Those people cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them because they see and covet what He has not given them. All of our discontents for what we want appear to me to spring from want of thankfulness for what we have.Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 1719
About a fortnight ago I had a most interesting evening chat with one of the moderators from Joomla Stack Exchange. It was worthwhile gauging the impressions of an independent outsider, that is, someone who is not a regular user of the Joomla! forum. Our chat gave me several further ideas about how we could use JAFFAAS to improve the quality and effectiveness of the Joomla! forum.
There are three key strengths that set the Joomla! forum apart from other technical forums for Joomla!:
- The Joomla! forum is usually the first place that novice users visit when they have a question about Joomla. Depending on how their questions are received, new users will decide to persevere with, or abandon, Joomla based on that experience. In other words, the Joomla! forum is not merely a showcase of technical excellence but, depending on that first experience, the forum can be a deal-maker or a deal-breaker. In that regard, the Joomla! forum stands out from all other technical forums where Joomla! issues are discussed.
- The Joomla! forum is the first place where the arrival of new releases of the Joomla! CMS product are announced.
- The forum has a large multi-language area for people to discuss Joomla in a language other than English. Although other forums exist for people who prefer to write in a language other than English, most of the well-established and respected technical forums only allows for questions and answers to be discussed in English.
In this article we will look five simple improvements for the Joomla! forum.
1. Acknowledge the feedback/suggestions given by forum members.
There are several “feedback” categories at the Joomla! forum as shown in the following screenshot.
Sites & Infrastructure - Feedback/Information category is where people can seek assistance with forum-related problems as well as offer suggestions. From my experience, unless these suggestions are in agreement with the “thinking” of the forum management at the time, most suggestions are either not acknowledged and they’re mainly left to rot in the hope that the issue(s) will simply disappear by themselves. I suppose I should ask the question, why ask for suggestions if people are simply going to ignore them?
Other forums succeed because their communities have a stake in they way that they’re run. For example, at places like Stack Overflow and Joomla Stack Exchange, the forums are almost “self-moderated” because the membership decides when and how well the questions are answered.
In order to change matters around, there needs to be a change in attitude by the forum management team. Even if suggestions offered by the community are impractical, infeasible or at odds with the prevailing policy, it would be nice if those suggestions were at least received with thanks with an indication of how those suggestions will be followed up. Therefore, because the forum management team members—the team lead and forum moderators—do not appear to be taking the community’s feedback seriously, it’s pointless to imagine that any of the ideas we’re proposing will be taken up. The team needs new members and the team lead is evidently not up to the task.
In talking with a number of other Joomla users, many people will not use the Joomla! forum because of the problems they have with the structure and layout of the forum and the attitudes of several “key” players. This has not been my personal experience; I’m only summarising what I have discovered in my discussions on the ground.
Therefore the first, and most important, improvement to the Jooma! forum is for the forum management team to acknowledge the feedback and suggestions given by the forum members.
2. Reduce forum “clutter”
While I was talking to the person I mentioned at the start of this article, I asked him to look at one of the topics on the Joomla! forum. He spent about two minutes and said, “Where is it?” I told him that I wanted him to look at the latest topic posted in the “general questions” category. He was lost. Eventually I had to send him the URL. He told me that this was one of his biggest complaints with the Joomla! forum: the amount of scrolling one has to do to find an area of interest.
I suppose, those of us who use the Joomla! forum every day are oblivious to these hardships or, if we are aware of them, we pass them off as minor annoyances. However, to someone who finds themselves in unfamiliar territory, the sheer size of the Joomla! forum with its 400+ categories is quite intimidating. If you were a first-time forum user, how would you know where is the best place to ask your question? Furthermore, if you printed the Board Index it takes eleven sheets of paper!
Much of the screen real-estate can be removed by trimming excess “descriptions”—especially those that relate to versions of Joomla that are no longer supported—and move the high-profile subject areas to the top.
3. Review outdated, obsolete FAQs
Have you ever looked at the FAQs page? No, seriously. Imagine that you are a first-time user of the Joomla! forum and you’re looking for … frequently asked questions? Is this what you would expect to find?
The “FAQ” page is a cut-and-paste taken from a standard phpBB forum templatehttps://www.phpbb.com/community/help/faq that has not been updated in over fifteen years. The FAQ information does not provide any Joomla!-specific help.
The Joomla! forum would be improved by reviewing and updating the FAQ information to guide new users. It would also save time dealing with repeated questions such as “How can I create a forum signature?”, “When can I send private messages?”, “How do I start a new topic?” et cetera.
4. Allow members to vote up/down answers
I briefly mentioned earlier that other forums are largely “self-moderating” insofar as the membership determines how well questions are answered. The Joomla! forum does not have any of these features. If the Joomla! forum were to implement this approach it will give community members a sense in knowing how well their contributions to the forum are received. It’s a way of democratically empowering the membership.
I think this is a good idea and it’s something that should be trialled.
5. Empower more experienced forum members to remove spam
Hand-in-hand with the last-mentioned improvement suggestion, the members of other forums mentioned in this article are able to acquire “points” by virtue of how well they are responding to questions asked on the forum. After gaining a certain number of “experience points”, these forum members are allowed to remove spam posts thereby freeing the forum moderators from that responsibility. Posts that are removed by experienced members are not physically deleted from the forum’s database; they are quarantined and reviewed by designated forum moderators later.
As a matter of interest, forum moderators, themselves, are also subject to review and replacement. As I understand things, being appointed as a forum moderator in other places is not a job-for-life; forum moderator roles are reviewed every six months or so and appointments are voted by the general membership. This is a far fry from the closed shop that operates at the Joomla! forum.