The UX of Forums

Forums have led a strange existence on the web for a long time.  I have seen the evolution from AOL and bulletin boards to more sophisticated technologies with lots of features.  The problem is, I feel that forums have not evolved and become more useful.  My favorite type of forum is Experts Exchange.  By using a clever system of points and rankings they have encouraged a generation of technical people to help each other.  I only wish that they could open source their structure so that other kinds of exchanges could be created.  Example: Home improvement.  You ask a question and get an answer.  Same points systems.

The jQuery team has been discussing different forum options as the mailing list seems to have reached its maximum scale.  At Marketo, we are customizing a forum software to build an online help and community system.

Interestingly, in both cases, I am suggesting that we remove 90% of the features.  ALl of the polls and avatars and rankings get in the way of communicating.  For jQuery I suggested adding a “resolved/unresolved” flag so that it makes it easier to find unanswered questions.  (This is how Experts-Exchange does it).  Athough I would love to see the whole points thing come to life, I think it would be difficult to mirror the system on EE.  It would be better to go shallow and just focus on the primary pain point.

With Marketo, I feel like simple is good.  It’s almost a cross between a blog and a forum.  A blog is primarily a “journal” technology.  Whereas in a community, learnings are persistent and not time oriented.  Plus a blog is usually a star-burst configuration, where the author is central to the whole thing.  If you want cross-communications you need to allow members to start their own independent threads.

I think it would be a great product to sell something like EE as a forum software.  I hope someone over there is listening.

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