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What is it like to be a part of a forum community?

When I found out about Discourse, it made me curious about forums. I bookmarked a few of the sites that had adopted Discourse, then visited them regularly, assuming that I’d eventually want to chime in. I felt like that was what I was supposed to do, because if I remember correctly, Discourse’s UI is designed to heavily emphasize/reward reading, and put up road blocks to posting. If that’s what being a part of a forum community is like, then I was doing it right by reading first, right?

But I never did chime in much! And eventually I stopped visiting all those forums, Community Leadership Forum included.

However, I’m posting now! What’s different now is that I had this story to share. I did not get to this point by reading much of the forum. I’m actually here because of Jono’s e-mail with a link to the survey.

Filling out surveys is easy and fun, and that was enough to get me to log in. Then when I was done clicking answers, I was sad that there were no replies. I started thinking about the 100+ people who (like me) answered all the questions and left. And that got me thinking about if that is the expected response to a survey (answer and get out). It seems like a forum would lend itself more to… discussion? And that led me to the question in the subject line: what is it like to be a part of a forum community?

So what is it like to be a part of a forum community? Is it primarily about reading? Is it working against the Discourse design principles and posting more than you read? Is it having a particular recurring goal, like seeing what people are talking about this week, or getting something off your chest? Or is it about what happens in your head, like getting attached to the people in the forum, or the way it makes you feel to surf it? Maybe another way to put it is, how would you distinguish a forum community member from a non-member?

And what are the ways people transition to being part of a forum community? Does it really start with reading a lot until you feel like posting? Does it start with writing a post like this and becoming attached to the people who reply? :slight_smile: Or something else?

What’s your mental model of what makes a community, and how people come to be a part of it?

And nice to meet you!

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Interesting post, @alltom, thanks for sharing!

I suspect most people who join forums generally read but do not participate. I would guess that the trigger for participation in the discussion will primary be content - the discussion will need to be something they are (a) interested in and (b) feel they can offer an opinion about.

Your survey example raises an interesting question in my head. We have had quite a few people respond to the survey I posted, but fewer people open up a reply. This could suggest that the act of opening up a reply has a considerably higher cognitive load than merely clicking on answers. If this is the case, could forums potentially offer ways to participate in the discussion that involve clicking things as opposed to typing things?

I would be curious to see what Jeff Atwood and the Discourse team thinks of this.

I think it is a mixture of things. There is no doubt that when a forum has a lot of regulars posting, there is a lot of value in discussing topics with people you know or recognize. There is something satisfying about having a conversation with people you respect too.

As for the type of content such as sharing ideas, getting something off your chest, or otherwise, I am guessing much of this is dependent on the person. It would be really interesting to see if there is something such as forum profile types where people to tend to have a proclivity to certain types of responses. For example, I know some people online who resort to a lot of snark, some who are very detail/stats orientated, some who are very cynical etc - I wonder if we could perform data analysis to assess these different profile types.

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts here - what has converted you folks from a reader to a writer?

My hunch would be it is fundamentally content. If someone regularly sees content they are interested in, they are more likely to reply. If they regularly see content they are less interested in, they may just read and skm.

You know, the pattern of reading versus contributing carries over into most things we touch. Gamification studies show that we mostly want to social, but that the on-boarding process usually fails to deliver this.

So lets conside (this) forum. Whats the most popular forum entry? New User introductions. (90 replies). What’s likely right about that. Well, it has a clear call to action, examples (previous posts) of how and what to say, immediate feedback on success and social (part of the in crowd).

So where are we failing. There really is no clear level 2 for people to hit next. (Using level 2, 3, etc as game levels, nothing specific.What’s the next activity that they should broach? Where can we put something that get’s them into the habit of communicating?

Surveys are often a great level 2. However, we can then either expand the playing field of level 2 (kind of like the surveys on ICanHazCheezburger. But it may not in itself promote a level 3, active involvement or conversational approach.

Again, using gamification and Bartle’s, we have 4 categories, Socializers (70%+) Explorers, Achievers and Killers. So we obviously are missing something int he social aspect.

This image (not mine) gives an idea of social actions.

If we write off the killers, assume the achievers aren’t interested, then can we expand our actions for the Socializers and Explorers?

Finally, I think the universe of members needs to expand. Maybe even an each one invite one or something. I don’t know how many people are members but 5.8K views of 90 new member replies seems telling.

anyway, apologies for rambling


This conversation is pretty old, but it has me intrigued because I am relaunching an online community with forum-like features and interested in ways to get the community members interacting with each other.

For me, I feel like a member of a forum community once I’ve read enough posts to know the norms of the community, am familiar with the general attitude and tone of the posts, find the topics of discussion interesting, and have gotten comfortable enough to comment on a few posts.

@jonobacon is exactly right about why I would post in a community - being interested and feeling that my opinion is valuable. We all have a different threshold for considering our opinion to be valuable to others, and I think part of that is how community members respond to each other (and whether they respond at all).

I like the idea of using gamification to encourage participation, but the ways that I’ve seen it used seem to be more like a side benefit to participating, rather than a driver of participation. The social actions on the image shared by @davemc definitely give me a starting point for thinking about ways to encourage participation by community members. I think that finding different ways to encourage these types of actions would be a good place to start.

Thanks to for being the kind sponsor for this forum!