Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Discussion Forums-finally a posting

Hi All

Can't believe how quickly this fortnight has gone. I admit, I haven't yet looked at the readings for this topic yet- that will happen this weekend. But I thought I would post this before the meeting tonight.

Heather and I have been talking about this a bit in the office during the week, and we both decided that its actually quite hard to pick just one, as there are so many different types of "presences' online now. And given that we are still getting our own heads around what an online community consists of, and whether the community is a group, or a network, I couldn't help but think of the special 'community' aspect when I was choosing "my forum".
So the forum I set out to research for this topic is the KiwiBiker Forum.

I ride a motorbike and already knew that the forum existed. I have used it for checking out information previously, but I am not a member. I was however, able to talk to a regular member, and we had a good chat about how the forum works. The reason why I thought this would be a good example, is that it has been running since 2002-or 2003. There is already a strong community feeling amongst 'bikers', it's almost a sub-culture, and even if you don't know anyone else who rides a bike, you only need to pull up to a petrol station or cafe and if there are any other bikers there, a conversation will soon start up. I was quite sure then, that the online
forum would show the same sense of community.
The posts are conversational, usually short and to the point, with plenty of 'slang and MTB lingo' used, with a few 'unmentionables' for good measure. A glossary of terms would probably be useful or 'newbies', and in this case, there is probably legitimate reason for 'lurking' so that newbies can get a sense of the culture. Thankfully the site allows this.

After speding some time looking at the forum collections, I could almost be persuaded to say its both a 'network' (open for veiwing, and provides connective information) and a 'group' (closed to non-members for contributing but has boundaries by way of each of the threads being self-limiting, no cross over).

The features that I have looked for here (in an online community) are based on the other blogs and the meeting we had, as follows:

-same interests/purpose
-communicate towards a common objective
-able to gain something by taking away something (shared knowledge, questions answered (in the case of the discussion forums))
-like-minded people
-level of contribution is by choice
-"trust", this can be an issue in terms of can it be built up 'online', and how long does it take???

I was quite impressed with the web site layout, and as a first-timer you are immediately drawn to a FAQ's link, which also lets you know that you may have to register to "post" anything. I discussed with my forum member interviewee the
differences in 'facilitating' and 'moderating' that we as a group have discussed recently, and we both came to the conclusion that this forum (which is actually a collection place of many smaller forums) is 'moderated', rather than 'facilitated', and that the forums are in fact 'self-facilitating'. I mean that the contributors themselves tend to keep an eye on what is happening. The layout of the website tended to help with this. The top of the forum 'home page' starts with the general forum, then as you scroll down the different groups are displayed-
general, motorcycle sub-groups, mechanics, competition etc.
In each section, there is a link to the forum, and a short description, then on
the right hand side of the screen, a link to the latest post, with the number of threads, and the number of posts, the most recent first.
I am amazed at the sheer numbers, and my interveiwee thought that this was one of the longest standing active discussion forum arenas (NZ based only). He goes onto the site every day or so, but doesn't always contribute. He has regular 'forums' that he visits, and follows those more with more interest.

In terms of the features I listed above, this web meeting place is definately a 'community', that uses the services of moderators rather than facilitators. We couldn't see an immediate benefit of have a facilitator present, unless it was
for the section where meetings and events are listed. The events are posted by the moderators, not the members.There is a clear link to the moderators details for each forum. They act as housekeepers, they move posts into more appropriate
collections, they track posts for misleading content (that might put riders in danger for example), and generally keep an eye on things. There is also a website administrator, who ensures that the links are working, and that the registration is working.

In terms of any other benefits of having the services of facilitators, the idea of 'co-ordinated events' appears to already happen, by nature of the different threads starting up, each one a mini-event. My interviewee thought this
'just happened'. But he also thought that if some posts weren't moving along, the moderators "helped out", in which case they may be acting as facilitators :-)!!

It's an open community, membership is voluntary, and you can view the posts without subscribing, but can't "do" anything until you 'register', thus the members are protected in a way, therefore dealing with the trust issue. As a non-member, I cannot click on a link to see someone's details. I suspect that in this type of environment, people who are "flamers" and "timewasters", "show offs" etc would soon get 'moved on'....... or dealt with publically. I get the feeling that mostly, its an environment that is encouraging and supportive, while being razor sharp on current issues.

It seems that most of the participants are males, it's welcoming and well thought out (im my opinion anyway). There is a "forum" for women bikers however.

We also talked about the sheer size of the 'forums'. There is an archive
(restricted to text only, no graphics). However, all the threads are searchable. Again, you have to be a member to do this, thus forcing contribution.

Threads: 102,271, Posts: 2,220,992, Members: 16,451, Active Members: 4,487
WOW- how does that compare to Google Groups ? I don;t know, will have to look I guess.

Hopefully I'll make it online tonight and hear how the rest of you are getting along.



Sarah Stewart said...

Debra, this is a fabulous post! After reading this post I feel I know quite a lot about the group. Thanks for taking the time to explore it in such depth. The question I would ask is: knowing how much time it takes to facilitate events, why would someone do it without being paid? And if they want to be paid, how would that fit in with the ethos & purpose of the group?

Heather said...

Ummmmm, what was it Leigh said about essays Deb???? LOL

Sarah Stewart said...


I know, Heather...but this is a very interesting 'essay'...I think that the issue for Leigh is reading 'boring' essays...although I shouldn't put words into his mouth!

Stoneleigh31 said...

That's a really good point Sarah- I might be wrong, but I think the Kiwibiker web site itself is hosted by the KiwiBiker magazine. However, I am sure that the moderators aren't paid. I will investigate though. It appears to me that if they were paid (in this environment) it might 'slant' some of the threads, especially some of the commercial ones relating to products etc. Threads that don;t fit with their opinion of a product might get removed (for example). I get the impression that this fourm though, thirves on the fact that it is "open" and not swayed to any particular 'culture' or 'product'. e.g towards a particular type of biker for example. Thus the 'ethos' is self generating by who joins the threads. I feel like they join this for the lifestyle choice maybe??? I'll ask my expert and post a reply.


Stoneleigh31 said...

Point taken Heather- I should have used different font- would that make a difference??? more LOL

Stoneleigh31 said...

Further to the note about the point of being paid or not to "facilitate/co-ordinate/moderate" this forum. Its a not-for-profit forum, not connected to a magazine (the mag I was thinking of was KiwiBiker).