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.