Avoid unnecessary barriers

by Martin Reed on 2 May 2007 in Snippets

If you are responsible for a community website, it is essential that you do not setup unnecessary barriers to user participation. A community website will only be successful if people can easily contribute – if you raise barriers and make this difficult, your community will suffer.

I will illustrate my point with an example – when I purchased Soap Forum it was running on Invision Power Board. I was unfamiliar with this software, and thought it would be a good idea to convert to phpBB – after all I was used to running this software from my experience in using it on the Just Chat message boards, and I also felt it was generally more user-friendly than Invision.

Consequently, I converted the site to phpBB. Whilst this isn’t a major issue in itself, it meant that when visitors returned they were greeted with new (and perhaps unfamiliar) forum software. Similarly, whilst the converter was able to transfer membership information and posts, it was unable to transfer passwords. This meant that all existing members had to request a new password in order to continue contributing to the community.

On reflection, I can now see that I had raised an unnecessary barrier. I should have taught myself how to use the new software that current members were familiar with. By changing the software, I was forcing all existing users to learn how to use the site all over again and made them request new passwords in order to continue contributing.

Remember, web users are lazy – everything should be as obvious and as simple as possible. When I purchased Soap Forum it was pretty much a dead community, so my changes were not disastrous.

Take a look at your site and ask yourself: Are you raising any unnecessary barriers? Before you make any changes to your site, ask yourself: Are you raising any unnecessary barriers? If you are, then think again.

Community sites must be easy to use and allow users to easily contribute. If they are not, they will struggle to attract visitors and regular contributors.

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Yogesh May 11, 2007 at 12:39 am

Good to know that you like phpbb so much that you converted a forum running on IPB to phpbb. I also feel changing the forum software to another one confuses people and when they are required to change the password as well, they are bound to get annoyed.

Ps. one more thing you didn’t thought of, while converting the forum you were also converting the URL’s to different ones (unless IPB uses same URL structure). This would have caused some lost traffic from google and other deeplinks posted at forums and sites.

Martin Reed May 11, 2007 at 12:48 am

Hi Yogesh – thanks for your comment. Yes, changing the forum software was definitely a mistake – thank goodness the community was pretty much dead else the fallout could have been a real problem!

You are right that the URLs to all the posts would be different too – so I also lost any deeplinks from search engine listings (although I setup a .htaccess redirect to the homepage so all was not lost).

Thanks again for your contribution – I hope you are enjoying the blog.

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