Before we launched this site, about 150 testers mostly recent users of the old sites forums spent two weeks on specially set-up forums giving us valuable feedback about our new baby.
Were giving our responses to that feedback here partly as a grateful acknowledgement of all the thoughtful comments that were made, and partly so that the testers and new visitors can see where were planning to go and whats in hand.
One thing we must stress is that the overall development will be in terms of months not weeks. A few things can be changed quickly; others take ages to do properly. While you (and we) have come up with tons of great ideas for the future, we avoid quick botched programming because it breaks under stress, is frequently not user-friendly, and often dont work well with the rest of the site.
In short, you complemented us on the new look and content, commented that the pages downloaded quickly, and said you found it easy to move around the site. There were no major errors, which meant we breathed a sigh of relief. However, most testers found the old forums easier to use. Read on for more details (starting with forum comments, then events comments, then membership comments, then articles comments.)
Anonymity / Nicknames:
Many testers wanted to be able to use nicknames in the forum.
Response: We developed a temporary-fix nickname system. We do need to do more programming to make the nickname appear in place of the real name on your submit forum post page etc.
"What's the difference between a thread and a topic?" Unfortunately the old and new forums use different terms. "What you have called topics is the old forums. The threads are what we know as subjects." said one tester/
Response: We may not be able to make the change fortunately people seem to be getting used to it quickly.
Clarity of join requirement for forum:
"It took me a while to realise that I had to join the site before I could post."
Response: Well make the Join wording clearer and put in more links. In the longer-term, we could allow members to join at the same time as they post their first message.
Email Enabled forum control not clear:
"What does "e-mail enabled" mean?"
Response: This means you have chosen to let other people email you from the site (without seeing your email address). We aim to clarify this.
Threaded vs Conversational Forums:
The new forums are of a type that seem to be popular with beginners and people who like faster-moving conversations. However, many of our testers wanted a threaded forum option as per the old forums.
Response: We were bracing ourselves for a bumpy ride (a) because nobody likes change, and (b) because the old forums were pretty slick (they were hosted by an external company and could not be integrated into the articles and member system of the new site.) We are considering options to make the new forum as user-friendly as possible possibly by offering a threaded option. Were also quickly going to integrate it into the site even more, by linking it to all the individual races in the Race Diary, as well as all the sites articles, as it is currently. The slight relief for us is that we have seen similar forum software used on other sites, so we know its well tested. Also, on those sites, the forums gained many more users and grew on new, faster, growth curves after an initial month or two of quieter times as people settled in.
Listing of forum messages 10 at a time:
A couple of users asked. "Is it possible to get rid of the restriction of 10 messages on a page?".
Response: This is perfectly possible and a nice idea. We may only offer it as a subscriber option, as it makes the pages slower to build and download, and slows the site down for everyone else.
URWFRC site integration:
The Unofficial Runners World Forum Running Club site currently displays the old forum within its frame. Their designer asked if this will still be possible.
Response: It would take quite a lot of programming, so we wouldnt be able to do it quickly. It also raises issues about the way the forum is integrated into other areas of the new site, such as the articles and the membership system.
Autosignatures / Tag lines in forum:
Several people suggested they liked the ability on the old site to add a standard forum signature at the end of every post.
Response: This is a nice idea and a feature that we will aim to develop reasonably quickly.
Confusion over how to post photos:
Several users had difficulty re-sizing photos.
Response: We were delighted to see that forum users quickly started to help each other out with this, and re-size each others photos. Still, we could also aim to create a page of links to free software packages that allow you to do this.
Carrying membership over from the old sites forums:
Several people asked if we could incorporate and import old forum user profiles and the message content itself.
Response: Its sadly not possible, as the new membership system is so much more sophisticated. (At the minimum level, it needs your postcode (to help you find your local races, for instance).
Carrying messages over from the old sites forums:
Some people wanted to retain the old sites messages as a reference archive.
Response: We wont be able to incorporate them into the new site, but we are looking into keeping the old forum available on a read-only basis for reference.
Edit last post:
Many people asked if they could have the edit last post button (for a 30 min window or simply for the last post if nobody has posted on top of it?)
Response: This is do-able and a nice idea. It could be a premium service, perhaps.
Email notification confusion:
Many people were posting in threads in order to turn off their notification.
Response: This was because the disable links in the emails werent live on the test site. Now they are. We could also add more help if it seems to be a problem.
Page too narrow:
Many people commented that the forum was too narrow with the pods down the side.
Response: The truth is that this more sophisticated site needs to host more marketing and ads than the old site did, to pay the bills. But we dont want to lose forum users. One thing were considering which would take significant time to programme, and cost us advertising is removing the pods on the right-hand side of the forum pages.
New flags remaining for duration of visit:
Several people commented that the new flags on unread posts should last for the entire duration of the visit.
Response: Yes, there is no doubt this would be a nice feature, and it is possible. However it will take a while to do correctly. Keeping an exact record of who has read what would load up the servers lots and slow down the site operation unless developed very carefully.
Text font too small:
Some people found the forum text font too small to read comfortably.
Response: We made a quick fix that allows you to change the viewing size on your browser. However, that affects the whole site and doesnt solve the problem properly. The best longer-term solution is to allow people to set their preferred text font size in their forum controls.
If you try to claim the same nickname as another member, you get no explanation of why the nickname was rejected.
Response: This will be corrected in the longer-term solution to the nickname quick fix.
Response notification functioning erratically:
Two people have complained that their default settings changed between visits.
Response: We have not been able to replicate this error, however, the readers do appear quite certain they have done the right thing. We are investigating all lines in the code, and every circumstance under which it could change these defaults.
No events found message wasnt clear:
When no events are found in a search, a small message is shown above a repeat of the search form. Some people didnt see the message and thought the form just hadnt submitted properly.
Response: Well clarify this.
Not enough events:
Response: We'd only put in a handful of the events we know about when the testers first visited the site. Now we a full comprehensive listing stretching beyond December.
Confusion on My Page / My Forum controls:
"I didn't understand the customisation options for my page or my forums - examples would help"
Response: We should at least clarify the wording of these controls. They are not self explanatory at this stage. Some handholding could help fix the problem.
Problem knowing subs numbers:
Several people asked how they could get hold of their subs numbers before the next magazine comes out.
Response: At the moment you can call our subscription handlers on 01858 438852.
Lack of clear global search:
"It took me ages to find out how to do a search of the site. Can I do a global search, or only by beginner, events etc?"
Response: We have so much good content that making a powerful search is a high priority for us. You can currently do a global search, but you have to use the advanced search link which appears on the same page as your search results. Developing a comprehensive search function that is easily accessible, ranks the results and doesnt crash the servers at the same time is a big programming project, but we will do it.
Call for more of the human side of the magazine on the site:
I can't see any presence from your magazine columnists. I would guess that pages such as the Penguin and Finish Line are some of the best read in the mag - why not give them a higher profile on the website?
Response: We will do, we promise. We were concentrating on the how to articles first.
"In the injury section, it would be useful to have some photos/drawings etc to identify injured bits. Every injury just has a knee at the moment."
Response: Its high on our to-do list. Injuries, then shoes, then other products.