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How can we explain the benefits of a SE 2.0 site to people who have never heard of StackOverflow, and only use forums (if that)? For instance, when I posted on a Blender forum about a proposal, the response was, "we already have a Forum".

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A little off topic but this is why I don't like the rep counting towards commitment percentage: not all Q&A subjects are for technical people into the Trilogy. –  Bob Jun 18 '10 at 22:48
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"we already have a Forum" IMO that's a good point, why replace an existing community where people can already get answers? –  Gelatin Jun 18 '10 at 23:06
    
@Simon, I don't think it should replace the existing forums. For instance, the Unity game engine has a set of forums and UnityAnswers.com, which have no problems co-existing. They are fundamentally different formats. I'm just wondering how best to explain that. –  John C Jun 18 '10 at 23:16
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If there's already a forum with the network effect, why would people abandon it just for a better format? –  Gelatin Jun 19 '10 at 0:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I would give Simon Brown's comment a +1 if I could. If I put myself into the shoes of, say, the owner of a blender forum, that's exactly what I would think. I wouldn't want two online communities (a forum and a SE site) - that could lead to quite a bit of user confusion. And the hurdles of transferring my existing community onto another platform - even if the other platform was fantastic - is significant. I would need to see actual business & community value to compensate for the effort.

To market this to non-technical people, I think we have to look at the two core audiences of SE sites:

  1. Community administrators - the people who will be setting up and operating the SE-powered sites
  2. Community members - the end-users who will be interacting on SE-powered sites

Below, I'll give my opinions & suggestions on addressing each of these core audiences. Many pardons for a lengthy post here.


Community Administrators

Let's look at community admins first. What are their needs? In varying levels, they may be:

  • To increase user retention on their sites
  • To add SEO benefits to their sites
  • To monetize their traffic
  • To provide a place for engaging discussions of a particular topic in which they are passionate

Next, let's look at their concerns in adding another community platform:

  • May result in confusion and frustrated users, and possible loss of traffic
  • May not provide any additional value to the community
    • While both are different systems with slightly different use cases, the core user benefit is the same and will likely be viewed as the same by the end users. Even I see them as being very similar, and I regularly use both SE-powered sites & forums.
  • May be difficult & costly to set up, especially if they need to hire a developer
  • May not be as monetizable
    • I personally love how few ads there are on SE-powered sites. But many forum operators won't, especially if they're trying to monetize their traffic.

Now, let's look at their concerns in replacing their forum with another community platform:

  • May be difficult & costly to set up, especially if they need to hire a developer
  • May not be as monetizable
  • May be difficult & costly (or impossible) to migrate all current content onto the new platform
    • I don't think this is possible, but I could be wrong.
  • May be difficult & costly (or impossible) to migrate all current users onto the new platform
    • I don't think this is possible, but I could be wrong.

Those are quite some hurdles. All is not lost though. Some of the benefits I see in SE over a traditional forum like phpBB are:

  • Better UI, resulting in a more enjoyable experience and user retention
  • Better discovery features, resulting in more content being seen and more activity occurring in the community
  • Better quality controls in terms of the advanced reputation system

I'm sure some of you can think of other benefits too. These bullet points can be used as part of the marketing message towards explaining why SE is better than a forum. They could fall under an umbrella message of:

"This is community 2.0. This is the next generation of online forums. SE will bubble quality content to the top and hide bad content, raising the overall quality of your community. It will also provide incentives using game mechanics (e.g. points, badges, etc) to increase user engagement & retention. Etc etc"

That's just an example of how SE could be positioned. Then it should be followed up with details on how SE could be installed with minimal fuss & expense. At this point, I would say the best way to market a product is to build a great product. I already think SE is a great product, but some features to make installation & migration super-easy may be necessary for further adoption, such as:

  • A way to migrate user accounts (username, profile, reputation, password, etc) from a forum like phpBB to SE
  • A way to migrate forum content to SE
  • An option to keep the existing URLs of the forum, or a way to automatically build 301 redirects of the old URLs to the new ones within SE
  • Perhaps some instructions on how to set up a beta SE site in addition to the current forum would be nice. This would give their end-users a way to play with the new forum, get used to the idea, then make the transfer.

Community Members

Whew. That was long. Okay, let's look at community members now. What are their needs? In varying levels, they may be:

  • To seek answers and get information on specific topics
  • To feel a sense of belonging to a community of peers
  • To become a recognized expert on a particular topic (ego gratification)
  • To be able to interact easily with other members

Their concerns in migrating to another community platform might be:

  • Learning to use a new UI and system
  • Keeping their current reputation on the new system

I may be biased, but I think SE would address their needs better than traditional forum systems can. Learning a new UI would be the biggest hurdle, but giving them a beta site to play with could alleviate those pains. Migrating their accounts & content over would satisfy their other concerns.

Obviously, I think aiming for the community administrators is the more effective way to increase the adoption of SE. It's perhaps possible to market SE so well that non-technical communities could be clamoring, "Adopt SE now! Adopt SE now! Adopt SE now!" But it might be more cost-effective to market to community admins first.

My $0.02. I hope this helps.

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Sounds great, except for the Migrating their accounts & content part, which SE isn't going to do. –  John C Jun 19 '10 at 1:35
    
I hear ya. Being a Q&A platform and not a forum, I can see why. I imagine it would be pretty tricky to implement too. –  Mike Lee Jun 19 '10 at 7:55

Point out the main benefits of the SE software.

  1. The best answers rise to the top of the page.
  2. Answers can be edited so they remain relevant.

We programmers were already familiar with existing forums that didn't have these features. Remember how frustrating it was to search and find only outdated information, or have to sift through a thread to (maybe) find the answer you're looking for? In my mind these are the main problems that SO fixes.

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A good slogan can go a long way.

What about this:

S-Ex. It can be better.

(I'll delete if flagged, since 9% of SE visitors are minors!)

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