You've probably been wondering what's going on with the project (I say that like there's a bunch of people actually reading this blog). The last half-dozen months have been crazy with Real Life® — running the business, taking care of clients' needs, the holidays, etc. So busy that I've had little time to devote to working on Mapraider 2.0.
But with a new year comes a little extra time, I'm happy to say. And after being away from the prototype and thoughts of the site redesign for so long, I've found a renewed interest in it. As well, a few outstanding decisions have suddenly become easier to make:
Should Mapraider.com v2.0 have discussion forums?
Now I know that there are some of you who think that I should be spending significant time improving the forums because strong forum software will attract people and a large community will grow out of it. In fact, you're probably screaming "YES!!!" at your monitor right now in regard to my question above. I disagree in many respects, but primarily because I believe it's participation that helps build community and not the level of robustness behind the forums.
If it were the opposite, MySpace would never have become the duct-taped giant that it is today ;)
I back up my belief with the undeniable fact that some of the internet's top community web sites (ie. the Alexa top 20) have the absolute bare necessities when it comes to discussion functionality — a text box and a submit button.
Specifically, YouTube.com, Digg.com, and Flickr.com don't have sophisticated forum areas, yet their communities have an astounding overabundance of participation on them. It may not be clear why at first, but the answer is actually quite simple:
The web is really just a series of
and in these site's cases, the comments by users isn't the beginning of
the conversation — it's the site's "core content," whether it be a
video, news article or photo that is.
People go to those sites primarily because of this content, and when given easy/simple ability to comment on that content, are apt to do so. Likewise, the maps on Mapraider are also the start of conversations... or at least, they should be.
Admittedly, I made a (what I believe to be huge) mistake in how map comments are integrated on Mapraider. I was so worried about "junking-up" the map detail pages with user comments and wanting to avoid having to deal with map authors being offended by negative comments, that I tried to keep the discussion of maps almost completely separated from the map detail pages.
In doing so, all I really did was made participating in conversations about maps (the most important content on the site!) annoyingly difficult, and probably impeded the community's growth infinitely more than the limited forums ever would have.
To make matters worse, I actually made the possibility of an author being offended more pronounced! Instead of comments being relegated in context to each map, I combined them all into one large discussion area where more people are likely see and participate in negative threads.
So where does that leave us?
If you're keeping track, it should be clear by now that a single conversation on Mapraider is (or should be) actually comprised of three elements:
- Submission - Author starts conversation by submitting a map
- Ratings - Members continue the conversation by rating the map, or
- Comments - Members post feedback about the map
I'll talk more about the new submission system in a future post, and I've already mentioned previously that the rating system is getting an overhaul to make it easier to use and encourage participation.
Moving forward, it is time to retire the forums as they exist today and instead simplify and focus the manner in which members participate in conversations on the site. The first step of which is obviously to integrate comments on the map detail pages themselves.