Since we launched the new version of Kinfonet, the number one complaint, er... feedback concerned usability issues with the forums: ?Too confusing?, ?I?m lost?, ?Where am I?? Well, we heard you.
One reason for the issues with the forums is the sheer number of them. But going back to a single, monolithic forum that one unfortunate individual is tasked to moderate was out of the question. So we have attempted to improve navigation through the maze of forums, as well as managing multiple forum memberships of power users. We made the following changes to address these concerns:
The overall design of the forums has been unified, frills have been removed and the tabular layout will look more familiar to those who participate in similar discussion venues on other websites. (We will slowly be porting the other parts of the website to the new layout.)
The before and after shot demonstrates the compactness of the new design:
There are several ways to stay apprised of new posts and quickly find new content rather than wading through pages of posts that one has already seen. One of them is that you can now subscribe to individual topics in order to receive email updates when new posts are added.
Forum participation by member
The ?Your Account? page lists the topics you have been recently involved in for quick access. Moreover, Kinfonet members have a page that lists all their posts over all forums. This page is accessible from the public profile as well as from the member lists of individual forums (another new addition).
Navigation and usability being but one problem, we were mostly concerned about the overall quality of the forums and the content that is being produced. Forum moderation is a difficult task, making high demands on the moderator, who not only needs to keep the conversation invigorated and on target, but also smooth over constantly brewing conflicts between participants. Not to mention that it only takes one vocal member who is bent on provocation (or preaching) to degrade the forum quality. If the moderator does not step in, the atmosphere in the forum will drive away more timid users. If he or she does step in, however, well, .... we know the story.
To address this common problem in all discussion forums, we are now introducing ratings. Posts can be evaluated for their quality, thoughtfulness, relevancy or whatever other criterion the rater chooses. Just as it is the case with book ratings on Amazon, there is no accounting for taste. The rating will reflect the emotional response that a particular posts elicits in a particular reader. Cumulatively, however, ratings should flag offensive, inappropriate or irrelevant posts.
Ratings can be used by readers to ignore certain posts and by moderators to have an independent criterion by which they can decide whether or not to prevent a poster from further participation in their forum. Note that post ratings do not only reflect on the writer but also on aggregate they indicate the overall response to a topic and even to a forum (Since things are seldom simple, it could even be that the one and the same poster contributes differently rated posts in the context of different forums).
For now we consider ratings to be an experiment that might be built out or retracted altogether depending on how it pans out.
One issue that we cannot tackle with tweaks to the design or the implementation are problems with the moderation as it is being currently exercised. It is no secret that several forums have been abandoned by their moderators, many of whom don?t even bother to show up any more. Those forums are slated for removal and we will soon take the necessary steps towards a big spring cleaning. As a new rule, though, we expect moderators to be at the very least present in their forums and contribute on a regular basis.
On a lighter side, in case you are wondering why Kinfonet seems to have been overrun by monsters, we have changed the default avatars to more resemble our default state...;-)
Leave them in the Feedback Forum