Old forum posts, board structure, and organizing it all

(Rebecca Braglio) #1

The community I help manage is a professional community that focuses on best practices in the industry and serves as a supportive network (just like Feverbee). The community was acquired by the parent company about a year ago and a community team was created to help manage and build. The community was built around 1999 and has had various periods of high activity and low.

We are now in the process of trying to reorganize and create a better user experience in our discussion boards - of which there are many (50+). Many of these boards have been inactive for years. Some of the boards are redundant or don’t really have much of a purpose any more. There is a LARGE volume of content (posts, threads) going back at least 10+ years. Some of these posts are spam or posted in incorrect boards, but there is still content mixed in which, although out of date, could be helpful if someone is looking for that particular answer/topic. See image below…

Keeping this all in mind, there is one main “central” board which is where members tend to post all posts (probably because it is too overwhelming and cumbersome to go through all of the possible board options and because it is the first option to pick). Initially, we thought to just put all posts in this one central board and then have posts be tagged (automatically and allow pre-determined tags selected by members should they choose to do themselves). Members could then just filter by tags.

However, this will lead to hundreds of pages of threads. We’re worried it will just be overwhelming to go to the main forum board and see “page 1, 2. 3, …500” to navigate through. Or, would it just be an indication for the majority of visitors/members to go to the main forum board and see there are 500+ posts to wade through. Or, is that a good sign of robust discussion?

Keeping in mind impacts on user experience, SEO, and overall community feel, we’re having a good debate around handling this. Spam will be removed. However, the suggestions for the remaining content thus far (none of which I’m comfortable with) are:

  1. How do we define “stale” or “irrelevant” content? Or are all posts (not including spam) relevant regardless of age or lack of continued activity?

  2. If old and stale posts are irrelevant, what is the cut off for “stale/inactivity”? 1 year? 5 years? 90 days?

  3. Once we determine which posts are no longer active or relevant (if that applies), what do we do with it?

  • Do we just delete it? (I say no)
  • Do we “archive” it (hiding it unless someone uses search and it comes up as a result)?
  • Do we post a “View All” link on the board which will pull in posts after that “stale” date?

My gut says that for stale/irrelevant content we just “close” the thread. While I feel that 90 days is WAY too early of a cut off, don’t have another suggestion that makes sense of when to start marking inactive discussions as closed.

Whichever way we go, once we make a decision, I have to determine how many boards we should have. Right now, there is no tagging implemented. Therefore, I don’t know what the natural break would be that would support the creation of a board. While I have suspicions, I don’t have any data that would support it.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

(Steve Bridger) #2

A not uncommon challenge @rebeccabraglio. I’ve just had to go through this process with a 12-year old community of practice.

There is no template as every community is different. I would urge you to be transparent with the community about your intentions.

Our context was a platform upgrade, and we did some of the following…

  • We deleted all those threads older than one month with zero replies.

  • You could argue that ‘no data should ever be lost’, although in our case, a changing legislative context meant that older threads often included advice that was no longer accurate.

  • We decided to archive everything older than 1 Jan 2013. This is on the generous side, I think. This meant archiving 90% of the historical data.

  • There were exceptions. I asked the community to nominate their ‘go to’ threads on various topics. This mirrored my own subjective list of the ‘nuggets’ - threads I wanted keep and migrate over to the new platform. I was ruthless and we brought over 58 ‘old’ discussion threads.

  • We also migrated peoples’ ‘bookmarks’ - and gave them plenty of notice to ‘capture’ anything older than 2013 that wouldn’t be carried over.

  • Another option was to archive the old community, but still give community members access. It would’ve been interesting to revisit in 12 months and identify popular threads, most common searches, etc. We didn’t do this for licence / budget reasons.

  • I’m doing a piece of work to curate ‘the most valuable threads’ into a sort of knowledge bank. I’m keen to go back to the original contributors and ask if they would like to bring it up to date, dust off, etc.

This is always going to be subjective and we had to quickly reconcile ourselves with the fact we were not going to please everyone.

Good luck!

How have others done it?

"best practices" in moving to a new platform
(Richard Millington) #3


So a few thoughts from my side. I’m sure @hawk and others (perhaps @zapleahy and others can chime in with more recently experiences).

50+ discussion boards is insane. You probably need separate distinct groups which contain discussions or just to limit/merge these as much as possible. It’s usually better to build around distinct groups than distinct topics. I wouldn’t accept any more posts on a discussion more than 30 days old and close down any group which hasn’t had any activity more than 3 months old.

I would worry less about 50+ pages to scroll through. Very Very few people scroll through discussions. They usually either search or click a tag that’s relevant to them. Most people never look through old discussions whether it’s 3 pages or 300.

On the SEO side, make sure you keep the most popular discussions. Go to your google analytics and see which pages are brining in more than 0.5% of traffic and ensure you keep them. You never want to lose them.

Make sure you have an amazing search functionality.

Find a place to store / document the best information. We’re working on this ourselves at the moment. Just haven’t had enough time for it. Is it regular eBooks, a wiki, or something that’s going to keep the most valuable information stored in one place.

A few questions. How many people participate? How many posts do you get per day?

(Sarah Hawk) #4

I agree with all of the above.

A couple of things that I’d add – we CMs tend to find the idea of deleting data horrific, but I don’t think it should be. If no one has looked at something for 5 years, cull it.

Rich’s point about search is important. People never scroll through pages of posts looking for something unless they desperately want to get their post count up so are looking for anything that they might be able to engage with. Those aren’t quality posts.

If you have lots of historical threads that are still getting views but not engagement, archive them so that people can still get value without any overheads.

I went through this process during a migration. We decided to get rid of anything that hadn’t been viewed in 5 years (very generous – I think 3 would have been ok). The plan was to flat HTML archive the data that wasn’t migrated. When we got around to doing that (approx 6 months later) we discovered that no one was looking for it anyway, so we didn’t bother. I never got a single complaint.

In short, I think you can afford to be a lot more harsh than you think.

[quote=“rebeccabraglio, post:1, topic:1635”]
Do we “archive” it (hiding it unless someone uses search and it comes up as a result)?
[/quote] Yup, I’d say so.

(Steve Bridger) #5

My experience, too… although people have very strong feelings on this issue. Being open with community members is very important… but you have the final say.

How much say should members have?
(Mark Williams) #6

Wow, that’s a lot of content!

I see very few situations/ communities where 50+ subcategories is a useful†. I tend towards keeping content, but there’s certainly culling that could happen. It depends on how ‘evergreen’ the content is. A support community for a hardware product that is going to be around probably has more evergreen content than a software as a service product that updates every month. You and your community are the only ones that can really determine that. I have successfully asked my community for assistance in determining structure. You’ll obviously get some “leave it!” comments but you will likely get some useful suggestions.

I don’t think anyone will care if there are 500+ posts in the forum. For some people, that may be meaningful/comforting since it indicates a strong community of knowledge.

Personally, I don’t like the archive to HTML option. In the cases I’ve seen where that’s been done, the archive ends up being ignored by both the internal stakeholders and the community. It’s where content goes to die. If it’s at least in the ‘system of record’, it can be migrated with that content when system upgrades or changes happen. If it’s not important enough to exist in your current system.

Good luck! It’s a big project but I suspect you will end up with a healthier product and place for your community members.

† For instance: Apple Discussions, the community I ran, had at least that many, but we also had an active program to evaluate/combine/clean older product communities even as new products were forcing the creation of new sub-communities.

(Rebecca Braglio) #7

Thanks so very much for the input.

So…Actually…it’s more than 50. It’s too painful for me to say exactly how many there are out loud.

If I can just clarify - the parent company had a community that had x number of individual communities of practice that were managed by professional association members. So, for example, if it were the medical industry there was a community for surgeons, cardiologists, psychiatrists, etc. Each community would have been managed by a medical professional in that area who was a member of the larger professional association.

As we all could easily predict, it didn’t work. However, there was a business decision that there was a need to provide a new place for all of the COP leaders. Therefore, when new community was acquired, they quickly started building forum boards to take place of those COPs (that didn’t work).


Anyway, that’s what I’m dealing with.

That being said, we have poor search functionality.
In terms of participation - I don’t have a clear view or access to number of actual registered members - reasons I cannot get into here. My best guess is we have 500,000 registered members. However, it is my opinion that we have a very, very SMALL number of active members.

I would estimate that we get around 20-25 posts in the forum board per day.
It is generally the same 25-30 people who are posting.

I think that forming these discussions around practice areas (like cardiology, psychiatry) is a bad idea. It isolates members and it’s what they tried to do before and it failed. My gut feels like members are coming in different career stages - the new practitioners have different interests/needs than the old-timers. Perhaps that might be a way to organize?

I will begin looking through google. I already know that our traffic in google search does not come from searches that lead to forum posts. In fact, I had to find out if the forum board pages were even being indexed.

(Sarah Hawk) #8

I have a few questions that I think you could start with.

  • What kinds of questions are the people that are posting actually asking? Is there a common theme or challenge?
  • If you look at your GA stats, how many people are visiting the forum but not posting?
  • What is your bounce rate for the homepage (once they see all the categories, and can’t search effectively)?

(will mckay) #9

Great subject. I have a question that is kinda, sorta in line with the topic. I’m just building my board and I mentioned on another “helpsite” that I was considering removing old posts after a year. It wasn’t pretty, I got shot down big time. One person said he wouldn’t post on a board if his posts were going to be removed after a year. I guess I can see their points, but…

I’ve found that old posts are not sometimes relevant and contain links to sites that no longer exist. Gets frustrating. Add that to old members telling newbies that their question has already been answered. Who has time to go through all the old threads?

My thought is the criterion for removal would be the type board. On a website that provides technical help, old posts may be a positive thing. But in my case on a local community newsy site for a specific geographical area, I feel purging old posts would be acceptable and maybe appreciated.

Am I off-base? I may be very wrong. :blush:

(Gear Buzz) #10

We have 9million posts
They are part of the reason the site has such good seo

Jules Standen

(ForumSentinel) #11

Exactly. I’ve found most of our top ranking Google results are from threads several years old. Much of the data is still accurate too (re: exercises and the like) and even just really old “classic” threads are fun to go back to. It really is very interesting to go back through old posts because it’s like a time capsule. While it can be a hosting challenge (to say the least), we’ve still got nearly 127 million posts available :smiley:

(Sarah Hawk) #12

Right. I think you’re all correct. If there is no reason to remove content, then don’t – but if you’re migrating then it makes sense (and sometimes for other reasons, like misleading data).

The key is to have great search functionality. No one has time to sift through old posts for an answer, so they search, and if they can’t find what they need, they ask again.

Engagement challenges in a CoP