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Managing successful online communities

Matt
 

The hidden cost of doing nothing

I'm sure that most reading this blog are running an up-to-date Invision Community and enjoying all the benefits of a modern community platform.

Little things that get taken for granted now, like being able to view your community on a mobile phone without pinching and zooming just to read a few posts and having multiple automated tools to deal with community toxicity and spam.

However, a little wander around the web soon uncovers some really old forum systems still somehow creaking along.

Amazingly, most of these communities are still used daily, often with millions of posts in the archives.

It might be tempting to ask why keep upgrading and investing in new versions of the software?

After all, if the community is still running just fine and getting daily visitors, then it's ok to do nothing, right?

But there is a hidden cost in doing nothing.

Security
This is the main one for me. Old platforms often have several published security vulnerabilities. Often these vulnerabilities are exploited by scripts that are shared around hacker communities. This means exploiting a website running an old version of a forum system is as simple as running a script and pointing it at your site.

Older forums are also less sophisticated. They rely on unsafe hashing methods to store passwords and lack vital features like two-factor authentication.

Also, consider that the server environment has to be maintained with out of date PHP and MySQL versions. It's a recipe for disaster.

Could your community survive a major exploit where data is downloaded into the hands of a hacker?

The cost could be fatal to your community.

Declining engagement
Even the most ardent of fans on your community will eventually tire of struggling to access your site on mobile devices.

I think back to 2002 when we created the first version of our software. We only had to focus on how it looked on a computer, so naturally, that influenced the design of the forum.

It's not so simple now. More and more of us are using mobile phones to access the internet. A recent statistic showed that mobile internet access outstrips desktop use 2 to 1; and for some countries, mobile internet access is almost the only way people get online.

It's just a matter of time before new members stop registering and engagement tails off.

Competition
At the end of 2018, there were 1.8 billion websites (I Googled it). The competition for attention has never been as fierce.

Your community may be the go-to place for your niche, but what if another community popped up running the latest version of a platform with all the features your members have been desperately asking for?

It may not take long until there is a massive drain from your community.

I'm sure there's a dozen reasons to make sure you're always re-investing in your community by upgrading to a modern platform. This blog merely scratches the surface.

For those of you that do invest and upgrade? You reap the benefits daily by ensuring you are doing the very best for your community by keeping it secure and accessible for most.

If you are on an older platform, now is the time to put some serious thought into making the move to something better.

I put together a little downloadable guide that might help too.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Edited by Matt


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I am really in love with Invision. All things were so simple back in 2004 as I have started with my community. I could do everything from SEO to design myself. Today it is just impossible to keep up with all the changes out there. It became so complicated. Therefore I am so happy that I have you, boys :rolleyes: You make my life easier and my community were meanwhile dead without this platform. 

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3 minutes ago, Sonya* said:

I am really in love with Invision. All things were so simple back in 2004 as I have started with my community. I could do everything from SEO to design myself. Today it is just impossible to keep up with all the changes out there. It became so complicated. Therefore I am so happy that I have you, boys :rolleyes: You make my life easier and my community were meanwhile dead without this platform. 

Thanks for the kind words! That's how it should be. Let us research and work on the tools, like SEO and you just focus on running your community. A perfect partnership!

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There's a regulatory and compliance concern with staying updated.  GDPR had far reaching implications for communities that provide services or products in the EU, and communities have to upgrade to stay in compliance with GDPR features.  This is on top of the general security and bug fixes in every major update.  

This IPS blog post is actually a great follow up to mine on competition.  Although I talked about competition in a general sense, reacting opportunistically includes keeping up with technology advancements -- a fundamental aspect for online communities or digital brands.  The hidden costs of staying behind are real for professional communities. 

For example:

  • Cost of bad performance.  According to Forrester Consulting, two seconds is the threshold for an average online shopper's expectations and 40% of shoppers will abandon your site after 3 seconds. [Source]
  • Cost of not being mobile friendly.   According to market research from iAcquire, 40% of users will go back and click another search engine result if the first one they land on is not mobile-friendly.  [Source]
  • Cost of distracting registrations.  Using  burdensome registration forms are a barrier for guests and diminish their motivation  (Preece et al., 2004).

All of these pain points of outdated technology are addressed in IPS 4.4 which includes performance improvements, mobile improvements, and registration improvements.  

Online communities who don't stay updated are incurring a very real cost of depreciation that hurts their engagement, their membership, their conversions, and their digital sales.  

Edited by Joel R

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I try to de-risk "getting stuck" as much as possible and always think ahead to the next update.

In anticipation of 4.4 I'm looking at the limited number of third party addons I use and assessing whether they'll be updated in a timely fashion, and will seek alternatives if it appears they may hold back an update by an unreasonable amount of time.

I also planned ahead by migrating from CentOS 6.10 to CentOS 7.6 in the last week, allowing me to enable HTTP/2 and ALPN, and have PHP 7.3 ready to go.

Bring on the cutting edge. 😀

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I was exactly in this situation a while ago, out-of-date softwares and server on a big community. Just because updating was a lot of efforts, and I always had bettor to do of the little amount of time I had. Then a server crash brutally accelerated the process, and I worked a lot to migrate on some brand new hardware and software, including migrating on Invision. All what you are saying in this article came true: better safety, better SEO, better engagement. Soon the statistics began to grow rapidly after years of stagnation (in particular on mobile), administration was much simpler and time-sparring, and I could enjoy developing much more complicated functions.

So, long live invision 🙂 

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I'm going to skip the security part with regards to staying up to date as well as taking backups etc as that's well covered. I wanted to speak a little about the 'community' rather than 'sysadmin' side:

 

I think one of the concerns admins may have with a major version update aside from any third party addons they use (although a good thinking admin will have already spent a few minutes looking for updated versions of these anyway well in advance and likely obtained and tested them) is simply ensuring two things:

1. That the community is informed it is being upgraded, this is really only a concern in most cases if its a large upgrade (say for instance coming from a competitors software or perhaps say a 2x or 3x to 4x upgrade)

2. Providing initial 'helping hands' guides where needed. Only needed really for major changes.

Let me expand on (1) , by this I mean giving the community plenty of notice of this, ideally with some screenshots of the 'new' community and where possible a private test site of it where a few trusted members can post / play with it and give their thoughts. The time factor here is quite important I feel.

To expand a bit on (2) A few simple guides, even if they are just a couple of sentences each such as "how do I now do xyz" or "what happened to xyz" or "where is xyz" , these things can go a long way to help avoid problems provided they are kept simple and straightforward, ideally just a few essential words. Those who need more information will be able to ask or find it easily enough.

I should point out I've not read Matt's guide before I wrote the above (honest) but I expect it will likely touch on these points.

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On 2/16/2019 at 9:13 PM, The Heff said:

I try to de-risk "getting stuck" as much as possible and always think ahead to the next update.

In anticipation of 4.4 I'm looking at the limited number of third party addons I use and assessing whether they'll be updated in a timely fashion, and will seek alternatives if it appears they may hold back an update by an unreasonable amount of time.

I also planned ahead by migrating from CentOS 6.10 to CentOS 7.6 in the last week, allowing me to enable HTTP/2 and ALPN, and have PHP 7.3 ready to go.

Bring on the cutting edge. 😀

Not to mention the fact that CentOS 6.x reaches EOL some time next year. 🙂

But the points made here need repeating: despite the hassle and inevitable hand-wringing involved with upgrading one's live site (compound this if you use many third-party apps and plugins, all of whom almost certainly have their own update schedules which will not coincide with yours), IMHO there is no excuse to fall behind to the point where you're still using 3.x.

I don't always agree with the priorities re: what gets added and when, or what gets dropped from v3 to v4, but it's the world we live in.

Oh, and...backup backup backup.

Edited by liquidfractal

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I think that AndyF has touched upon a few somethings that is extremely important whether you are the sysadmin or a member / user.

There used to be printed documentation (both User and Manager) for the board software and certainly as an Admin or Moderator one must be completely familiar with how to manage certain aspects of the board.  And if your board attracts new users who are unfamiliar with how to operate or manage this new fantastic software, there is absolutely no help for that newbie. That said, finding answers 'on-line' seams simple enough:  If you are on-line all day and can multitask with multiple windows or apps on whatever device you are using.

However:  Some of us suck up this management how-to's while doing other multitasking's when not connected to devices.  Studying a "User Manual" on an airplane while jam'n to some tunes in your headphones as example, or chill'n on some other 'not connected' event or activity allows for the complete concentration of the material one is reading.  It also allows for making notes in the sidebars and even the 'folding over' of a corner of a page for quick re-reference.

While I realize keeping software management / usage documentation and/or end-user documentation up to date can be a humongous task, there is software available to manage such a project.  Obviously ours is managed by software:  I just don't understand why it's just not available to sys admins / moderators in a 'print' version. 

And; a User Manual that might help that unfamiliar user set up his notifications and account data,, and/or manage their own data and/or notifications from the board, would most defiantly be of value.

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5 hours ago, da1Bear said:

I think that AndyF has touched upon a few somethings that is extremely important whether you are the sysadmin or a member / user.

There used to be printed documentation (both User and Manager) for the board software and certainly as an Admin or Moderator one must be completely familiar with how to manage certain aspects of the board

Thank you. 🙂

I think for the 'user experience' a heavy read is too much (think back to when you last purchased something electronic with a large manual, although ancient these days a VCR is still a good example) , not many would read the manual unless they had problems.

All I think I'm saying really is a few 'keep it simple' short and sweet 'how do I' or 'What happened to' paragraphs are usually enough for those members to find their feet in the new environment. Generally that seems to be OK and those that still have any concerns would usually initiate contact with the site staff.

Detailed erm stuff, that's fine for those who want it (some members/users may) and for the site owners/admin's who will no doubt want it too.

Edited by AndyF

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OK, the thought of a 'lite read' for a 'How Do I ...' and/or other queries could be enough.  Perhaps then a link to a more 'detailed' explanation or example(s) or even one of Matt's videos could be posted with the simple, easy to follow documentation.

BUT: I still say, perhaps we don't need 'the VCR manual' ( how many bink'n clocks do you remember seeing? ), but some kind of printed document for reference. 

Especially if it is in a 3-ring binder, again, as an example, since any updated pages could then be printed and simply inserted to re-place the out-date one. 

Running a board, as an Administrator or a Moderator, can be a donning task with a very heavy responsibility.   One simple mistake when one did not completely understand it's usage, could literally destroy not only the functionality of the software, or the security, but most importantly, the trust of your users who don't want to hear about how someone accidentally 'clicked on the wrong ...'

For a bunch of guys & gals that are really, really good at authoring software, the simple online documentation provided leaves a whole lot to be desired & should have a 'print version' available (imo).

 

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11 hours ago, da1Bear said:

how many bink'n clocks do you remember seeing?

Far too many! :D

11 hours ago, da1Bear said:

Especially if it is in a 3-ring binder, again, as an example, since any updated pages could then be printed and simply inserted to re-place the out-date one.

This was done at one point, well there was a book way way back iirc. Problem really being the speed at which software development moves (generally, not just here) compared to physical paper book publication...

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Respectfully, I believe you're likely in the minority if you wish to print out a manual for web software to read "offline". Most administrators are more interested in referencing documentation online when it comes to web software in practice.

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"Most administrators ..."   You may be correct.  And most certainly, 'users' would like on-line and most likely not in any way, want to 'print' a "How To".

But again; there is no "User Manuel" for the user with-out revealing how the innards are configured or can work.  And I would still venture to say that SysOp's & Mod's would appreciate a printed version.

Here is an idea:

How bout we set-up a poll here in our forums and find out if A) a printed manual would be desired, and B) if there should be a separate Manager/ Moderator/ Owner Manual and a separate "User Manual??

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