Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Massive discussion forums

A colleague in CU suggested to me yesterday that really what we needed to foster links in the institution was a massive discussion forum; something as big as digitalspy where we could be as high or low-brow as we liked. I think that's a great idea and I wonder why it hasn't happened yet.
It also made me think about this clip of an interview with Clay Shirky. He makes the observation that we have to almost become 'bored' with a technology before we can go on to become imaginative with uses for the masses. Maybe discussion boards have reached that stage of familiarity for enough of us now.
So how do we get it set up?


  1. The problem with discussion forums is they require active participation on behalf of it's users, and in many cases the need to constantly check for updates. Many people simply don't have the time or inclination to do that.

    While some discussion forums do publish an RSS (which would help the problem) many (such as Blackboard) do not.

    Also, with any community the effort involved in getting the community up and running and self-sustaining is huge and usually falls to one or two individuals. Unfortunately these things don't just happen. The moment a new user posts a question and gets no response they lose interest and until you have a critical mass of fully engaged people the effort of engaging with new users falls to one or two moderators.

    Learning and Teaching used to have a discussion board online (though I can't seem to find it now) and that seemed pretty dead and unused, similarly a few people have tried to get discussions going in some of the eLearning Blackboard organisations with little or no response.

    Again, check out Jenny Preece for info on community building - I can lend you it if you'd like?

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  3. Thanks Nick,
    I know what you are saying. When I´ve seen forums fail it has been because they are too small and silo-like, or don´t have a clear enough purpose. But if it was big enough then I think it would have a chance. If all of Cardiff University knew that there was one place that you could go to chat or ask a question or share information, souldn´t that work?
    And it would need to be ourside Blackboard as those forums are awful.

  4. The most useful aspect of forums are as a knowledge base (Google any technical issue you have and about five or six forums will be on the first page) and as a means of forging links.

    In terms of computing issues, the lack of a knowledge base or FAQs for CU specific problems is a gaping hole in the services INSRV provides.

    So I would suggest rolling out a forum to INSRV staff at first, before widening to LCRs, IT staff within schools, those interested in e-learning and beyond.

    It's here where the use of a forum shows its advantages over knowledge bases or other similar solutions. Links between technical staff and teams across disciplines could be built not just by making suggestions regarding network faults or printer issues, but also who should be the next Doctor Who or what people are reading right now.

    Getting people involved is, of course, the tricky side of things, but the internet is so flooded with collaboration right now, it seems odd CU still uses the likes of mailing lists for wide communication.

    While word of mouth is a strong spreader of reputation, if Helpdesk were to refer callers to the forum for solutions to their problems, or if the forum was promoted as a Helpdesk alternative (though local IT reps, LCRs etc) usership could build from there. This also cuts out the issue of people having time to use a forum- they usually find time to complain to INSRV about problems.

    Once use for the main goal is sufficiently built up and popular threads identified, subforums can be generated to spread out activity, much like DigitalSpy.
    From here the uses of the forum can spread much wider; Learning + Teaching, for example.

    My experience at the university tells me communication between areas is a problem. Opportunities for collaboration are missed because they're not easy enough to make. A forum might not fix things, but I'd be happy just to cultivate discussion about better solutions to the root problem.

  5. Whatever the technology, groups and how they are organised, maintained, made available is at the heart of a so much stuff - whether it's granting access to a folder/blog/wiki, setting up a collaborative space, emailing a bunch of folks. There is a sniff about that insrv are looking seriously at this issue which, along with identity management, has great potential for building a solid foundation for our information and communication requirements.


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