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Should ProBlogger Add Forums? Poll of the Week

I’ve been considering adding a discussion forum area to ProBlogger.net since I started this blog and have recently been lobbied increasingly by readers to consider doing so more and more (update: I’m not talking about replacing the blog – but adding forums as another way to discuss the topic – this blog would continue to operate as normal).

So this week I’m going to ask you for your opinion in our Poll of the Week.

You can vote ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘I don’t Know’ in the sidebar.

I’d also love to hear your reasons for voting as you have in comments below.

Before you do let me outline a few of the Pros and Cons as I see them:

Pros

  • Forums would give readers a place to post their own thoughts and experiences – I know that most bloggers don’t have a blog where it’s appropriate to share what they know about blogging for money (it would be off topic) and a forum might be a place where they could share what they are experiencing and know
  • Increased reader participation – I love the community here and would love to find more ways to get us all interacting
  • Questions could be answered better – I get a lot of questions from readers – some of which I am able to answer but many of which I don’t have time or expertise to respond adequately to. Forums might see answers found for more questions.
  • Forums would give space for ongoing discussion on topics – one of the frustrations I have with blogging is that comment threads tend to die off when the post drops off the front page. As a result useful conversations can end prematurely

Cons

  • My limited experience of forums is that they can be a lot of work to moderate
  • There is a risk of inactive forums – there is nothing worse than going to a site’s forums to see inactivity. I suspect with current readership levels that ProBlogger forums would be reasonably active but there is always some risk
  • Distraction from the Blog – Some of the people I’ve floated this idea with have suggested that it could detract from the blog itself. My own opinion is that this could happen but that it could also add to and supplement the blog really well depending upon how the forums were managed and integrated. Interested in your thoughts on this one.

I’m certain that there are many more Pros and Cons but I’m not going to exhaust the list here and now. I’d rather hear your opinion.

Are forums a good idea for ProBlogger? Why/Why Not? Would you use them? What areas would you like them to cover? Your ideas and thoughts will be greatly appreciated.

PS: I should say that I’d only go the forums route with help from key readers taking on roles as moderators. I’m envisaging a number of moderators taking on different sections which I think would be a good profile building exercise for them and obviously a massive help for me in terms of workload. I already have a copule of volunteers to take on a part of this.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Have a talk with Sim (of IBM eye fame) Darren as he manages several forums and he can give you a detailed run down of the cons and pro’s.

  2. Simone says:

    Darren,
    I think it depends on what you want from your site.

    Forum are a great source of discussion, a great way for people to write their thoughts, but it will also add a lot of work for the moderation, and could divert traffic from the blog.

    Personally I’m not sure if I would use forums on that topic…

  3. brem says:

    I don’t know what it would add to your blog. If we want to comment and discuss a story, these comments are hereby provided.

    The only reason why you would want a forum is if you wish to let people ask their questions and discuss freely. Expect a lot of redundant questions as well.

  4. Darren Rowse says:

    true brem – although I already get a lot of ‘redundant questions’ but this way you could answer some of them for me ;-)

  5. I hate web-based forums and rarely visit them. I haven’t yet found one well-designed enough that I could stand to participate continuously. So you might lose a reader.

  6. Sim' says:

    Thanks for the plug Andrew !

    I agree with your analysis Darren – forums are a lot of work to moderate, but if you have a core group of people you know and trust to be moderators, then that can relieve a lot of the work and expectation from you personally. You will still need to think long and hard about whether you want that kind of commitment though – there will still be an expectation for you to contribute, which will naturally add a lot to your workload. The main benefit from a forum though, is that once the momentum builds, there will be less need for you to contribute to every thread personally, since everyone else will take care of it for you ! It becomes less about you, and more about the community.

    I think forums are better than blogs for extended discussions – blogs tend to have discussions that last a couple of days and then taper-off as new topics come along and the old discussions disappear from view. Discussion forums keep the latest discussions up front, so you get much more visibility of threads. As you mentioned – it’s the ongoing discussion, the ability to really thrash out a topic to its fullest is where forums really win over blogs for that type of conversation.

    Given you have a large userbase to start with from your blog, I wouldn’t think you’d have much trouble with getting momentum quite quickly – so long as moderation was in place and you can get knowledgable people contributing early.

    I’ll make some more suggestions offline.

  7. Sim' says:

    oops – just one more comment … you’d have to make sure everyone understands that it is an *addition* to the blog, not a replacement. It’s just another form of conversation.

    If people don’t like the web forums, they can still contribute and collaborate via the blogs as they always have. I would strongly suggest not changing your blogging style or strategy if you do set up forums – do it as well, not instead.

  8. Darren Rowse says:

    Thanks Sim – interesting thoughts.

    Michael Hampton – you mean you’d stop reading my blog because I add forums? I’m not talking about replacing the blog… it would still go on as normal.

  9. Karl says:

    I am on the fence on this one. I am sure that a lot of information could be gleaned from a forum; however, not all of that information would be vaulable. And, the valuable information would/could be difficult to come by.

    In general, I am a forum-hater. There are times, though, that I have wished I could find a forum on this topic.

    It would probably come down to how much time it tood to glean valuable information.

  10. Well Michael is a little bit peacky :P

    Darren – Have you seen Vanilla? is a nice approach to the forums. And if you need an native spanish speaker in a subsection of the forum count with me ;)

  11. andy_boyd says:

    Darren … I really think you would benefit from a forum. While there are plenty of generic forums (DP, WMW, SEW) there isn’t really a place dedicated to blog discussion outside of Performancing.

    However, even with all the attention they’ve been getting the Performancing forums aren’t very active. But ProBlogger has been about for longer so your existing users will be much more inclined to start discussions and answer questions

  12. Jesse says:

    I don’t think I’d use them that often, but I think they’d be a good idea

  13. Mike says:

    Forums are the place of residence of those who don’t do, but can tell others how they should do.

    Yes, that’s a broad, general, sweeping criticism. Sorry.

    You don’t have to agree, just my opinion, which is worth exactly….nothing. And I’m okay with that !

  14. You may want to look at the design over at http://www.cookingforengineers.com. Comments are put below the blog, buat are also directly copied to a forum where people can interact. The “comment about the articles” section is only a part of the whole sets of forums, which address some side-issues. I think that’s a great way to set up a forum, while keeping the comment section of your blog pretty active.

  15. Aaron says:

    Having begun my online interaction career on forums and moving my way through the ranks to moderator (i.e. at Sitepoint), and then trying my hand at various other forums, I’d have to say that they are alot of work. To begin a forum, even with a core of people, requires incredible amounts of patience, persistence and a willingness to sacrifice all to get the forum active. Sometimes it is more frustration and fruitlessness.

    That doesn’t even touch on moderation. Because Forums are different from blogs in that the origin of conversation is not from a controlled source (you) and instead dispensed to the masses, you place the entire life and focus of the forum on an untrusted mass. It is quite possible that a forum could and would take on a life of its own apart from Problogger, wherein you control the conversation flow and the topics du jour.

    I’m not saying don’t do it, but I am saying that think long and hard about it before you jump.

  16. Joe says:

    Hey Darren,

    My vote is yes, I found ProBlogger on a Forum and have been coming back ever since.

    I think Sim makes a good point about how topics seem to just fade away. I think a forum could help some new Bloggers (me included), and be a way to reinvigorate some of the topics you have in your archives.

    You have enough informed commenters to help in moderation, so after a little while you wouldn’t have to devote too much time yourself.

    One suggestion is to watch out for those who just want to put their affiliate links everywhere. Allow only 1 link in the sig, so it doesn’t get out of hand.

    Just my thoughts…
    Joe

  17. Tom says:

    No.

    If you add the forums, you will add a level of work you can not imagine. We started one for one of our blogs, and it took on a life so far from our original mission that it absorbs so much of our time.

    I fear that a forum will require you to misplace your energy and keep you from fulfilling the mission you have undertaken with Probloggers.

    Tom

  18. Victor says:

    Aside from the work involved, I think it would add another level of information to this site. You’ve already got a crowd of regular readers here, why not allow them to hold their own conversations?

    I do imagine you’ll need to get moderator or three to assist with something like this.

    I’d be interested to see how it turns out.

    Vic

  19. Graham Doel says:

    What I like about the blog is that if your interested in the discussion you can follow it down below.

    If the conversation on a topic was split it would mean more effort for me as a reader to follow the discussion. That is not a reason not to add forums as a means of conversation, you wouldn’t loose this reader! I would probably not follow the conversation so enthusiastically.

  20. I’ve been trying to get readers to use my PetLvr forum .. but I’ve got about 30 feedburner count and yours is about 3400 … While I’m finding it hard to get participants, and keeping them. You have the ins to make it popular (word of mouth, network going, popularity) and chances are if you create a forum it will end up being successful.

    But – I think this is a great forum as it is, with all the comments and reactions and counter-reactions, etc etc. I know you are pounding out a lot of blog entries, and it must take a lot of effort to write most of your “columns” .. but I think the reason that the conversation tends to abruptly stop as the post approaches the bottom of the main page, is not because it’s on Page 1 .. but, sometimes your involvement is more of a learning experience, sitting back, taking it all in, gathering your thoughts, and using the comments and reactions as research or a basis for future blog entries .. where a few more comments and joining the conversation in the latter part of the comment section will keep the post popular.

    If you were to add the RSS button for your comment feed (http://www.problogger.net/comments/feed/) and maybe a plugin for recently commented, or most commented, or both in the sidebar .. I then would have to say that Problogger.net does NOT need a forum .. and the discussions could continue well past into Page 3 and even Page 20

  21. Jon says:

    Too much work…very little reward and I think you’d lose a lot of the fun that happens in your comments.

  22. Marcel says:

    I love web based forums. Don’t listen to those naysayers.
    Get VB, and hire a few free moderators. I am sure you can get free volunteer moderators.

  23. Marcel says:

    Sitepoint and Digitalpoint is full of volunteer moderators. Come over and post a request for moderator.

  24. If you don’t do a forum, consider updating your template to show threaded comments.

    If you do do a forum, use the “related posts” functionality of the current blog to populate links back into the blog based upon the content of each post/topic. That would keep readers tied back into your thoughts without you having a high level of effort.

    Personally, I’d like the forum.

  25. I am perfectly content with the current state of this website, and would not really have the time to follow and participate in the forum as well as the blog. My best guess is that if you can get other people to handle all of the moderation tasks and you are diligent about keeping the forum up to date with security fixes, you may do all right. Given how busy you seem to be, though, I don’t think that it is necessarily something that you need to take on.

  26. Thomas says:

    I like this site but I don’t think it needs a forum. There are already so many good forums like Webmasterworld, Digitalpoint and lots of others.

    A forum might give your site more value but it adds a lot of work and it will likely distract you from more important things.

    If you do plan on adding a forum I think it might be a good idea to cover some of the more important discussions on the frontpage to share the information with people who solely read the blog.

  27. Martin Ralya says:

    I started a forum on my blog a month ago, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

    I think you’re right on target with your pros, so let me address your cons based on my experience over the past month:

    - Moderation: I haven’t run into this yet, but you’re a much bigger fish. I don’t see you having a problem finding blog commenters who also want to be forum mods, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

    - Inactivity: You’re not going to have inactive forums, Darren. ;) I was concerned about this as well, so I started the forum with a one-month trial period.

    I stickied a post up top detailing that fact, and asked for suggestions. At the end of the month, it was clear to me that the forum should stick around. You could always do something similar.

    - Distraction: I haven’t noticed this on my blog yet. I’ve also found that there are folks who prefer one format to the other, so the forum has attracted people who (for one reason or another) never posted on the blog.

    They also build different kinds of communities, both of them good — and I can drive traffic back and forth between them with links, which I like. I also like the fact that the forum goes 24/7, which brings people back to my site at times that I haven’t posted. I still keep to my posting schedule, but now there are reasons to visit the site throughout the day (beyond just the blog comments).

    Go for it! :)

  28. There’s one Pro about forums I haven’t seen in this discussion yet. Forums are great for getting good search engine results for “long tail” searches; without any effort required by the forum owner.

  29. Joshua K says:

    Definitely add forums. It’s much more interactive and communal. The biggest benefit is that it allows readers to instantialy initiate their own topics.

  30. brem says:

    I guess it could add to the experience. Yet, people who do not wish to use the forum could still use the blog as-is right now.

  31. Ray says:

    For what its worth I have said no. I think that Darren gives us a lot of his time and knowledge already. There are plenty of other established blog forums out there for people to use so I don’t see why Darren has to take up even more of his time simply duplicating what is out there already.

    Ray :)

  32. hullabaloo says:

    Darren,

    A big Plus for added communications. Forum structures lead to “congitive” thought and “pertinent” discussion. As for the “cons” attempt to find ways to resolve those issues. May I suggest “Quality” RSS support for monitoring the forum. Your community is very strong Darren and you’ll find that they can support the forums as well. Also make sure it has a search feature for after a period of time it makes looking up old topics for referencing and allows the users to possibly answer questions without new posts..
    Also a must: 1. Register to post 2. Graphics recognition for registration for spam prevention and bot trolling.
    It’s got my vote…

  33. Christina says:

    I said no. You have a really good thing going here, Darren, and I wouldn’t mess with it one bit. If you were going to make more money off of it, maybe, but since this is more of a labour of love, I would just leave it alone. Forums can be a time consuming PITA.

  34. Michele says:

    I think it could be a very good idea.

    If you are going to do it make sure you use vbulletin and not something like phpbb. Why? Easier to maintain and less prone to security issues

    There are probably a lot of repetitive topics that people email you about directly or that are brought up in comments on threads. A forum would make it easier for these queries to be dealt with without driving you mad :)

    Of course it might be a complete failure :)

    But I don’t think it would be

    Michele

  35. Dave Starr says:

    I see some advantages to a forum as an add on, but overall I vote no. There are already too many forums to read on this subject and to try to make sense of.

    It mazes me how many open source forum and content management systems are already on the web, some with blog interfaces some without … and many of them equal or better than commercial products.

    What’s really needed (if there’s a great software developer reading this and just waiting to find a project worthy of his/her time) is a ‘master forum’ application, which a user could become a member of and which would go out and search a multitude of forums for key words or subjects of interest to the particular subscriber and then present them as an integrated custom forum format … so that in effect there would be as many forums as there were users, each one ‘tuned’ to just that individual’s needs.

  36. Peter Davis says:

    I think your cons outweigh your pros, and that’s coming from someone who prefers forums (I run a dozen of them). If you want to dabble in forums, there are better ways to go about it. Unless, of course, you really do want to change the essence of your site.

  37. Mike says:

    lol, no. Forums take A LOT of work and time bro.

  38. Victor says:

    I keep hearing that it takes a lot of time and tons of people to moderate them. I think a good question to ask here is: will this be a plus to Problogger.net? Will individuals find more helpful information b/c of it? Will communication open up a little more now that Darren won’t have to answer all the questions himself?

    Vic

  39. Peter Cooper says:

    We need an equivalent of WebMasterWorld.com or WebHostingTalk.com for professional bloggers. Those sites have totally revolutionized their respective industries.. why can’t this idea do the same?

  40. Aaron says:

    Peter Cooper: Because blogs are completely contrary to forums. Overall, bloggers are independent entities that are more concerned about building their blogs. That’s not a bad thing. I happen to be one of them. Forums require an investment in terms of time and focus — time that bloggers could be using generating content for their own sites. I think historically blogs haven’t mixed well with forums.

  41. Anthony says:

    I’d say no because there are already enough webmaster forums that have established communities which deal with any and all topics that a a Problogger.net Forums would conceivably deal with.

    I just don’t see that it would add value to what this blog is about to it’s reader – you and your experiences. You doing a daily post highlighting quality threads at other forums would very useful to help people deal with the information overload but adding more stuff to tawl through isn’t.

  42. row1 says:

    I would replace this comment section with a forum.
    Makes it easier to discuss and manage a ‘hot’ topic.

  43. Andy says:

    As Julien (#14) mentioned – I like the idea of tying blog posts/comments to a forum topic.

    Martin (#27) made a good point – people like to communicate in different ways – why not offer multiple ways to communicate (this reminds me of ecommerce: let them use their credit card OR paypal – not just one). A forum would surely widen your audience and keep them engaged.

    Most forums end up with a fair amount of pointless comments – perhaps the forum community could self-moderate if you allowed forum posts to be somehow ranked/flagged by the users? (could open up a huge can of worms, though)…

    With your large audience, I think you should definitely start a forum.

  44. Eric says:

    I say yes.

    Your site is at the perfect time in its life for a forum. The main problem people have with a new forum is the time it takes to gain new members… you wouldn’t have that problem.

    As for the people saying how much time it takes… it doesn’t really. I used to own religiontalk.net and it took me 5 minutes a day to admin… and that was with 200-500 messages a day.

    I think it will add to the site, not take away.

  45. Joe says:

    Hey guys,

    I think we just had a Forum (albeit limited).

    Joe

  46. Chris Howard says:

    I think Forums are essential for ProBlogger.net

    The issue on whether they will affect the blog is simply controlled. Don’t cross post blog article to the forums. Unless you can cross post comments between both.

    I see the role of forums on PB to discuss issues and provide help and support. The blog can’t do that.

    So if you limit the forum categories to Q&A, then they shouldn’t affect the blog.

    One downside of forums – and even comments – is inexperienced wallies giving advice. I know I am one of them whenever I start something new (which is bizarrre – eg the longer I’m a parent the less I know about it. I used to be a total Eno’s when I first became a parent). I was the same when I started blogging… hopefully I’ve reined myself in a bit.

  47. Pat Gundry says:

    I’m thinking, completely aside from other considerations, that there are “I hate forums” people and “I love forums” people. I’m one of the “I hate forums” people. I’ve tried to read them, but find them frustrating and slow going. I know others who think I’m nuts, they visit them and love them.

    Partly because I don’t like forums, and partly because I find email discussion lists so much more useful and fast to use (one can ask a question and get an answer in a couple of minutes), I started a blogging email discussion myself a few months ago.

    So, I’m wondering if an email discussion list, with archives, could be a better choice for you, Darren. It would not ever compete with the blog, I think, and though it does have to be managed, that is not a difficult job if one knows what one is doing.

  48. Ma2T says:

    I think it would add a nice feature to the site. It will be a great place for people with the same interests to help each other. I have also noticed that people seem to ask questions in comments, a forum would be a great place to post these up, with it’s own thread.

    On a side note, yes forums can be a lot of work, thats why I would recomend 5 moderators or so, if the forum does go ahead I would love to help out. I run a number of forums for many years, so I could also help with the installing if required.
    Cheers for the great site Darren.

  49. Vince Chan says:

    Rename the site to plural form “ProBloggers” and the forum makes sense. This is about you, you interaction, your connections, your perspective and experience, thus ProBlogger (singular).

    I think you’ve mentioned in previous posts that you want to open up to possibly not maintaining ProBlogger yourself but still keeping it going. Is that true?

    Truth be told, I don’t read any of your other Blogs, just this one! I personally think it’d be a shame if we saw you turn over this site to moderators and forum members.

  50. Darren Rowse says:

    Vince I have no plans to stop blogging as the sole blogger here. The forums would only ever be an extra place for people to interact in addition to this blog.

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