meta description and there are alternative mods for that (I think Optimus Brave is the one I'd recommend)

SMF 2.0 is fairly good about not having bugs, except when the team manages to do insufficient testing on a release before releasing, which is why 2.0.14 and 2.0.15 were such a mess. Mind you, I didn't do enough testing on 2.0.7 when I prepared it (I'm ex SMF dev team), so I'm hardly one to talk (but at least it wasn't so obviously broken for so many people as 2.0.14 was)

I wouldn't hold your breath on 2.1 coming any time soon. Their last six months of development look to have been pretty shaky, actually kinda disappointed with what I'm seeing.
 

zappaDPJ

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One bit of advice I'd give is to update your site to the latest version of SMF (2.0.15) as soon as possible.

I would also consider giving the header and landing page a general overhaul. As things stand there's a lot of empty space with very little visible content especially considering the size of the scrolled page.
 

Pete

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The problem with updating past 2.0.13 is that without some other changes, that the login will break which is kind of a big deal.
 

Jedi Knight Muse

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Sorry, forgot not everyone was uber-familiar with the wider community. Yes, Nibogo is the guy behind SMFPacks. The activity stream mod is also kinda buggy and adds server load but it seems to go down quite well with people.

Trust me about the SEO mod, I've had to fix more than a couple of sites actually broken by it. It's only really safe if you have no other mods in play, and honestly the main thing it does is pretty URLs - which hasn't been that huge a deal for SEO for some time. Meta keywords has been useless for a long time, the only one not useless as far as I know is meta description and there are alternative mods for that (I think Optimus Brave is the one I'd recommend)

SMF 2.0 is fairly good about not having bugs, except when the team manages to do insufficient testing on a release before releasing, which is why 2.0.14 and 2.0.15 were such a mess. Mind you, I didn't do enough testing on 2.0.7 when I prepared it (I'm ex SMF dev team), so I'm hardly one to talk (but at least it wasn't so obviously broken for so many people as 2.0.14 was)

I wouldn't hold your breath on 2.1 coming any time soon. Their last six months of development look to have been pretty shaky, actually kinda disappointed with what I'm seeing.
Like I said, we've never had any noticeable issues with the activity stream mod- at least, nothing that wasn't ultimately fixable on our end. But yeah, it's not super likely that I'd buy the SEO mod anyway. Especially since all it does is do the pretty URLS.

Ha, I wouldn't hold my breath on much with SMF anyway. Honestly, there were very few reasons that we ultimately went with SMF when we decided to open the forum (I prefer JCink which is basically a better version of Invisionfree's software (I say "better" because the owner of the JCink software actually makes an effort to help his users and add features and I've seen him go the extra mile before, whereas Invisionfree pretty much says "screw you" to its users, especially when it comes to database transfers), but because it didn't have the features that I really wanted, we didn't use it. And then there was the whole thing with eFiction being built for SMF, and...well, lesson learned with that one), but there's some reasons that I really wish we hadn't. At this point, though, it would be a massive pain in the butt to even try to transfer it from SMF to JCink, and it really wouldn't do much good as far as features go, so...unless we get oodles of money and can justify moving onto IPB or Xenforo (which, yes, I know that those are both insanely expensive/really meant for much larger communities etc), we're stuck on SMF.

One bit of advice I'd give is to update your site to the latest version of SMF (2.0.15) as soon as possible.

I would also consider giving the header and landing page a general overhaul. As things stand there's a lot of empty space with very little visible content especially considering the size of the scrolled page.
Yeaaah, I noticed that I need to do the update for it. Usually there's someone else who does it for me, but she hasn't been around in a long time so I might as well figure out how to do it myself.

I'm...confused about the "empty space" issue you mentioned. I just realized that I need to update the challenge thing (oops. I'm really bad at keeping that updated), but otherwise...there's recent announcements, there's recent topics, it shows who's logged in...not sure how that equates to "little visible content."

The problem with updating past 2.0.13 is that without some other changes, that the login will break which is kind of a big deal.
Yeaaaah, definitely don't want to have the login break. XD
 

Pete

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That rings a bell, I think we manage to fix it with this (or something similar): https://wiki.simplemachines.org/smf/Login_error_2.0.14

Or am I barking up the wrong tree?
Nope, that's the correct fix for it. It's just bizarre that it was even necessary in the first place. I proved it could be done without editing the theme or any mods that did this, but it requires some lateral thinking to pull it off.

Especially since all it does is do the pretty URLS
For which there is a free mod that works in many ways better than the paid one. Any subsidiary stuff like meta tags, Optimus Brave or whatever it's called should do at least as well if not vastly better.

Ha, I wouldn't hold my breath on much with SMF anyway.
It still works and is still reasonable for what it does, and I think gives you more options in terms of flexibility than you'd get with Jcink. It's just a case of being aware of what the future will hold, and if you do decide to notch up to XenForo or IPS (honestly, if that's a consideration, I think XF is probably your better bet), you won't have the same headache migrating as you would going via Jcink.

Yeaaaah, definitely don't want to have the login break. XD
See the link zappaDPJ posted for the issue and its resolution. You will need to get your hands dirty in the code for it though.
 

zappaDPJ

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I wouldn't hold your breath on 2.1 coming any time soon. Their last six months of development look to have been pretty shaky, actually kinda disappointed with what I'm seeing.
Could you elaborate on that a little because I can't get any sense whatsoever on the current state of play from the official forum or GitHub. Is it the glacial progress or the state of the product (2.1) you are disappoint with? Or perhaps both? On the surface there seems to be a lot of infighting going on between current and ex-members of the development team but even there I can't get a real feel of what's going on.

I manage some fairly large (million+) forums on SMF which I'd really like to move but the owners want to wait until 2.1 before making a decision and every update to 2.0 brings a new set of problems which are starting to take too much of my time to solve.
 

Jedi Knight Muse

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This is what I see when I go to your site, the red box highlighting the actual content.

View attachment 50029
...yeah, that's because the majority of that space that you put the red box around is the news feed, which is an entirely separate thing from the portal which is what the link at the bottom that's being featured by the portal is in. I can't do anything about that "empty space." Even if I got rid of the portal page there would still be empty space between the news feed and the top of the forum (like, if you go to the main index of the forum that's what you'd see). Are you just saying that there aren't enough topics in the news feed, or are you saying that the issue is literally that white space between the reply from Silver and the blue boarder for the portal?

I'm honestly not going to worry that much about it either way.
Nope, that's the correct fix for it. It's just bizarre that it was even necessary in the first place. I proved it could be done without editing the theme or any mods that did this, but it requires some lateral thinking to pull it off.



For which there is a free mod that works in many ways better than the paid one. Any subsidiary stuff like meta tags, Optimus Brave or whatever it's called should do at least as well if not vastly better.



It still works and is still reasonable for what it does, and I think gives you more options in terms of flexibility than you'd get with Jcink. It's just a case of being aware of what the future will hold, and if you do decide to notch up to XenForo or IPS (honestly, if that's a consideration, I think XF is probably your better bet), you won't have the same headache migrating as you would going via Jcink.



See the link zappaDPJ posted for the issue and its resolution. You will need to get your hands dirty in the code for it though.
Huh. I just did a search for Optimus Brave and that's what it's called. I'll look into installing it.

I mean, as far as JCink's flexibility goes, it ultimately depends. Like I said, I've seen the guy who owns it actually go the extra mile (for me, in fact. He came into my old site's cbox and chatted with me while he fixed...something or other that I don't remember offhand. You would NEVER see anyone from Invisionfree do that, and I doubt any of the high end forum software companies have people who would do that. MAYBE SMF, but I've never heard of anyone from there going that far). I transferred my old role play from JCink to some other board host I can't even remember the name of (I got hasty and I was getting tired of the downtime that JCink was having at the time, so this new board host came along and I went "ooh, pretty" and decided to move us off of JCink and onto that one) for a while, we were probably there for...four or five months? And then JCink got its crap together and I wanted to move us BACK to JCink and JCink was super helpful with reinstalling the database. That may or may not have been what he came into the cbox for, I can't really remember at the moment. So theoretically it wouldn't be a huge issue. And actually, we're self-hosted so I think that would make installing the database somewhat easier anyway because I can download a copy of the forum database pretty easily.

But, again, right now JCink really doesn't have the features that I would want for the site that would justify us moving onto JCink. I've heard that Xenforo is kind of iffy (though I can't remember specific examples at the moment), and it's also really expensive with all the mods you have to install (or maybe I'm thinking of IPB as far as the mods go, I don't remember). We would need a much larger, more active site before we could really justify moving to Xenforo, even if it would be really nice to be able to provide the features that it offers.
 

Pete

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Could you elaborate on that a little because I can't get any sense whatsoever on the current state of play from the official forum or GitHub. Is it the glacial progress or the state of the product (2.1) you are disappoint with? Or perhaps both? On the surface there seems to be a lot of infighting going on between current and ex-members of the development team but even there I can't get a real feel of what's going on.

I manage some fairly large (million+) forums on SMF which I'd really like to move but the owners want to wait until 2.1 before making a decision and every update to 2.0 brings a new set of problems which are starting to take too much of my time to solve.
Disclosure: I'm literally one of the ex-devs. Since 2.0.14's atrocious handling of the situation, I realised my pet project (roleplay forum) shouldn't be left in the hands of people who do such terrible testing. Even though it was based on 2.1, I lost whatever faith I had in things, and forked. Of course this simplifies things in some ways, I'm no longer trying to keep all my changes as sets of mods.

But since then I've been following the changes since last spring with some interest and I see a lot of time being burned for such fringe cases. How many SMF users use PostreSQL? It's been supported for a decade and yet almost no one uses it. But many, many hours and changes have gone into 2.1 to improve it, some of which will break mods running on MySQL and force the authors to rewrite the queries involved because MySQL is now forced into strict mode.

Consider also that 2.1 started in 2011, has been through at least three full dev teams and no one has anything amounting to a vision of what it should be. Nearest it had was me trying to pitch such a thing in 2013 but the team is so vastly conservative that it takes a multipage discussion to decide whether to relabel "child board" to "sub-boards". For many of them, 2.1 is mostly a token effort that does nothing they need and little they think they want.

Me introducing the alerts system in 2013 was considered "flashy" and "maybe a bit too social and not enough like a forum".
 

Pete

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Jedi Knight Muse

There used to be a time when I'd do things like that. I wrote dozens of addons I never used just because people asked and it seemed interesting. But that sort of thing is long gone now, as is a lot of the old SMF community spirit.
 

zappaDPJ

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Disclosure: I'm literally one of the ex-devs. Since 2.0.14's atrocious handling of the situation, I realised my pet project (roleplay forum) shouldn't be left in the hands of people who do such terrible testing. Even though it was based on 2.1, I lost whatever faith I had in things, and forked. Of course this simplifies things in some ways, I'm no longer trying to keep all my changes as sets of mods.

But since then I've been following the changes since last spring with some interest and I see a lot of time being burned for such fringe cases. How many SMF users use PostreSQL? It's been supported for a decade and yet almost no one uses it. But many, many hours and changes have gone into 2.1 to improve it, some of which will break mods running on MySQL and force the authors to rewrite the queries involved because MySQL is now forced into strict mode.

Consider also that 2.1 started in 2011, has been through at least three full dev teams and no one has anything amounting to a vision of what it should be. Nearest it had was me trying to pitch such a thing in 2013 but the team is so vastly conservative that it takes a multipage discussion to decide whether to relabel "child board" to "sub-boards". For many of them, 2.1 is mostly a token effort that does nothing they need and little they think they want.

Me introducing the alerts system in 2013 was considered "flashy" and "maybe a bit too social and not enough like a forum".
Interesting, thank you. The part about alerts certainly strikes a chord. Rejecting functionality that would would go some way to modernising the platform seems to be a common theme.
 
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