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Rough Plan for Groups Feature

Travel Forums System Talk Rough Plan for Groups Feature

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1. Posted by Peter (Admin, 5467 posts) 18 Feb '14 17:07

Hey folks,

So I'm quite convinced that the concept of groups is something we need to pursue more heavily in the forums. Obvious example groups would be things like "Tomorrowland 2014" , "Sydney New Years 2014", etc. - really targetted at people who are planning trips to a specific destination. But they could be more vague like a "Travel Photographers" group or "Cruise Addicts" or anything super random as long as it's travel related.

Groups would have a forum much like our main forum (using the same infrastructure). You would be able to see everyone who is a member of the group, allowing people to easily get in touch directly with them if needed.

Members of the group would be subscribed to get notification of all new threads in the group by default. This is clearly different to the main forum and ensures people know about new activity which is key to keeping them active.

And well, that sums up the basic functionality actually. I'd also love to add a small live-chat component on the page, but that is a nicety and not part of the first version functionality.

Groups would be created by nomination. One person nominates themselves as an owner of a new group - they need at least 4 people to second their nomination and the group is then pre-approved. Moderators give the final tick of approval just to avoid spammers taking advantage.

I'd also consider offering companies the opportunity to create commercial groups for a fee. I imagine this would be a pretty nice add-on for their customers to connect with each other within a broader travel community.

Posts from groups would not be shown in our main forums by default.

In thinking about this, there are several potential problems that need solutions.

1. Moderating - discussion areas outside of the normal ones are harder to keep an eye on. My view on this is that the owners would have responsibility with the existing "report" link available to flag it for other moderators. Live chat would be a particular problem, but I guess that is solved by allowing the group owner to boot people out of the group?
2. Difficulty in finding groups - obviously it could show on member profiles, but I think we can also highlight random and popular groups in the main forum. The search function would also need to show groups when searching by destination.
3. Potential duplication of groups - with semi-manual approval, this should be manageable I think.
4. Owners abandoning groups they created - some sort of partially automated system to flag these groups and maybe allow another member to take over would be necessary eventually.
5. Would only group members be allowed to post in group threads? - not sure
6. Should private groups exist? - maybe down the track, but initially I'd rather focus on public ones.

Anyway, there's the ideas thus far. Keen to get this happening at last, so let me know what you think. Would a group feature like this be useful to you? Could something make it more useful?

2. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4397 posts) 18 Feb '14 23:58

I think the main thing missing from this list is how to handle existing forum threads which should belong to one (or more) group(s). Some way to attach them, while still also remaining in the original forum (chiefly for existing participants in the thread who aren't a part of the group), seems ideal to me. I can also imagine threads being attached to multiple groups. (a thread "new years in australia" belonging to both the groups "sydney 2014" and "melbourne 2014")

Not too certain about group threads not appearing in the main forums, actually. Not just for moderating (though that's obviously a big one for me), but I rather think it might lessen regular forum activity noticeably. Such threads would then also no longer benefit from random drive by advice by people who don't want to be a part of the group, but do have the ability to answer specific questions they happen to notice in the threads.

Hierarchy-wise, I'd put each group under an existing travel forum, so there's designated moderators included, and an easy way to link things together. No need to promote the "sydney 2014" group in the sidebar of a thread in the south america forum. And if all threads remain in the "all forums" view, then that fits immediately.

I'd say the big benefit of a group sh/would be an easy view on just the activity in the forums that you're interested in, excluding everything else. Plus a member list, plus (eventually) a shoutbox-like members-only type of chat. But it shouldn't be too separate. People should continue to be enticed to look at the wider forum community and branch out.

My initial feeling is that the idea of a group "owner" will give trouble. Too many members are way too transient, you run the risk of power plays in long-lived groups, and their only useful function seem to be as a type of lite moderator. I'd say existing moderators can handle the load easily (unless groups are way more successful than I'm currently imagining, in which case we could always reconsider). For the creation of a group, people should also endorse the idea of the group, not the person who thought of it first. Plus, new members probably won't know about groups existing when they first come here, while long-term members will see the trends, and can pre-emptively create a tomorrowland 2015 group before the first tomorrowland 2015 thread has popped up, just so there's a place to attach new tomorrowland threads to when they first appear. (And that activity will then alert the posters in the thread to the existence of the group.)

3. Posted by Peter (Admin, 5467 posts) 19 Feb '14 01:46

If we show the group posts by default in the main forums (I think there should at least be a way to show them), then there is the risk that the forum gets cluttered with one niche group's posts. Some way of customising what the All Threads page looks like would probably be needed. Either by hiding the groups bothering you or by explicitly only showing the ones you care about.

Yeah, maybe you're right about the lack of need for an owner. We can still let people nominate the groups they want, but once created they can fall under normal moderating regime. Benefit being owners can't abandon the place and quality is kept up to scratch.

4. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4397 posts) 19 Feb '14 10:03

Quoting Peter

If we show the group posts by default in the main forums (I think there should at least be a way to show them), then there is the risk that the forum gets cluttered with one niche group's posts. Some way of customising what the All Threads page looks like would probably be needed. Either by hiding the groups bothering you or by explicitly only showing the ones you care about.

Agreed. I think it'd be a good improvement to make that way more general, though. Have the all threads view really be the all threads view by default, but add an interface to exclude a whole range of possible types of threads and have that remembered: Exclude everything marked as spam, everything off topic, everything from forum x (I can see "travel companions" being a popular choice there), everything from group y, everything labeled as being about country z, everything tagged alpha (we don't have tagging/labeling by anyone except for the thread starter yet, but I do think it'd be rather useful if active members could categorize threads based on a number of pre-defined options, including country for when the thread starter doesn't do that).

5. Posted by mojorob (Moderator, 1044 posts) 19 Feb '14 12:36

Quoting Sander

I think the main thing missing from this list is how to handle existing forum threads which should belong to one (or more) group(s). Some way to attach them, while still also remaining in the original forum (chiefly for existing participants in the thread who aren't a part of the group), seems ideal to me. I can also imagine threads being attached to multiple groups. (a thread "new years in australia" belonging to both the groups "sydney 2014" and "melbourne 2014")

Quoting Peter

If we show the group posts by default in the main forums (I think there should at least be a way to show them), then there is the risk that the forum gets cluttered with one niche group's posts. Some way of customising what the All Threads page looks like would probably be needed. Either by hiding the groups bothering you or by explicitly only showing the ones you care about.

Rather than having either all "group" threads visible in the forums or all group threads contained and hidden within the group - why not go for a hybrid approach? Any thread "attached" to the group from the main forums would be visible (with perhaps a small message at the top of the thread saying this), and any new threads made within the group can be selected to be either open or only visible to the group (similarly with a message saying that thread is only visible to the group).

It would be good for moderators to be able to attach a thread to a group, and perhaps have members suggest a thread for a group so it can be attached. Also moderators should be able to view all threads in groups by default without being a member of that group.

The other thing if a members posts a new thread, use keywords to catch it and suggest groups. Perhaps within the first 'x' amount of time (probably same as the edit feature) the OP can attach their thread to a suggested group(s).

[ Edit: Edited on 19-Feb-2014, at 12:37 by mojorob ]

6. Posted by Peter (Admin, 5467 posts) 25 Feb '14 20:02

On further reflection, after discussions with Kellie and after starting to create this, I'm now thinking that maybe such a heavy focus on forum threads is not the best course of action here.

In particular, I'm imagining some groups that don't really have that many threads at all, but are still valid groups of people that need to organise themselves. Obvious example here would be a Travellerspoint meetup in some specific location.

Instead, what we're now thinking is that an activity stream could be the better approach.

26 Feb 2014
- Peter, Sander posted in Travelling to Sydney October 9th
- Frank, Bob posted in Sydney in December??
- Peter added a new blog entry: Planning for Australia 2014

25 Feb 2014
- Peter posted in Travelling to Sydney October 9th
- Frank added 5 photos (show thumbnails)

etc..

The sidebar could then show all members of the group, linked threads and maybe photos added to the group. As well as the previously flagged live-chat area.

7. Posted by Peter (Admin, 5467 posts) 25 Feb '14 23:10

Screengrab of current progress

I need to build out the abilities to add threads, suggest threads, view all members and so on still. But let me know what you think of the interface.

I'm also now thinking that limiting the group threads to a specific forum is not necessary. There's no reason why threads from multiple forums couldn't fit in an Australia 2014 group. When posting the threads, the person posting will need to select the most relevant forum for the thread, so whoever is the moderator of that forum will have responsibility for it.

8. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4397 posts) 27 Feb '14 11:03

Agreed on the multiple forums; travel companions is an obvious second choice for almost any group.

Beyond that, I think this new direction is a good move for the groups feature, but I find it much harder to envision how it'll actually work in reality. One initial worry I have is that groups might become much less useful if a heavy blogger or photo uploader joins a large number of groups. Most of the photos or blog posts would be relevant only to a single group, not to all of them - but if you make posting photos or blogs to specific groups an extra checkbox / selection, then that might be too big a barrier for most people to bother? (Maybe it'd be okay if you also allow batch-selecting "relevant photos" from the group's interface, so you can do a one-time dump after joining the group.)

Don't really have many comments on the screenshot. There seems to be a lot of white-space, but is information density useful for such a group? I don't know. (I do know that I personally think border-radius: 50%; for profile photos is totally overdone; but I also realize that probably won't be the case for most of the target audience here.) :)

9. Posted by mojorob (Moderator, 1044 posts) 27 Feb '14 11:31

Quoting Sander

(Maybe it'd be okay if you also allow batch-selecting "relevant photos" from the group's interface, so you can do a one-time dump after joining the group.)

I'd suggest using the photo tag system could help with that?

10. Posted by Sander (Moderator, 4397 posts) 27 Feb '14 11:42

Technically that'd be a logical fit, but I'm pretty doubtful about it being userfriendly enough for this usecase. :/