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Website forum feedback ... and who's got my glasses?

At last night’s excellent Milonga at Concord,  Robert Clancy spoke a little about the very useful Sydney Tango website and wondered out loud as to why the forum section was languishing.(Robert I did mean to catch up with you in person later but hey, the main game was dancing!)

So I’m going to use the forum here to post my feedback, some of which I have proffered before but which seemed to receive no response.

I use online forums regularly, every day (in other spheres of interest), and have done ever since they were invented. I am often a prolific poster on topics that interest me and I’m not shy of my opinions. But for me, the Sydney Tango forum just doesn’t invite participation. Why?

Firstly, you are trying to create and maintain a social network in a world where there is competition from newer styles of communication such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs etc. Probably MOST people by now have some form of exposure or use of these newer social networks - and those that don’t, are probably not going to start using forums either.

I actually prefer forums. Discussions on topics are usually more considered, easier to find and follow, and while opinions can be strong, there is usually an intent to be helpful, thought provoking and informative, and very rarely anything inflammatory. And no pictures of food or kittens. Sure, every forum is moderated, usually by volunteers, while in those where real names are encouraged or required there is virtually no need for moderation as everyone has to take responsibility for their posts. With a “report post” function the forums are almost self-moderating.

So coming to a forum where one

  • ·        Cannot see a post until it is moderated (how cana discussion not be stilted this way)

  • ·        Cannot edit – or even preview - the contents of a post (within a reasonable time window) to corrct a smiple typo ...

  • ·        Cannot contact another user privately (Private Message or email) to take a conversation offline, or exchange personal details ... did you find my glasses?

  • ·        Cannot subscribe via email to individual threads(OK so you provide RSS but wtf who uses that??)

  • ·        Cannot with one click report an offensive comment

  • ·        Does not know how personal details will be used (example, if I put my residential address in my “account” settings – why would I do that? Who sees it?)

  • ·        Cannot see who else is online at any one time

  • ·        Does not know the identity of the moderators or management

  • ·        With one keypress (The goback button on my IBM laptop next to the up arrow) lose the entire contents of a post window without so much as a “did you mean to close this window?”

... is in my opinion hardly going to tempt many people to take part.

I can do all of the above at any number of tango forums, blogs and newsfeeds elsewhere using PHPBB or other commercial modules. It is a standard expectation to be able to do all of the above. (Facebook itself is hardly any different in terms of functionality. It just looks different. )

And interestingly, most Facebook users seem to be fairly comfortable using their own names. And also adding as “friends” those they may have met only once or even never, but then sharing sometimes the most personal things such as bathtime for the kids or puppy pictures, or worse!!

In the “Feedback” section, none of the suggestions (OK so they are mostly mine!) have been acknowledged or responded to. What message does this send? Why would anyone else bother using this forum?

In the “Travel and Accommodation”, “Personals” and “Visiting Sydney” section there are a few hopeful shout-outs, but no way of responding without giving out your own private personal information - email address and phone number – to anyone who visits the site. (Oh yes I suppose one could do what Ralph did and refer someone to Facebook to contact them, but one might not WANT another friend just now ... and what if one is posting under a pseudonym?)

Personally, I would like the Sydney Tango team to

  • ·        Assume that most users are well behaved and potentially want to contribute

  • ·        Remove the moderation of every post

  • ·        Allow users to report offensive posts to moderators and to

  • ·        Allow users to contact one another privately, and perhaps encouraging the use of real names to keep people accountable (yeah i know there was a user poll on this some time back, but that was five years ago and hey, you didn’t need a poll to decide to moderate every forum post!)

  • ·        Reduce the number of forum categories. With the current level of activity, 12 categories is really not warranted. Suggestions:  Announcements and Events; Tango Culture and Technique; Tango Music; Visiting Sydney; Tango Travel.

  • ·        Allow responses to posts the “Announcement” section – a great way to give feedback about individual events

  • ·        Delete the old posts in the feedback section because it looks like no-one is really reading the feedback

(^ My opinion. All my own work. A full 2c worth. Take with pinch of salt if necessary. Love the calendar section of the website by the way, well done, it’s very useful and up to date.)


Oh and one last very important thing; I left a pair of gold-rimmed reading glasses on the Tango Conca table last night. If anyone finds them, please let me know ... oh wait ... let EVERYONE know then ... or perhaps, leave them in a secret spot so only i can collect them, no hang on that won’t work. Perhaps I could take out an advertisement? No, that’s silly. Try my Facebook page? ... no hang on ... I’m under a pseudonym ... I know, contact the moderators, whoever they are, I think THEY know who I really am.

Whatever. Love to get my peepers back :-)

-       - Lurch

-- 15/07/2013 11:18:09 PM: post edited by Lurch.

Re: Website forum feedback ... and who's got my glasses?

Firstly - no news so far on your glasses.

This topic is very interesting for me. Like you I see the explosion of social media tools competing with the older style forum interface, leaving it seeming very un-sexy. Nevertheless like you, I feel there is still a niche. The problem perhaps is whether people these days have any left-over energy for posting in a public environment which calls for more commitment than simply watching a video and saying you like it. And similarly I'm frustrated when forum posts are not responded to. There's not too much you can do about that.

As you point out, the website at least needs to make the process easy and it should be full-featured to compete in the modern world. I've just recently re-engaged with this site because of management changes and enhancing the forum has been on my mind as a priority for quite a while. Your comments are very welcome.

I use forums like you for other areas of interest, unrelated to tango, but I've never come across an environment where there is any concern about using "real names". I find this point surprising. As I explained at the milonga, I'm going to add some controls over site authentication which will allow anonymity to continue in the forum, but behind the scenes the website will know a lot more about the person posting. This should be a considerable deterrence on those wishing to abuse the service. I will be making these changes very soon. It will require existing and new users to verify their email addresses.

Answering your points in order:
- visibility of posts before moderation is simply a configuration setting. I can easily change it and probably will in the coming days.
- editing a post is indeed possible at any time by the creator of the post. Perhaps the pencil icon to open the editing interface is not obvious enough
- you cannot contact a person privately. This would be a desirable enhancement, although in the forums I use, I've yet to see it offered
- email thread subscription is often provided in forums, but as you point out, RSS does the same thing but for the entire category. To me, even though RSS is old technology, it seems more appropriate in this setting, and achieves the same result. It would be very tedious to have to subscribe to every thread.
- reporting offensive comments. I also haven't seen this in the forums I use. We plan to always have a moderator, and anyone can email the site through the contact page. This has never been an issue, and doesn't seem like a high priority to me
- the personal details are not used at all and I am inclined to remove them entirely from the site registration environment
- cannot see who is online. Again, I've not come across this in forums and don't think I'd be terribly interested it knowing it anyway
- the moderator identity has always been published on the Contact page, together with the rest of the management team, however we are currently without one, and searching for a replacement.
- popup dialogs when closing a browser suggests to me a modal page, which I'm not interested in providing. I also have not seen them in other forums. With the normal modeless browser page, you wouldn't normally close it, and if you navigate away from it, you can always go backwards.

I think you could provide links to these other forums which exhibit the features you say are common (and I'm saying I rarely see if ever), just so I get a better idea.

The fact that your posts are not responded to is out of my control, but I realise I can help by improving the interface.

I like the idea of providing a private way of contacting the poster outside of the forum (although I've never seen it). That would resolve your privacy point about accommodation and visitors.

The second set of issues:
- I don't feel assuming that everybody is kind is really going to make much difference
- the moderation pre-visibility will be re-configured *** has been reconfigured!!!
- users can already report offensive posts. They have many times in the past (years ago when it was active)
- private line of communication (like). Encouraging real names - don't like, haven't seen
- reduce the number of categories - absolutely. If the forum becomes popular again they can come back maybe
- allow replies to announcements - no. There are structural reasons it was setup like that. Responding to events should happen in the opinion areas
- I'll check out the feedback section. Normally I wouldn't see a need to delete old posts, unless we're starting something very new

Re: Website forum feedback ... and who's got my glasses?

Thanks for taking the time with detailed responses.

Thousands of bulletinboards are powered by phpBB (free open source) or VBulletin (paid) and both these offer all the features i talked about. I'll send you a link to a few I use offline. But these are [nerdalert] apache/php/mysql based and you might not be using that platform[/nerdalert] sheesh did i just write that?

Sure, can't do anything about a post not being responded to, except make it easier, as you said. But the feedback forum is basically open communication to the admin team, yes? Would be nice to know the feedback has been considered, as you have done now :-) 

And I agree pseudonyms are commonplace (except on facebook, if that counts) but in my opinion the more respected forums are those where real names are more often used. People are generally less likely to spray if they are using their real names. You usually find the established "players" use their own names anyway. It's good for business. But on the other hand, timid people (like me) are more likely to pipe up if they are anonymous ... up to the point where they feel like their contributions are appreciated, then they want to start using their real names! Often people register, without really thinking about it, in order to see more features or post a small comment, and choose a name like "OMGsuchatangoaddict1972" and then a bit later on its like, yikes did I reall choose that username?? Quite a few forums I have used, allow change of username (by admin, on request) and i think its a good idea. All the user's posts are automatically updated, so the authorship to the individual remains consistent. This is better than re-registering with another username - all links to your previous contributions are lost.

Note the pencil, icon! Yay!

Thread subscription is PRECISELY for when you don't want to be bothered by every thread posted, but are particularly interested in replies to one topic. Its all about customising "my" content experience, right?

Yes i found the moderator/admin identity after a bit of fishing around, eventually found it under "contact". I perfere it listed with the forum title, so I know who's keeping an eye on things.

The Personal Message "PM" feature is used in just about EVERY forum i have ever used for the past 100 years ... surprised you haven't seen it. i'll send you a link.

Thanks for your considered replies.

- Lurch

PS the [nerdalert] the session timeout is annoying. I typed the above straight into the reply box (as you do) and by the time I'd reached the end "Sorry your session has expired please log in again". Luckily i had copied the text (once bitten) but if i hadn't i'd be mighty pissed off and may not have bothered to start over[/nerdalert]

Re: Website forum feedback ... and who's got my glasses?

Regarding pseudonyms - they are not only commonplace but universal. Are there any forums where they are not supported and employed by most people? I find that the majority of contributors to this forum use their real names, even though it is not required.

As promised, I have implemented an email verification interface. As of last week, you cannot post anything on this forum, or indeed register on this site, unless you specify and reply from a valid email address.

I am happy to change a user's forum pseudonym on request, though I'm not inclined to provide an interface for the user to do it themselves.

Still not moved by the thread subscription feature. There is not enough activity at the moment to justify it. Subscribing to an RSS feed of the entire forum list wouldn't cause much traffic in your inbox and already you need to specify each forum individually.

Personal messages will be added shortly...

I agree that there are too many categories and forums. The amount of traffic doesn't justify it. I'm looking at that also...

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