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Zantherus

Forum Slowing Down? Don’t Close It!

January 19th, 2009

Many times I have seen a forum close down because it used to receive 200 posts a day but dropped to a “measly” 50 posts a day for a couple of days.  A sudden drop in activity doesn’t mean you should close your forum down, it means you should take a look at your forum from a visitor’s perspective, and your own. Here are a couple of tips when your forum activity begins to slow down.

1) Determine your community’s posting pattern

If you don’t know this already, find it. In your forum’s Admin CP, find the statistics and see when you receive the most posts, the least, etc. For example, Zantherus is most active on the weekdays (oddly enough). So when your activty slows down, determine if that’s when your forum is supposed to die down a little. Another example is during the holidays. Most likely you’ll see a drop in activity as most people are spending time with family. Don’t worry about it. Wait it out and it’ll pick up after the holidays.

2) Get a Review

Some people seem to think that reviews are pointless. They aren’t. Go to a bigger site with a good review section (aka not all forums are in the Great Forum section). Check out some of the reviews. If you like how they do it, apply for one. They’ll (hopefully) point out things you could improve on.

3) Revamp

Sometimes things could be stagnating because members could be getting bored. Add a new skin, a forum, a contest, new staff, etc. anything that could get your members to post again. However, keep your revamps to a minimum, say, once every six months at the most. Constant revamps make your members think “not again” rather than the “oh! a new skin!” response. A revamp loses special points every time you do one, so keep that in mind.

4) Post Exchanges

I’ve already covered this  in a previous blog post. I’m going to correct myself a little bit. Post exchanges can still be used in a bigger community if it’s stagnating, as an influx of newer members can introduce new content to the forum for veterans to see and post.

5) Advertise, advertise, advertise

Advertising never dies. You have to keep doing it over and over and over again. Maybe the reason why your forum is stagnating is because you’ve stopped advertising. It’s happened to me before. Find new forums to advertise at and get at it! If you must, have staff post on the forum while you advertise. The reason why I say not to have your staff advertise is that YOU know your forum best. You’ll have full control over your advertising if you do so.

So in short, just because your forum is slowing down doesn’t mean you need to close it. There’s a reason why it’s slowing down, and if you find that reason, fix it and you’ll see your forum thrive like it used to.

Forums , , , ,

Review - Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS)

January 14th, 2009

Yes this is a departure from previous posts. But I have been playing this Phoenix Wright game and while I know it came out a long time ago, I still want to review it, because well, the game is amazing.

In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, you play as the spiky haired Phoenix Wright as he begins his new job as a defense attorney. You are to defend your clients who are wrongly accused of murder by poking and proding at the witness’ testimony and find inconsistencies and contradictions. Of course, evidence is everything; your accusations of the witness lying must be backed by solid evidence.

Of course, being a game, there are some absurd situations that would make a real attorney cringe. Stolen evidence is legal in this court, and cases are thrown out after three days. Not to mention an animal testifying in court, and an attorney telling the judge what to do. It’s things like this that make the game absolutely a blast to watch. It’s butchering the legal system, but in a good way.

But the trial isn’t the only part of the game. You are supposed to search buildings and environments and question people to try to prove your client’s innocence.

What I was amazed about this game was how the cases, on the surface, seemed to explain itself, yet what really happened in the case is, well, a lot deeper than that. Of course, a bit expected, but watching the story unfold throughout the trial was exciting, much like watching an action scene in a movie.

The music, too, was great. It always fit the mood perfectly and when things were getting rough and tense, the music was too; once you found a contradiction in the witness’ testimony, the music immediately stopped, giving it an even more movie-like feel.

Almost everything about this game sets it apart from other games; the genre of the game is by far uncommon and it doesn’t require the prettiest graphics to win you over. The anime-like characters and completely over-done reactions are a blast to watch.

If you get a chance to play this game, do it. You won’t regret it. I haven’t enjoyed a game like this since Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

Games , , ,

Filler topics does not a community make

January 14th, 2009

I’ve seen this around a lot lately. What are filler topics in the first place though? Filler topics, also known as Q&A topics, generic topics, etc., is my term for the simple topics that elicit a single response that involves no discussion at all, such as “What is your favorite color?”, “Favorite day of the week?”, “Last movie you watched?”, or even the ever so famous “What song are you listening to?”

To start out, filler topics are not bad. They allow a smaller community, maybe less than 1,000 posts or even 10,000 posts to accumulate simple content that is easy to make and reply to. They’re there to “fill” up the forum so it doesn’t look so empty because something is better then nothing.

However, once you’ve gotten your memberbase established, stop with the filler topics. Why?

Well, what do you do when you get to know a friend? Take this analogy. When you first meet someone, you want to get to know them, so you ask questions that is like these filler topics. “Where do you live?” “Do you have any kids?” etc etc etc. However, once you start to actually know the person, you start to discuss more personal things. “Hey check out what happened to me today. I was going home and this homeless dude…” or “I just applied to be a journalist at…” The “filler” topics disappear. What has replaced the filler topics are actual discussion.

I’ve seen forums with over 50,000 posts have pages and pages of filler topics and when I post there, I have no sense of community. I just feel like I’m writing an essay or filling out a survey as the topics are so bland and boring.

When you establish your memberbase, it is essential that you start moving away from filler topics. Every now and then a filler topic is okay (”Oh hey Fred, what did you say your favorite TV show was again?”) but moving to actual discussion will be far more beneficial for your community in the long run. The better your community is, the harder it’ll be for your members to leave your forum, as they get attached the more and more they get to know your forum. But, if you keep with the filler topics, people won’t feel such an attachment and could quite possibly click X and never visit your forum again. I know I’ve done that more than once.

Forums, IF/ZB , , , , , ,

The Social Contract - It Applies to Forums Too

December 25th, 2008

The Social Contract developed by Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke in the 1600s and 1700s provided the people with a stable ground on which to base republican government on. The Social Contract stated that the leader and his people are obligated to serve each other’s needs. If the leader’s people were out of line, the leader had the right to make and enforce law. However, it works the other way too. If the leader abused his power, the people had the right to overthrow the leader and establish a leader that would allow them to live the life they wanted.

If you’ve read the title of this post, you already know where this is headed. The Social Contract is not just for government, it’s applicable to forums too.

What many forum owners don’t realize is that their members are not obligated to post on their forum. Clicking the “Log Out” link and never visiting that forum again is just as easy as clicking “Add Reply” and contributing content to the community.

The problem arises when the forum develops an issue that involves the administration, for example, a flame war or a criticism of the forum. When it comes to these issues, the administration may feel compelled to exercise their power, reprimanding “unruly” (notice that it’s in quotations) users, dishing out warnings, and ultimately clicking that ban button.

However, while it is in fact every right for the administration to enforce the rules of the forum, the member also has every right to leave the forum. Joining a forum is not a legally binding contract - the world of forums is a free market, and if the forum owner does not provide something compelling, the user will simply leave.

The trick with the Social Contract is to find the perfect spot on the spectrum. However, that perfect spot isn’t necessarily a balance. It depends on the forum itself. If a forum is heavily weighed on serious discussions and debate, then those members understand that in this Social Contract, the administration will in fact need to enforce the rules and that their freedoms are a little more restricted, but to them that’s okay, because an unruly member is a lot worse.

So there you have it. Just a little thought to have when you run your forum.

Forums , ,

Forum Packages - Do They Work?

December 25th, 2008

Since the start of the advertising era in the Zathyus Network (and to an extent, other forums too), one thing has always remained prominent - forum packages. Many forums offer these things that are apparently supposed to help boost your forum’s activity and help advertise.

Each forum tends to have the same set of packages, plus or minus a couple - basic advertising, signature advertising, banner advertising, pinned topic advertising, posting service, newsletter advertising, and maybe an odd service here and there.

Sometimes it can be a pain to apply for all these packages, keep track of which post count is needed for what (although Hireem somewhat removed these), guidelines, and whatnot that some of us get lazy and don’t apply for all of them (me included).

However, it may not be needed…because some of those services are useless anyways.

So which ones are the ones that really work? In theory, they should all work. But as the average Internet user becomes more ad-blind, and most forum users are above average, many of these become useless. Let’s see the two most useless packages then - signature and banner advertising.

They’re useless because no one really takes the time to look at the ads. The time it takes to make it effective is not worth the return. In order to get noticed, you have to have a really appealing ad - and given so many talent graphic designers out there, it’s tough to make the one ad that stands out. If you’re not a graphic designer, you have to get someone else to make it for you, which takes up time that you could be advertising effectively.

Pinned topics and newsletter advertising are a little different. Depending on how they’re done, they can be effective, but just like the banner and signature advertising, it’s very easy to skip over them.

That leaves two services left - the basic advertising service and the posting service. These two, in my opinion, are the most effective of the packages. The basic advertising is where a forum owner can post an ad that allows him to put the link to his forum, the genre, and a little bit of spice with the description. The basic advertising is one of the more versatile services, especially if the ad forum allows you to bump the topic, which is the strongest point. If a user browsing through the directory sees a topic with a couple of pages, chances are they’ll check it out because it’s different. Additionally, people can comment on it and give you feedback. And whilst not really concerning the casual Zathyus Network user, it can help build PageRank if you anchor the text correctly.

Now, the posting service. It’s an odd one, but it’s the only one that actually guarantees “traffic”. Of course, traffic has to be in quotations though, because it’s not really a real user…yet. However, if there’s good staff posting, the posting service is a powerful tool. One good topic (and perhaps controversial) can trigger 20 replies, making a 20-post service really a 40-post service. The problem occurs when the staff is lazy and makes only five word posts and generic, “filler” topics. That can make a forum look bad.

So there you go, a brief overview on some of the common forum packages out there. Use these packages at your own discretion.

IF/ZB , , , , , , , , , ,

New front page

December 23rd, 2008

Ziveeman and I spent several hours designing the new front page of Zantherus. It actually required more effort than I initially thought since I had to edit the template heavily to get exactly what I wanted. The final result looks really nice, I think. I like it a lot.

It’s Wordpress, if you haven’t been able to tell, just like this blog. I had to remove all instances that really made it look like a blog, like the categories, and the dates on the static content (that was a bitch to remove). But I like the minimalist theme (thanks to the creator of DarkZen), it looks great.

Ziveeman and I will be holding a contest for the members to be able to write the intro page for anyone that views the page. Of course, we will have to note that the page was written by a member and doesn’t reflect the views of the administration just in case the intro page is… racy.

Also, there’s the ad on the page now. It came with the theme, and we might as well use it. All we ask for the ad are one of two things:

  • A small donation (the length of the ad will depend on the donation)
  • Posting on the community (length of the ad will depend on the length of activity)

Hopefully people will start to use it.

Zantherus

Stop creating forums

December 23rd, 2008

I wish that there was a background check on creating forums. It would be easy; it would check to see how many forums you’ve created and then their shutdown date. Then depending on those stats, it would approve or deny your creation of a forum. If it denied it, it would give a small reason why, like “you suck” or “learn English” and singlehandedly ruin a person’s self-esteem, because then they would really know that they suck instead of living in denial.

Hold up. I just got a call on my cell phone from some random company that tells me that my car warranty is going to expire. My car is 18 years old so I think my warranty expired already. I’ve gotten calls from these people in the past and it’s obviously a scam. What’s even more odd is that someone who received the call on her cell phone is on the National Do Not Call list. And plus, it’’s illegal to solicit on cell phones.

Holy shit! I figured out why this happens… I’m referring to both the call I just received and why I think people should stop creating forums. The answer has been quite obvious but I think it’s coincidental that the call I received shares something similar to the blog I am writing. To make it simple, the reason why people do these things is because there is no consequence.

But, I’m sure you already knew that.

There is no consequence because we’re on a free host, and the company that called me hasn’t been caught yet; while there have been complaint about it, there is no lawsuit against them. But suddenly add in a small price, then quality of forums will increase; add in the lawsuit for the companies, and they will stop their service and lose revenue.

Well, they aren’t exactly alike. But I hope you know what I mean.

There’s no way Invisionfree or Zetaboards is going to charge for their services though. So, I propose a solution. It’s called the 150 hour rule.

There is a show called Heroes and the writers use this rule. It states that if you come up with a great idea, wait 150 hours. Then if it’s still as awesome as when you first thought of it, use it. If it’s lost its flair, then don’t use it.

The point of this rule is to filter the good ideas from the bad ones. When we think of something awesome, we tend to think too far ahead and idealize the concept — putting it on a pedestal, if you will. And since we tend to over think it, we act on a whim and spend too much time into the idea, then we realize that it’s not going to work. That’s the worst thing that can happen, because wasted time isn’t something you can get back.

Now, you don’t NEED to stick to 150 hours, of course. Most of the time all it will take is a good night’s sleep and several hours off of forums will be all it takes to make sure you realize that idea you thought up is absurd.

Quite often as an administrator of Zantherus, I come up with great ideas. If the ideas all worked out as I planned, then I’d be the ruler of the world. But they don’t. I followed what Mark Rosewater, a Magic: the Gathering developer, coined the Bullseye theory. It’s not the exact wording, but the idea still stands:

If a novice archer were to shoot enough arrows at a target, he would eventually hit a bullseye. Likewise, if an administrator were to come up with enough ideas, he would eventually hit upon a “key” idea and become successful.

Simple enough, isn’t it? I think a lot of forum owners use this theory far too much. And well, it’s not exactly a good thing.

I think that this issue stems from several problems; now of course, there is the inherent problem that these forums are free and the only investment in it is a little bit of time. The second problem is that the forum owners become too far engrossed in their idea that they fail to see the reality of it. And this is why the 150 hour rule is so helpful in this regard; the ideas that we put on a pedestal when we first thought of it will no longer be on that pedestal. Waiting awhile before implementing ideas allows you to see the idea as other people will see it — well, not exactly, but you will see it in a more pragmatic manner.

Forums, IF/ZB

Will the Presidential “curse” end?

December 22nd, 2008

We’re ending the first year of the Zantherus Presidents. Having gone through a total of 5 different terms, they all had one thing in common: inactivity.

Every term we have presidents promising certain things - more contests, a website, etc - but what do we end up getting instead? Nothing. In fact, the President normally isn’t even there to give us nothing.

Let’s take a look at the current President - KittehKat. She hasn’t even logged on since November 28th (at the time of the writing). While we do understand that sometimes life gets in the way, is there no obligation to, at the very least, notify the members and apologize publicly? Every time a President is elected - and during the election, the President is quite active - the President somehow manages not to log on during their term. This has happened five times in a row. Is that really what a President is supposed to do?

While I admit that partial fault comes from the sole fact that the President isn’t explicitly told by us, the administators, what can be done and cannot be done, it makes me wonder if the President has the motivation to ask what can be done. Ask, and you shall receive. Hopefully the next President will be more proactive, rather than reactive. We’ve remedied this problem by creating a list of what they can do, so I hope that this will do the trick. We’ll be working a lot more with the President than we have in the past, and we’ll probably give them a BIG role for their term.

But, I have to admit, this election is looking out a lot better than usual. Of course, every election looks better than the last (did anyone not like the heated tension between Chibinity and KittehKat?). Maximum-Can has been non-stop active since he started to post around the end of summer and BassNazi has been actively contributing to the community for awhile now, hopefully neither of them will stop. The Advanced Placement classes are around the corner, which I suspect will hinder their activity by a little, but hopefully not by much.

That being said, I think that both Maximum-Can and BassNazi are really good candidates for President and I wish them the best of luck. I will suggest  that when the time comes to picking the Vice President, that the winner should consider picking the other, as a balance is always good, not to mention that they are certainly both qualified, in my opinion, to lead Zantherus to an era of greatness.

-Ziveeman

Zantherus

Post Exchanges: Yay or nay?

December 22nd, 2008

Post exchanges are something every administrator faces when developing his or her community. Some forum owners embrace the act of post exchanges, actively participating in them, while others are adamantly against the very idea of forcing posts.

But first, let’s start, what exactly is a post exchange? Similar to traffic exchanges, two users agree to post on each other’s forums, either until they both reach a desired post count or a set period of time. Once the post exchange is done, usually the users part ways, never to see that forum again, until another post exchange comes around.

The first thing that pops into someone’s head when they first hear about a post exchange is usually a negative connotation. Shouldn’t forums gain posts naturally, i.e. advertising to get members who will join and post on their own will?

The answer to that is: of course. Ideally, once a forum owner begins to advertise, whether it be by posting on forums and including a link to your forum in your signature or paying for advertising, the forum should gain some members, who would begin to post.

However, the world is not an idealistic place. Realistically, advertising may very ineffective. An empty forum, even with a decent layout or appearance, gains nothing without one thing.

And that’s content. Content ranges from anything from downloads on music sites, articles on a blog, and in a forum’s case, topics.

Post exchanges provide just that. A forum with 57 posts and 4 members looks a lot less appealing than a forum with 347 posts and 22 members, and that forum looks a lot less appearling than a forum with 2,451 posts and 78 members.

When a visitor sees your forum for the first time, you need to make sure that they’re there to stay. A high number in the statistics table certainly helps plead that case.  A big number of active users helps even more. By doing post exchanges, you ensure that content is being provided on your forum at a decent ratio. A forum that contains topics all created by the administrator can be just as bad as a forum with no posts at all.

Of course, a bad post exchange is just as bad as having a forum with no content. If you do post exchanges, realize that your goal is to provide compelling content for the other forum, and in turn, the other user will do so for you. The number one rule: Don’t mention that you’re there for a post exchange. That completely defeats the entire purpose of the post exchange, plus you ensure that you won’t be having another post exchange with that person (or other people, if you develop a reputation like that).

So why exactly is it that people are so against post exchanges? It’s a good reason - post exchanges develop no community. People who are at your forum for a post exchange are there for a quick second, maybe a week or two, accumulate the desired post count and leave, disappearing off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.

That creates a problem, especially if the user creates a topic that requires more elaboration. The user will never expand on it, and therefore the topic dies. Or maybe the user isn’t familar with the rules and breaks a couple, such as posting in old topics or posting too little in a serious debate forum.

However, pro-exchangers contend the point of a post exchange is not to develop a community. In the way that street musicians “seed” their tip jar with a couple of $1s and $5s in order to convince people to donate, post exchangers “seed” the community with content, further encouraging first-time visitors to come back, and hopefully, register and contribute to the community.

One of the toughest parts in administrating a forum is developing that first member base. Post exchanges, while not a part of that first member base, help toward that development and getting those first few “real” members to register and be a part of a growing community. Post exchanges help “seed” a forum in a way that is more effective than one administrator doing all the work and is more ethical than creating fake members do to the job that post exchangers could.

In short, people who are against post exchanges do not fully understand the concept. Post exchanges are not meant to take the place of a real community, nor are they really meant to be used in a thriving community. They are there to give the boost a small forum needs in order to be successful. After all, when the post exchangers are gone and a real community is in place, it doesn’t really matter if you used them, because now a real community is providing the content that the exchangers once did.

Forums

New post! And about those ads…

December 22nd, 2008

Yeah it’s been a long time since I’ve posted a blog. Anyway just wanted to post what Ziveeman and I have been doing at Zantherus.

Well, to be frank, it hasn’t been too much but it is enough to take away precious posting time on Zantherus, so I hope the members will do their job and post more :)

Right now we’ve been focusing on advertising. Our Alexa rank (according to my browser) is #4,162,732. Which, I hope you can tell, is not good. Of course it’s better than being “unranked”… wait, I don’t even know if that’s possible. So basically, our Alexa ranking sucks. We’re trying to improve it. Which brings us to our next point:

Ads.

No, not ads OF Zantherus. Ads ON Zantherus.

Yes you heard me.

Don’t worry, we won’t be putting pop-ups or those annoying hover ads that you see on some other forums or sites. It’ll be simple text ads, so they won’t be too annoying. Ziveeman and I have been running Zantherus out of our pockets since it started so I hope everyone understands our choice. But, ads won’t be appearing on Zantherus for awhile because we need to increase our PageRank and Alexa ranking… advertisers won’t want to advertise on our site if we have a Alexa rank of four million.

We’re planning to make the ads only viewable to at least regular members and guests. I’m debating whether Silver members should be able to view it (probably not), but Gold Members, Senior Members, and Moderators will NOT view them fo’ sho’.

For the info, we just purchased an ad on the game ForumWarz. So if you want to check it out, register for the game and play it. Also, let me know so I can invite you to the Zantherus klan. It’s a really fun game and I’ve been only playing it for about a week. As of right now the ad hasn’t been approved but I’m sure it will be soon.

Anyway look out for more posts on the status of this ad campaign as well as other things behind the scenes on Zantherus.

Update: Our ad on ForumWarz was surprisingly enough, already approved. We’ve already gotten 101 impressions on the site. No click-throughs yet, but hey, it’s only been approved for like twenty minutes.

Zantherus