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1. Posted by mojorob (Moderator, 1044 posts) 22 Jan '12 02:30

I've been sitting on my thoughts for a while about this.

As part of the site design change, the Forums page shows the old "all threads" view rather than dividing up the individual forums for people to select. I don't think this works well, and here's why.

  • Topics seem to be started more often than before in the wrong forum. This means things get missed by people - and yes I know a mod/admin can move that thread (if seen), but this potentially causes a delay in time sensitive replies.
  • Multiple threads about the same general topic are being created when someone could easily make a reply on an existing thread. This is because with all the extra threads from the other forums that you see, you are unlikely to see a thread relevant to you even though it may have only been very recently when someone else started a thread on the same topic. A big example of this (and I'm not sure if there's been some hidden advertising or not in some cases) is the recent explosion of threads in the Europe forum about Tomorrowland. The same questions are being asked repeatedly in new threads, and I've lost count on the amount of threads there have been about this.

I would also say that the "jump to" facility to change forums isn't that obvious. Personally, I would prefer the default view being the individual forums as is normally the case on a web forum.

2. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator, 5555 posts) 22 Jan '12 04:48

I'll second Mojorob's opinion about this. I also think that total traffic to the forums is less because of this.
You see the main forum page, check the first page of threads and that's about it. Also, the 'jump to' should be on the left if you choose this lay-out anyway. To the right should be ads and things which don't have to do with the forum.

About the Tomorrowland: that strikes me in its self Somehow I think this is like snowball effect, and people googling about it come here to TP forum. Obviously because it's not very active elsewhere on the web or something. I mean, these people come to Tomorrowland just because of that, and not travel around Europe in the first place. So why come to TP for this?

3. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4394 posts) 22 Jan '12 05:09

The tomorrowland thing is just because we're the first hit for "tomorrowland forum" on google, and on the first page for "tomorrowland 2012". By the time people have registered, they've lost track of the original thread they landed on, and so post something new. I don't think the old regular forum layout would improve that at all (in fact, I think it'd make it worse, since people would be more likely to pick the wrong forum to look in; at least with the current system, there's a chance that one of the tomorrowland threads is above the fold when a new member finishes registering). What might work is a link at the end of the registration process, allowing people to go back to the first thread they came in on (or the last forum page they were on before registering?) (Erm, I'm assuming here we don't currently have something like that!)

I do think the current all forums view is more likely to have new members post threads in the wrong forum. I'm hopeful that that is being offset by more new members replying to existing threads which they otherwise wouldn't have found, but that's a very hard thing to measure, and would be completely invisible to us regular members. (You might be able to compare the average thread length (or better yet, average number of replies by "new members") from before the new layout compared to now, but even that would be circumstantial at best.)

What I think the biggest loss is in the new situation is the topical sticky threads for the various forums. I think what could be explored is a way to make the "new thread" page a lot more intelligent, detecting various keywords from the subject as the new member enters them and offering (but where? and how?) "did you read?" links. But on the other hand, a new member which posts a thread is more likely to come back to the forum and become a long-time contributor, even if they posted a 'duplicate' question, or in the wrong forum. A new member which finds an answer in an FAQ or in another thread is more likely to stay a lurker. So maybe the current situation is the best one for the overall health of the site, even if it causes a bit of frustration for us janitors who have to deal with the cleanup.

4. Posted by Peter (Admin, 5465 posts) 22 Jan '12 16:01

Yeah, the Tomorrowland threads are definitely due to Google. Aside from searches for Travellerspoint, it's pretty much our top term at the moment! Even beating out the packing list which is usually the biggest one. Well, I guess we won't complain, but has spawned a lot of threads on the topic. And I guess will spawn a lot more in the months leading up to it. And heck, by then we'll probably be the dominant Tomorrowland forum on the internet and maybe have to consider naming ourselves TomorrowLandPoint or something

Anyway, I don't think there's a whole lot we can do about a situation like that. Another thing that could really help there is to add a merge function that would allow moderators to merge near-duplicate threads. We'd have to have a really clear idea of when to do a merge like that though and how exactly that merge would happen. I don't think it's something we'd want to be doing a lot.

I'm also a not really sure how the new system would cause people to post in the wrong forums more. When you start a thread from the main view now, it actually forces you to choose your forum. And by doing that, I would think that it also forces people to think about where they are posting. In the old-fashioned way, you'd be in the Europe forum and then maybe decide to write a question about your Asia trip and it would never ask you which forum to post in. That to me seems more prone to incorrect postings.

The other benefit from having them all grouped would hopefully be that people post less duplicate threads because they can see that the thread will be seen regardless of where they post. A big example of this is if someone is posting looking for a travel companion in Asia and Australia. They probably should only post that in the Travel Companions forum, but then they might think they would get more exposure by posting in the Australia forum and Asia forum as well. By grouping everything, they can see that regardless of how the thread is categorised, it still will be shown to everyone. I think it helps those situations.

I do understand your points about missing things because they are buried in deep pages or somehow non-relevant.

I'm not necessarily opposed to reverting to the old system, but probably need a bit more debate to convince me it's worth the change.

5. Posted by mojorob (Moderator, 1044 posts) 22 Jan '12 18:27

Quoting Peter

Anyway, I don't think there's a whole lot we can do about a situation like that. Another thing that could really help there is to add a merge function that would allow moderators to merge near-duplicate threads. We'd have to have a really clear idea of when to do a merge like that though and how exactly that merge would happen. I don't think it's something we'd want to be doing a lot.

Merge facility would be good! It comes up every so often when this would be useful.

Quoting Peter

I'm also a not really sure how the new system would cause people to post in the wrong forums more. When you start a thread from the main view now, it actually forces you to choose your forum. And by doing that, I would think that it also forces people to think about where they are posting.

I just checked the post new thread - as I usually go to the correct forum first before clicking "start a new topic" (also just noticed on the all threads view, the button is different and says "start new thread" - nothing major, but an inconsistency nonetheless). I think it was the first time I've selected a new thread on the all threads view, and I've got to say the forum list is unclear. It's in an odd order and not divided up at all like the "jump to" selection dropdown. Perhaps in the current situation these two selects should match, as the "jump to" is much clearer. Except my preference would be to have the destination forums at the top, rather than the general travel forums.

Quoting Peter

In the old-fashioned way, you'd be in the Europe forum and then maybe decide to write a question about your Asia trip and it would never ask you which forum to post in. That to me seems more prone to incorrect postings.

I don't think this happened that often previously, though difficult to judge of course. Not sure if I would agree with you on this one - but as I said, difficult to judge anyway.

Quoting Peter

The other benefit from having them all grouped would hopefully be that people post less duplicate threads because they can see that the thread will be seen regardless of where they post.

Yeah, but on the flip side the threads get bumped down the order a lot quicker than in the individual forums so it increases the chance the first thread won't be seen.

Quoting Peter

A big example of this is if someone is posting looking for a travel companion in Asia and Australia. They probably should only post that in the Travel Companions forum, but then they might think they would get more exposure by posting in the Australia forum and Asia forum as well. By grouping everything, they can see that regardless of how the thread is categorised, it still will be shown to everyone. I think it helps those situations.

Perhaps we can look into the possibility for threads in the Travel Companions specific to a region (selected by the user) to also appear in the individual region forum. I don't mean as a duplicate, I mean the same thread with the ability to reply in both forums - i.e. same thread id, but 2 different forum ids (probably not possible with current setup). It would also need to be set up so the threads with a region selected aren't shown twice in the "all threads" view.

Quoting Peter

I'm not necessarily opposed to reverting to the old system, but probably need a bit more debate to convince me it's worth the change.

Yeah, discussion about these things is good! :)

When some quibbles come up, I sometimes feel the way the forums are is like trying to reinvent the wheel (I'm aware that the forum set up is quite old compared to other areas of the site). However forums on the web are a very established thing, and there are certain things on the TP forums that aren't there which you might expect (some examples are: user defined time zone (currently it's just plain confusing), merge ability on threads, current default display of all threads (this could be a user configured option too)). Sorry if I come across as complaining, it's not intended in that way! ;)

Quoting Peter

Yeah, the Tomorrowland threads are definitely due to Google. Aside from searches for Travellerspoint, it's pretty much our top term at the moment! Even beating out the packing list which is usually the biggest one.

As an aside, I just clicked through to that packing list page, and even though it's usually the top search term - I think it's the first time I've ever been on that page!!

6. Posted by Peter (Admin, 5465 posts) 22 Jan '12 18:50

When some quibbles come up, I sometimes feel the way the forums are is like trying to reinvent the wheel (I'm aware that the forum set up is quite old compared to other areas of the site). However forums on the web are a very established thing, and there are certain things on the TP forums that aren't there which you might expect (some examples are: user defined time zone (currently it's just plain confusing), merge ability on threads, current default display of all threads (this could be a user configured option too)). Sorry if I come across as complaining, it's not intended in that way! ;)

It probably would be good to do a revamp of the forum with a few of these things integrated. There certainly are very established forum structures around the web, but it's also worth noting that there are also a lot of new ways of doing it. But you also have newer formats like the Q&A sites, which basically do the same thing (answer questions) but with a modern format. I agree though, there's a few features that we could add that would help a lot. I don't want to go all the way of making it as feature-packed as a lot of the forums are, because I actually tend to think most forums rather overdo it in that sense.

I just clicked through to that packing list page, and even though it's usually the top search term - I think it's the first time I've ever been on that page!!

Haha, yeah, it's not really hugely prominent on the site, but it's no.2 in Google and it's obviously a phrase that a LOT of people search for. Contrast to "travel community" which we are no.1 for, but hardly gets any traffic. And it's been in no.2 for so long that people keep on linking to it because it's the first thing they find, so it's very well established despite lots of competition. Can't complain about that one :)

7. Posted by Dodger (Respected Member, 860 posts) 22 Jan '12 20:50

I agree that i liked it better with the forums split into categories. Just seems to make more sense.

I'd also vote for re introducing the post count and when the last post was made on the main menu. To my mind people see a post that has a lot of activity and they go check it out. Likewise they see a new post and they go check that out too.

8. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin, 5579 posts) 23 Jan '12 02:54

One problem currently is that the 'related threads' box, which should show on the right, seems to not be working about 90% of the time. That's a huge bummer, as it would especially help group things like those tomorrowland threads, and focus postings on the threads already existing there.

I think Off Topic is probably the biggest sufferer of the change actually. That's REALLY difficult to find right now.

Perhaps a combi of one static page just showing the forums and dynamic content could be a solution. The old main forum page wasn't particularly inviting for new users as it just listed a bunch of links that users would then have to click on to get to something more useful (another click on that to then actually read the thread and respond). The new layout basically moves all interaction up one level. Perhaps there's a layout possible where you both list the forum topics, but also include one or two of the most recent threads under each? Not sure what that would do for clarity though; it might very well get worse?!

Post 9 was removed by a moderator
10. Posted by Herr Bert (Moderator, 1370 posts) 2 Feb '12 12:15

I think the option to merge topics is something that is doable. I see this happen as well on another forum. (which is a football forum, on which it happens on a regular bases that rumours about a transfer a posted at the same time, and sometimes in 2 different topics.) I agree that this is not something you want to do a lot as an admin or moderator you want to keep the topic readable as well.

My feeling about the old look or the new one, should be pretty simple really. If the admins have the numbers and they see more traffic to the seperate forums the new look is preferable. My feeling however is, that many new people will not look beyond the first page, on which on a day like today, you will see posts from the last 2 days, (or responded to in the last two days) which means a lot of posts go to page two, three, and beyond and are never seen again. The people that stick around longer, I think they will sooner go to the forums on which they know they can help, or to the ones they want to follow in order to plan a new trip. Another thing is, that some forums are hard to find for newcomers (e.g. as mentioned the off topic one, or the wiki forum, as they are almost never mentioned on the first page, as there is a lack of new topics.) If you look at the homepage, you can not see it is there, if you click to forums, you will see one link on the right. Would it be workable to add a second bar on the top, as is done now by many websites (e.g. the bcc news homepage.)