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Forum Reality Check; Quelling the Impatience and Fears of Failure
cheat-master30
Join Date: Mar 2007
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by cheat-master30 cheat-master30 is offline 13 Sep 2008

All too often are the cries of impatience, the admins who just want a successful forum. They want it NOW. Some of these take two days to set up a forum then panic when 100 people aren't registered or a million posts haven't been made, thinking that their forum is completely rubbish and has died already because the massive, hopefully waited for burst of activity and traffic hasn't barged through the door and started posting. This article serves as one thing, a quick reality check to these people. It says not to worry about how slow you think your forum is growing, why your competitors might not secretly be doing so well and why hard work is the only thing that pays off.

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

In other words, it's not expected that your forum will become big the moment it opens, or even in the first month. You cannot just build an online empire in one afternoon and expect to be raking in millions in a week. The internet, and especially forums do not work like that. If your forum is a week old, and you complain about 5 members, no problem, it's expected. If your forum is a week old and you complain you've only got 30 members, again, it's expected. Success is not instant. Forums are not for get rich/successful quick, they are communities. I see too many admins thinking of failure with such pessimism just days after launch, panicking they've failed, panicking the forum won't succeed and more honestly, expecting to be a big board in a few days. That does NOT happen. So chill out, post on your forum, market it and work on SEO and the members WILL come. In time.

Forums Are All Different

Again, nothing is as ridiculous as explicity using another forum as a yardstick to measure your success. Different forums gain different audiences, grow quicker, have different content and communities. Your forum will not become the same as the other forums in the niche when it reaches the same size, nor will it draw the same audiences, or the same community spirit.

Growth is not a Straight Line on a Graph

Growth of a forum depends on a variety of factors. You cannot predict these factors greatly well. For example, when your forum is small, you might get less members joining and less posts made because it feels quiet to the member base. The forum might get really popular and end up all over social networking sites, bookmarking sites and the media and the growth might go up massively, and when a forum is established, you can theoretically actually draw members by the activity that already exists. Activity will go up and down for the most minor or the silliest reasons, don't worry about it too much unless it's something that can be fixed and that's affecting your forum in a really, really negative way.

Rival Site Activity is Deceptive

Now, this is a rather unusual point at first, but you need to remember that the typical forum stats are not a cast iron representation of if one board is more active than another. Take various older forums. Some of them are nearly completely dead, with less than 200-100 posts a day. But they LOOK active, because of their AGE. A forum which has been around 10 years with 200 posts a day will have 730 000 posts, while a forum with 400 posts a day that's been around a year will have 146 000 posts. The more active forum in this case is actually the younger forum, and this indeeds makes the stats deceptive, especially as an old enough forum will become a big board eventually via pure longetivity alone. I know many forums which have this longetivity trick making the activity look high, and they're all the same. They look active, but when you do the maths and look at the forum posts, you find weeks between posts and long gaps with near no activity.

Similarly, a forum with a massive amount of posts could also HAVE ORIGINALLY have been massively active, but then died as the hype for the subject died down (common with sites based on films and games that are the next big thing) or something went horribly wrong.

Certain Kinds of Sites Have Different Types of activity

This is another key point to remember. Take resource sites for example. The majority of them, post count wise are nearly completely dead, but have a staggeringly high member rate. This is to be expected, since the draw is the resources, which could be graphics, games or videos. People will sign up just to download things and not to join in the community.

The above also happens with sites where the forum is integrated with a website, and the logins are the same. This of course is most common with wikis, blogs, galleries or various CMS type systems, or membership type things, where any member that joins for the site becomes a forum member automatically. This causes a low post to member ratio.

On the flip side of the scale are heavily community based and loyal discussion communities, where the member count might be far lower than the post count, since everyone involved is often posting like crazy because of the active community spirit. Indeed, I've seen 200 member sites with around 200 000+ posts, and some have anything as low as 20 members for like 500 000 posts. This is the other end of the scale.

In all honesty, the second one need not be improved most of the time, although a bit more marketing and promotion will help boost the member count. But for the latter, there's the side that you can boost it a bit by requiring post count for accessing things, and the other side that it's all part of the forum topic having this kind of flaky activity.

All in all though, chill out. Don't panic about your forum not being an instant success, don't expect an instant success and enjoy your forum. All communities are different, all forums have different aspects, and competition and stats can be misleading.
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  #2  
Old 15 Sep 2008, 19:07
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pranaysanghavi pranaysanghavi is offline
 
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as if directly meant for me..
excellent cheat-master ...

that post of yours at vb rubbishing my own paranoia of my forum was sufficiently enlightening, now you've elaborated for all; as you rightly figured out, That which is the most personal, is the most general.

Thanks once again, inspiring--even brutally true--words from senior members like you give us to fodder to keep moving despite foolish skepticism on our part.
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Old 15 Sep 2008, 20:14
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cheat-master30 cheat-master30 is offline
 
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You were one of two people it was meant for, although the worries about a forum not succeeding instantly go back quite a long way on various forums. Thanks for your comments though, and glad you like the article.
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Old 29 Oct 2008, 03:15
RogueMaster RogueMaster is offline
 
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Nice job. I thoroughly enjoyed that article.
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Old 29 Oct 2008, 19:24
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cheat-master30 cheat-master30 is offline
 
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Thank you RogueMaster. I see the article's doing it's job well because of that (and thanks for reading).
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  #6  
Old 04 Nov 2008, 22:34
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Good article, thank you. It certainly boosted my confidence!
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Old 04 Nov 2008, 22:55
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cheat-master30 cheat-master30 is offline
 
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^That was one of the most important aims, so glad to see it's working.
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Old 16 Mar 2009, 04:59
Seshat Diva Seshat Diva is offline
 
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Smile

Thank you for articulating so much of what I feel as I'm in the early growth stages of my site. It's been an overwhelming journey and through your words I think I can give myself some latitude now and realize that what I've accomplished so far is essentially normal.

I'll continue my evaluation process as my site grows but will also learn to enjoy it more as that was what it was designed for.
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Old 19 Mar 2009, 07:45
Kyrasis6 Kyrasis6 is offline
 
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An example of some of these dynamics is my own forum/tech site. It started in 2002 on a free community builder type thing, then was moved to it's own domain, then I baught vBulletin and upgraded the whole site. My previous forum bombed when trying to transfer the database into vBulletin so vB only shows 1000 members and 35k posts, my last forum database had 3,000 members and 40k posts. A few years ago another forum website came around and in a matter of 2 or 3 years has 5 or 8 times as many posts. My website has an extensive Tech section, the other site doesn't. When checking my Google-Analytics stats they are any where from 50% to 300%+ better than the comparison sites. We only average a new member once every couple days but get over a hundred new unique visitors a day from search engines and a bounce rate that hovers between 13-28%. Every now and then I'll put up a page with a survey for people to fill out and email to me and I get flooded with responses from people who say they've been readers since 2002 and NEVER logged on or posted because they always find the information they need on the site.

Not all is as it seems.
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Old 24 Mar 2009, 01:39
Rene Kriest Rene Kriest is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Kyrasis6 View Post
people who say they've been readers since 2002 and NEVER logged on or posted because they always find the information they need on the site.

Not all is as it seems.
I second that.

In my experience only ~5% of the registered members are really active over time. The number depends on the size of a board's membership. The names vary while the number of participants remains the same.

I was working as a mod for a Fußball-Bundesliga team (Major League Soccer/Premier League Soccer in Germany); we hat around 70.000 members and an estimated 10k nominal members which could have been deleted (no articles written at all, last login was more than 2 years ago). On the other hand we had a members to visitors ratio of 1/10: one member equaled 10 not registered visitors. Around 0,1% was active over time.

You need to consider wether you want visitors to register or not. For my marketing system I need an established member base. It depends on members and not so much on visitors because my forums deals with health and certain areas are protected from curious eyes. People like the information they find but tend to not come back or only stay for a short period of time. I wouldn't make registration mandatory if my board featured already 50k members. So far my board covers a niche topic and while the member counter is steady on the rise we are still far from 10k members.

Kyrasis6's main point is the following: you need to take into account different interests. Some folks only registered for the chat and do not hang out in the forums and vice versa. If you have such a great forum that people just drop by for a short glimpse at some information (Tom's Hardware comes into mind) you did something right - not wrong. Boards that force me to register for trivial information get the boot.
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Old 24 Mar 2009, 22:16
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cheat-master30 cheat-master30 is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Rene Kriest View Post
I second that.

In my experience only ~5% of the registered members are really active over time. The number depends on the size of a board's membership. The names vary while the number of participants remains the same.
I'd actually agree roughly with this. Note how for a lot of boards, you've often got around a tenth to a third with zero posts, an even larger amount with less than 10 posts, and the amount that stay around even for months is usually a very small minority of members. Take this forum for example (vBulletin.org). 310,972 members, and about 20,286 are active in terms of logging in over the last couple of days. Then the memberlist. Only shows members with over 5 posts, so there are 20906 of those. That's not a whole big amount of the site itself, there are WAY more registrations than active users, and the true value of really active users (let's say 100 or so posts plus) is probably only about a 1000 or less. Definitely true the 5% theory seems to stand for a lot of forums.


I was working as a mod for a Fußball-Bundesliga team (Major League Soccer/Premier League Soccer in Germany); we hat around 70.000 members and an estimated 10k nominal members which could have been deleted (no articles written at all, last login was more than 2 years ago). On the other hand we had a members to visitors ratio of 1/10: one member equaled 10 not registered visitors. Around 0,1% was active over time.
Again accurate. Website visitors is always going to be a far higher statistic than forum members is, if only because many visitors either 1. just read content, 2. stopped in to read a page from a search engine or 3. doesn't want to take time filling out forms for a site they might not want to use as a forum.


Kyrasis6's main point is the following: you need to take into account different interests. Some folks only registered for the chat and do not hang out in the forums and vice versa. If you have such a great forum that people just drop by for a short glimpse at some information (Tom's Hardware comes into mind) you did something right - not wrong. Boards that force me to register for trivial information get the boot.
As for forcing people to register to view, you're right, bad idea, even ignoring SEO for a couple of minutes. Why? You get a ton of member accounts that will never be used simply because they wanted to view the content and didn't like it/didn't want to stay around/only joined to see said content. That and it does put off quite a few intelligent members who MAY have joined, just didn't because they couldn't see the content and felt they had no reason to join and participate in your forum (towards people who force registration to view, not the person quoted).
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Old 12 Jul 2011, 00:03
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Kudos for an excellent read. Even a few years later, this topic and your insights are as relevant as ever!
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Old 17 Aug 2011, 20:11
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