Message Board Life Cycle

Matt Rice is ranting about The Flash Message Board Life Cycle over at SwfNews. I think he has formulated the life cycle of a successful message board pretty good, be it a Flash message board or a message board for anything else. I have seen this in news groups, web boards and to some extent in mailing lists.

The problem is in the numbers, and the solution? Probably to make a taxation system of some kind. Personally I am of the opinion that users that just consume should have to pay for their consumption, whilst users that contribute to a message board should be paid for it. It does not necessarily have to be with money, but there should be a cost/benefit to using/providing for a message board. A taxation system would probably keep in check the cricket-pest like conditions that message board experience when Phase 4 (see Matts message board system) kicks in.

4 thoughts on “Message Board Life Cycle”

  1. I agree with you that some sort of rational apportionment of costs could help things. The term “taxation” usually refers to an involuntary cost assessment by those who control the legal monopoly on force, but some type of voluntary contract system may help.

    I haven’t seen a good implementation yet. “Google Answers” is a high-profile experiment. Part of the problem has been the value-exchange system.

    There has to be some way to assign a cost to those who ask something which was just answered…. ;-)


  2. Before phase 4 of Matts Message Board system kicks in – it seems to me like a good tight handeling of the message board/mailing list/newsgroup is the way to go. If the regulars refer to the FAQ whenever newbies ask questions that have been asked and answered to death, you can to some degree control it.

    The problem gets out of hand once you reach phase 4, by then the regulars are heavily outnumbered by the newbies – and any resistance is futile.

    To be able to handle large traffic mailinglists/newsgroups/web boards you probably need to have a system that credits valid answers to new questions – kills users that just posts garbage, and charges the user for asking questions that has been asked and answered before.

    I have a feeling that what is going to happen eventually is that we will end up with many totally useless forums where there are no regulars and mostly chaos, and some exclusive discussion forums – where only invited participants are welcome and where the really interesting and knowledgeable discussions are held. This might not be all bad though, as long as the result of the discussions are available (read-only archives/forums).

  3. I am not sure if it is the solution to charge people who mainly consume. At least “consume” has to be clarified a bit more: in my opinion there is the one sort of “consumers” who I would call “the audience”. They join a list/forum, because they are interested in the topic, but do not contribute a lot, neither knowledge, nor noise. Then there are “the parasites”. They are of the annoying kind, because they consume the time of the others by asking questions that are off topic or have been answered many times before. Also there are “the groupies” who do not contribute any new information but just add things like “wow – great – super idea!”, so they can increase their post count and gain new titles. The goal has to be to get rid of the latter two, whereas I don’t see anything wrong with keeping the first group.

    I think it is necessary to differenciate this system further – “consume” and “contribute” can not be reduced to “ask” and “answer”. An intelligent question is very often a great contribution and a source for inspiration.

    Perhaps a system like a stock market could be an idea. Each forum/list member has a certain price tag, which results out of the opinions of the others about the quality of his/her contributions. The higher your market value is, the more speaking time/words you are allowed to use. By owning shares of a popular member you also profit through “dividends” in form of “ask-permission”. Well, perhaps this is completely stupid.

  4. Actually Amy Jo Kim has a really good book about online communities titled “Community Building on the Web”. It gives a much broader focus and also drills in on some specific examples of successful web-based communities, including things such as a membership life cycle, which looks a little like the following:

    Visitor -> {membership ritual} -> Novice -> Regular -> {membership ritual} -> Leader -> Elder

    Comparing it to a real-world scenario. Now, of course I bring this up because I love to defend Flashkit against the doomsday naysayers, and have recently been reading a bunch of articles which are written from the perspective of disgruntled old-timers rather than people with an objective view of what the community has to offer.

    Rather than the timeline Matt outlines, I believe that the strength of a community is based on the leaders of that community, whether they be designated so, as mods and admins, or whether they be long-time members who are willing to make an effort to direct the board and steer it in the right direction.

    Rather than the doom and gloom prognostication of more members = destruction of a community, what typically happens is that the community will begin to develop sub-groups which may splinter off into areas of interest and enrich the community as a whole.

    The point about banner ads is a weak one, I think – it’s like blaming commercials for the quality of television programming.

    But I think the issue is worth discussing, and look forward to seeing it taken further.

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