How do you decide when to add new forum categories?


(Joel Zaslofsky) #1

tl;dr – Our Puttytribe community consolidated 17 forum categories into 8 when we moved to Discourse one year ago. Now our members are pushing to add new categories and we need to design logic and a process for how and when to do it.

The core question: do you have a decision-making workflow on how and when to add new forum categories to your community? If so, will you share it here?


When we redesigned the Puttytribe community I run, simplicity and reducing members’ feelings of being overwhelmed drove many of our decisions. We decided through a member-led process to consolidate 17 Ning forum categories into 8 Discourse forum categories.

One of those current categories is “Anything Goes” – which is a catch-all equivalent to other communities’ “Small Talk” or “Off Topic” categories. Apparently, using that category and having the post creator use tags like “money” or “inspiration” won’t fly in our community. I’ll save the challenges of educating and re-educating people about the utility of tags for another day.

I realize we can’t stay at 8 top-level categories forever. And the suggestions to add a money focused and inspiration focused category have merit.

My dilemma? If I add any new forum categories without a workflow or process to determine if they’re worthy of the UX, admin, and operational implications (i.e., more work for my team), I’m setting an arbitrary precedence of something I believe needs to be carefully evaluated.

Side Notes

  • @richard_millington – the core FeverBee forum categories haven’t changed since @HAWK created them two years ago. Is that intentional? Do you not have the internal need or member-led pushes to create new forum categories here?
  • It’s been suggested that I find an Information Architect to consult on this. What other expertise or skill set would be appropriate to create a new category decision workflow from scratch?
  • The Puttytribe already uses Discourse sub-categories for each of our Discourse groups (e.g., the top level category is “Groups” and each group has it’s own sub-category). I’d rather avoid more top-level categories with sub-categories because I only see a UX impact and unintended consequences downside to that approach over the long-term.

(Richard Millington) #2

Good question.

The short answer to both questions is no. :slight_smile:

It’s not intentional, nor is there a group of members calling for something different.

I haven’t thought much about the categories here to be honest, but that’s largely because of the low volume of questions.

At the moment, I’m relatively happy with the way things are. Maybe a little more activity would be nice, but I don’t want it to be as busy as the CMX group etc…I like having space to read up on the latest answers, respond with care, and gather feedback when we need it.

If there were a group of members calling for new features I’d probably create a new category, but outside of the hidden categories here for our clients/training courses/allies group, I prefer not to fiddle with the setup without a clear reason.

I’d look up the StackExchange model here perhaps. What will you require to create a new category and keep it managed? Who will be responsible for moderating it? How many people are interested in it etc? What do survey results say about the UX experience? Can you make it just appear to members who want to see it to prevent overwhelming others?

I’d be tempted to add something in private to a core group of members and let others sign up for themselves.

(Joel Zaslofsky) #3

All good questions. I’ve thought through most of them already and I have a mostly informed answer. Discourse allows you to do a lot with hiding categories for people who aren’t in certain custom groups. And we use that functionality well already.

These new forum categories would be community-wide and I wouldn’t want people to have to opt into them. After checking out StackExchange’s model, I’m not getting any inspiration about how the Puttytribe might adapt what they do to our use cases.

It’s looking like I’m just going to have to come up with my own solution, experiment, and iterate. And that’s something I’m always willing to do.

(James McMahon) #4

Have you observed members of your community making any workarounds of these “limitations”. People solving their own problems can be a good litmus test of an (actual) need to add something.

Folks perpetually ask for more categories, but of course it comes down to what you believe will offer the most collective value to your community, filtered through the lens of the feedback you are getting as well as the behavior of your members.

(Joel Zaslofsky) #5

Good perspective, James. Some of our more tech-savvy or more experienced members do understand the role that tags can play to either supplement or out-value a category that doesn’t exist. I haven’t seen anyone use a tag workaround or another way around the constraint they might feel without an ideal forum category to post in.

(Darren Gough) #6

We had this problem at Went from about 10 categories to around 100 in time I was there (there are some hidden or super user closed ones you can’t see either).

Fundamentally we were, i guess, pretty liberal in creating a new categories based on feedback on members. That said, generally we saw one of the following things:

  • The topic or term (perhaps tag in your case) was showing up in so many other places it was actually disrupting the previous categories and causing users to get frustrated with disrupted threads and posts

  • We used both our member feedback board and super user group to propose, get suggestions for any customisation (for example we broke out a competitions board that needed some pretty specific functionality) and offered up the new space on a trial period. Nice thing about this is it gives you an easy reverse option if things aren’t working. You’ll just need to define what “success” looks like.

  • Organic traffic. We were watching to see how much new organic traffic found the category directly, alongside regulars. For example we launched a category about fighting parking tickets. It was coming up in other places and disrupting flows (so ticked point one), needed some specific disclaimers and it’s own house rules (so ticked point two) and over time we saw a month on month increase in organic traffic (so ticked point three)

In summary, I think having a rough set of guidelines to validate it is the way to do it, and even then ensure you have a get out if it’s not working.

Hope that helps a bit. To be honest though for the most part I think you’ll probably have a fairly good internal barometer for whether something needs its own place. If it’s annoying enough people elsewhere, it might need its own space :smiley:

(Joel Zaslofsky) #7

I highlighted the trial period portion above because I never thought to have new categories on a trial basis. All our community sub-groups have a thirty day trial period based on a combination of how Nextdoor and StackExchange handle their sub-groups (or neighborhoods in Nextdoor’s case).

Now that you point it out, I believe a trial period for a new forum category is a great default as well.

Yeah, your experiences and insight do help a lot, Darren. I’ll include the “Annoyance Factor Quotient” into the formula for a yes/no decision on new forum categories. :wink: