I made my annual pilgrimage to ForumCon last week.
ForumCon is the only conference I attend regularly, as it’s the only gathering designed for those that manage, host, and/or monetize enthusiast online communities. VigLink, the company that organizes ForumCon, did a great job putting together the program this year. (Disclosure: Delphi Forums, the company I work for, is a VigLink customer.) As with most conferences, the networking opportunities were just as valuable — if not more so — than the sessions themselves. But there were some discussions, both in the sessions and over lunch and networking, I found particularly interesting.
Mobile remains a hot topic. Nearly every platform and publisher has a mobile interface, app, or both. But most of us are still trying to figure out how to make as much money from mobile as we do from desktop traffic. There was also some interesting talk about the state of mobile forum interfaces. One participant wondered why forum platforms aren’t taking a “mobile first” view of forums, rather than trying to replicate the desktop experience on mobile devices.
Advertising continues to be a focus of discussion. There was some talk of “native advertising.” The only problem with native advertising is that nobody can agree on what it is. During a panel on forum monetization, Jerry Orban of VerticalScope noted that guests interact more with advertising than logged-in users. Several panelists talked about having success with ancillary revenue generating activities like newsletters and merchandising.
There were several good one-liners coming out of the sessions. My favorite came from Vlad Dusil of PurseBlog/PurseForum, who called forums “social media without the ADD.”
To me, the most interesting session was the keynote address delivered by Jeff Atwood, who founded stackoverflow.com and is now involved in the development of the Discourse open source forum software project. I didn’t agree with everything Jeff said, but he sure gave me a lot to think about.
Jeff said that forums suffer from “serious identity problems” in that people view them as dated relics. He says part of his goal with Discourse is to make forums “sexy” again. Can’t argue with that.
He also said that “users care more about civility than software” and suggested that forum software should be designed to let participants deal with troublemakers without the intervention of a formal moderator.
Jeff is clearly passionate about forums and the fact that he’s focused his considerable talents on making forums better can only be a good thing.
Lastly, I gave a talk about forum moderation. I had a couple of requests to share my slides from that presentation, so I’ve embedded them below.
Thanks for the writeup Dave. I do have to take what Jeff Atwood said with a grain of salt, though. Obviously his ‘forums are relics’ bit is to position himself, his existing business, and new product he’s developing. When someone comes into such a talk with an agenda like that, all of us need to be extra skeptical with how we receive the message. Having said that, I do hope that the developers of other forum software are watching closely to see what he comes up with so they can “borrow” the best of it and learn from his mistakes.
Thanks for the comment.
In addition to his address, I had a couple of one-on-one chats with Jeff. He’s clearly passionate about forums and has some great ideas. The one thing I question is his notion that forums can police themselves if the technology platform gives trusted users the opportunity to help with moderation tasks. I think the types of self-policing features he’s talking about can help, but I don’t think there’s a substitute for one or more engaged moderators to keep a forum running smoothly.
You bring up a great point, Jeff’s panel was to “position himself.” I said pretty much the same thing to him in an e-mail follow-up. It seemed too “pitch-y” to his Discourse project. I was the one who asked if he’s seen xenForo, and he followed up saying that he did in fact check it out. The reason why I brought it up is becuase pretty much everything he said is done by xenForo (and to a much lesser extent, proBoards).
Great write up Dave, and was great seeing you. You did a great job with your moderation discussion.
Thanks, Joey. My talk was greatly improved by your participation.