Friday, August 18, 2006


Earlier this month, Tim over at Library Thing posted an introduction to their new "Talk" feature, under the heading Forums are Broken (thanks Joe). In his post, he outlined the difficulties with forums that WebJunction has been struggling with since we went live all the way back in 2003. I perked up because, as the Community Manager at the WJ, I am a bit of an advocate for online communication whatever the format. And I've been paying attention to the DeathMatch discussions as online communication tools have changed over time.

At WebJunction we talk a lot about "Read, Learn, and Share." Our original concept was to place discussions (forums, blogs) side by side with articles and courses, so that no matter what you're interested in or looking for, you find the info you need (regardless of format). The point was not to be the forums, or the posts, or the articles, or the courses. The point was to be the information and the people behind it - and to find them all together. Maybe we were thinking mashup but didn't have the vocabulary, tools, resources, or even examples to draw from in our original design.

Our vision was never quite realized at least through our technology at the topic level. You can certainly say that WebJunction is a single space where you can do/see it "all" come together, but our applications are still siloed. But over time we've realized that some individuals in our community have different formatting preferences - and these relate to those disparate applications. Some people prefer forums. They're the "message board people" and I think it's something like 5-6% of our registered members have posted there at least once. Then you've got the "course people" who come to WJ just to take a course, and it's something like 50% of our members have enrolled in at least one course. Then you've got the "content people" - our biggest group - and these are our visitors and members, the folks who browse and search, and something more than 200,000 have visited our community at least once. Are these preferences due in part to the fact that we never were able to pull the applications together on a single page? (Do try our new search for the closest we've got to aggregating our applications thus far. And we do some manual linking in the meantime.)

George's recent perceptions post (on different communication styles and points of view) also brings to mind the different tech formats that online users are comfortable with. Surely some of these differences will always just be there, and we'll continue to see the discussions about how forums are better than blogs, and talk is better than forums, etc. Surely I don't deny the need to constantly push forward our technologies - making them more integrated, useful, usable, and convenient. Part of that is saying this new thing is better than that old thing. But isn't the point ... and perhaps I say this just to remind myself and all of us what we're actually doing here ... just to get us connected and talking to each other? Let's keep our overall purpose in the forefront as we continue to develop the tools we use online.

I look forward to seeing how Talk plays out for Library Thing. And at WebJunction we'll continue to work to pull all of our applications and formats together (whatever they are) so that we can also make some connections between folks who are now siloed, perhaps not by their own personal preferences, but by the disaggregation we're currently bound by.

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