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Move "My Topics" up on the main forum page

Travel Forums System Talk Move "My Topics" up on the main forum page

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1. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 2y

I've lately been seeing quite a few new members saying "let's move the discussion to facebook, it's easier to talk there" again (example, other example).

I asked for clarification, and got this reponse:

Is it finding back the conversations you're in, or seeing when there's new activity in those conversations, or...?

Sander... It is exactly that.

I never know when people have responded and then struggle to find the people who are in a similar position to myself to chat to :)

I think the "My Topics" feature is 90% of the way there to solving this usecase. It just needs to become more present, and maybe a bit more explicit about denoting that a thread has received new replies. (The bolding and green dot are very useful if you know about it, but not very discoverable.)

So I propose:
1) Move "My Topics" way up in the right column, in such a way that at least the first few threads about above the fold. I'd say the entire right column could stand some reordering, so make it: "Discuss your travel plans with fellow travellers around the world.", "Start New Thread", advertising (if you have to; but decrease the height to 200px if you can (if you decrease the .rh-title font-size from 28px to ~20px so it doesn't take up two lines anymore, that fits easily)), "My Topics", "Jump to" (I think that can actually be removed completely from the main forum page, because it's more effort to use than the following), and finally the "subforum links", travel planner and subscribe sections. (Since non-logged in readers don't have "My Topics", the subforum links will still be in the same position; regulars can scroll down, bookmark, or will just click on a forum link right below a thread title.)
2) Replace the green dot in "My Topics" with the number of new replies since your last post (with some kind of icon), and if possible (don't think we track last view anywhere, alas?) with number of new replies since the last time you viewed the thread.

These improvements won't be useful for everyone (I personally would barely benefit from them), but they also shouldn't hamper anyone much, and hopefully it'll help us retain a whole lot of the people who're now only hanging around long enough to meet a few kindred souls before scampering off to facebook again.

[ Edit: Edited on 05-Feb-2014, at 14:04 by Sander ]

2. Posted by mojorob (Moderator 1047 posts) 2y

Quoting Sander

I've lately been seeing quite a few new members saying "let's move the discussion to facebook, it's easier to talk there" again (example, other example).

I asked for clarification, and got this reponse:

Is it finding back the conversations you're in, or seeing when there's new activity in those conversations, or...?

Sander... It is exactly that.

I never know when people have responded and then struggle to find the people who are in a similar position to myself to chat to :)

I think the "My Topics" feature is 90% of the way there to solving this usecase. It just needs to become more present, and maybe a bit more explicit about denoting that a thread has received new replies. (The bolding and green dot are very useful if you know about it, but not very discoverable.)

What you propose may be fine for "old web", but in my opinion finding out how people are using TP and Facebook would be more useful (or perhaps more to the point, how users would prefer to use TP).

What I'm getting at is, if people are using Facebook on their phone then the app is likely to show the number of responses to various things. It's easy for the user to see what's happening without going to the site and without checking email (if they even opted for such emails from FB). It is literally at their fingertips at all times.

With TP, you need to first go to the site to see what's happening - unless there's a similar TP app for iOS, Android and WP8 that I don't know about? Also with FB, a user is generally automatically opted in to receive a notification of some sort for responses, on the TP forum you need to tick the box - and that's not even considering the current issue of emails not always being received.

3. Posted by Peter (Admin 5809 posts) 2y

Hi guys,

I've implemented your suggestions more or less Sander. I can't show number since last viewed without also starting to record all user visits to the thread. I'd like to add this later though as it seems useful.

I'm open to making the subscribe option ticked by default too. Or at least remember the last preference. And of course, that notification issue clearly needs fixing.

There is a broader structural opportunity I think which is the ability to find other people in similar situations and connect with them easily. This is what leads people to set up Groups on Facebook, despite that platform not being really targetted at travellers.

We made a brief attempt at this in 2012 with the group created for Sydney New Years - that was just for testing the concept. It didn't really achieve what we wanted, but that doesn't mean that with some reworking it couldn't function better. It could be worthwhile trying to build on that feature as there is clearly a desire to connect with other travellers going to the same place pre-trip (probably more so than connecting with people who have been there in the past even). Open to ideas on this.

4. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 2y

Quoting mojorob

What you propose may be fine for "old web", but in my opinion finding out how people are using TP and Facebook would be more useful (or perhaps more to the point, how users would prefer to use TP).

I agree a complete reimagining of these forums might lead to a better result with retaining these people. But what I proposed was a very lightweight way to (hopefully) lead to a big improvement - something Peter literally could do in an hour or two. I'm sure he has a wee few too many other things he's working on for throwing things about completely. (Plus there's always the risk that a new situation would not work at all for some other usecases, and current members would leave because of it.)

Quoting Peter

I'm open to making the subscribe option ticked by default too. Or at least remember the last preference.

Sounds good. Specifically I'd say ticked by default (for new members only; current members won't expect it, and won't look at it), and remember the last preference. (I actually thought it used to work like that already?)

Open to ideas on this.

We threw some ideas around last time I was in Melbourne, which I thought were pretty workable. Let moderators create new groups (based on observing what's happening in their forums) - let active members "tag" threads as belonging to the available groups, and let all members put in requests for new groups (with them maybe automatically being created if ~5 people endorse the request?).
Group threads would show in the all forums view, but could be easily hidden (similar to the off topic toggle?). The main forum views would also show the largest / most (recently) active groups available.

Maybe give each group a "shoutbox"-like very low level chat which doesn't show up as a thread at all; only usable by members who've joined that chat? (Spam potential is iffy, though.)

5. Posted by mojorob (Moderator 1047 posts) 2y

Quoting Sander

Quoting mojorob

What you propose may be fine for "old web", but in my opinion finding out how people are using TP and Facebook would be more useful (or perhaps more to the point, how users would prefer to use TP).

I agree a complete reimagining of these forums might lead to a better result with retaining these people. But what I proposed was a very lightweight way to (hopefully) lead to a big improvement - something Peter literally could do in an hour or two. I'm sure he has a wee few too many other things he's working on for throwing things about completely. (Plus there's always the risk that a new situation would not work at all for some other usecases, and current members would leave because of it.)

I'm not suggesting a new situation, I'm suggesting an improved situation on what there currently is. Currently the forum is very much set up for use on desktops & laptops (and perhaps tablets somewhat). This was fine 10 years ago, but it's very out of date now. Using the forum on the mobile site is probably more fiddly than necessary in places. What I'm suggesting is perhaps developing apps that give notifications, which in time include all/most aspects of TP, with the main site still displaying as expected on desktops/laptops.

You say the risk of a new situation may not work for some and current members would leave because of it - what I'm saying is the current situation is not working for all current members, and as your opening post suggests current members are leaving because of it.

While the change possibly helps somewhat (the current inability to show new posts since last visited limits the effectiveness of the change), I would not say that the change as implemented is a big improvement. It's a very minor improvement, and the current implementation of it could actually cause confusion because of the inability to show new posts since last visited. The number next to the threads in "My Topics" is almost meaningless the way it stands at the moment - you may have already viewed the thread since people have posted after you, so presumably that number will just increase if you don't subsequently post before further replies. In this case, who is going to keep track of the numbers on each thread, so they know if there are any actual new posts since their last visit? I'm guessing no one.

I would say that the development of these forums is now critical. It's been on the back burner for years, with various things talked about but largely only minor things changed.

6. Posted by hasbeen (Respected Member 630 posts) 2y

Quoting Peter

Hi guys,

I've implemented your suggestions more or less Sander. ....

.....s.

I like the new look of the page. More 'tidy'.

The little TP promo becomes readable somehow, don't know why that would be. Maybe I skip ads if they are in the middle of text to get to the rest of the text.

The number in the little green box does not mean anything to me at first glance. And even if I think about it a bit, I am still in ignorance.

Also - If I post in a thread, I would expect to be automatically subscribed, unless I choose not to be.

Off topic a little - can 'my forum posts' be made to show the same info as 'my subscriptions'? I feel the current info not too useful.

steve

7. Posted by mojorob (Moderator 1047 posts) 2y

Quoting hasbeen

Off topic a little - can 'my forum posts' be made to show the same info as 'my subscriptions'? I feel the current info not too useful.

Yes, I would agree on also showing subscribed but not posted in threads.

8. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4835 posts) 2y

Quoting mojorob

I'm not suggesting a new situation, I'm suggesting an improved situation on what there currently is. Currently the forum is very much set up for use on desktops & laptops (and perhaps tablets somewhat). This was fine 10 years ago, but it's very out of date now. Using the forum on the mobile site is probably more fiddly than necessary in places. What I'm suggesting is perhaps developing apps that give notifications, which in time include all/most aspects of TP, with the main site still displaying as expected on desktops/laptops.

For me, dedicated "apps" is the outdated way of thinking. I seem to remember there actually was movement on the development of an app for a while, but that it didn't lead anywhere. As far as I know, the current plan for mobile is to slowly transition to a responsive design. Never an easy task for a site originally imagined with a fixed width design, but far more doable. (I just tried it on this thread; the header and footer are somewhat tricky, and probably will cost a day or two before they get a good feel to them, but the forum itself can be made to work from desktop all the way to 320px mobile in an hour or two at most.)
And I'm sure doing that work is slowly percolating to the top of Peter's todo list.

But your original point was about making "what's happening (that I am interested in)" more directly available. I agree that this would be good to do; but I think you underestimate the architectural rework necessary to get there. Hence me proposing just this quick fix; something immediately actionable, and, I posit, nearly as useful for these new members who've only been on the site for a day or two. (The problem they are facing is the only usecase I was trying to address here - but that doesn't mean I don't see there's many other usecases remaining unaddressed.)

I would not say that the change as implemented is a big improvement. It's a very minor improvement

It's a small improvement, but for that subset of new members who were having trouble finding back the threads in which they participated, and actively proposing leaving to facebook because of it, I think it'll be far more significant than you expect. I guess we'll just have to monitor threads, and see if we can get a feel for if the number of "this place is so confusing, let's chat on facebook" replies will decrease. :)

Quoting mojorob

Quoting hasbeen

Off topic a little - can 'my forum posts' be made to show the same info as 'my subscriptions'? I feel the current info not too useful.

Yes, I would agree on also showing subscribed but not posted in threads.

I don't use subscriptions myself, but thirded; "My Topics" showing both subscribed to and posted in threads would be a good further improvement.

9. Posted by mojorob (Moderator 1047 posts) 2y

Quoting Sander

For me, dedicated "apps" is the outdated way of thinking. I seem to remember there actually was movement on the development of an app for a while, but that it didn't lead anywhere. As far as I know, the current plan for mobile is to slowly transition to a responsive design. Never an easy task for a site originally imagined with a fixed width design, but far more doable. (I just tried it on this thread; the header and footer are somewhat tricky, and probably will cost a day or two before they get a good feel to them, but the forum itself can be made to work from desktop all the way to 320px mobile in an hour or two at most.)
And I'm sure doing that work is slowly percolating to the top of Peter's todo list.

Yes, a fully responsive layout would be a good starting point. Not only on the main TP site, but also on the blog templates - I've just checked a blog using the default template, and it presents really really badly on my phone.

Quoting Sander

But your original point was about making "what's happening (that I am interested in)" more directly available. I agree that this would be good to do; but I think you underestimate the architectural rework necessary to get there. Hence me proposing just this quick fix; something immediately actionable, and, I posit, nearly as useful for these new members who've only been on the site for a day or two. (The problem they are facing is the only usecase I was trying to address here - but that doesn't mean I don't see there's many other usecases remaining unaddressed.)

Oh, I'm not underestimating the amount of structural work required at all - I'm fully aware of what I'm suggesting.

I do feel that putting the hard yards into updating the forum structure in particular is over due. There have been so many "band-aid" fixes over recent years, with talk that at some point in the future it needs to be fully reworked that I just feel it's time to put that work in as a priority if the forums have a future on TP.

Perhaps 2014 can be a year for modernising the TP site - and updating the html so it validates?

(Don't worry or be offended - this is probably what seems to have become my traditional beginning-of-year whinge ;) )

10. Posted by Peter (Admin 5809 posts) 2y

Don't worry, I'm not easily offended and I take all the feedback in good spirit. I much rather have people who want to see improvements and saying this than people being quiet and leaving.

Responsive for me is the way forward. I've already started work on this and certain areas of the site now are in fact responsive. The community area being the most recently worked on - that is all responsive design and in my opinion looks quite ok on mobile devices and desktop alike.

The accommodation area has been the major project over the past year, mainly integrating a third partner (Expedia) into the mix being very time consuming. With that comes a fresh design in the accommodation area which will also be fully responsive. That phases out one part of the mobile site. The other parts being the forum, guide and blogging.

Of all the areas, the forum is probably the easiest to make responsive. Thanks for the extra encouragement to do this - I guess I will make that a priority :) Just bear in mind that this is a transitional thing, so the result could be a bit jarring at times (one area responsive while other parts aren't). But doing it that way means I can get the changes out quicker without waiting until every little corner of the site is converted. Also, if there are any problems with the way I've done it, then these are found quicker this way and I avoid making the same mistake all over the place.

Validating all the HTML is not a huge priority to be honest - there's just too much of it and the benefits are just too limited to really spend a lot of time testing all the pages carefully.

The default blog template is actually responsive - I'm surprised this was mentioned as an issue. Or were you looking at the old default by some chance? That one is not available when you are switching templates any more and is not the default when you create a new blog (since about 3 years ago). If you were looking at the new one, let me know the issues. I'm testing on iOS7 Safari and it seems pretty good to me. Better than most blog designs on mobiles in my opinion.