4 Mar 08

Since we’re building a new website for my chapter of PSALA (www.psala.org) , one of the features our developer (ProMotion Arts) is offering is a User Forum. Being one of the tech savvy on our web committee and in our local legal community I often use online user forums for lots of things. I’m discovering however, that many of my colleagues may not know what an Online User Forum is and/or how it’s used. Let me try to run that one down for you.

Let’s draw a comparison!

Currently members of PSALA have access to ListServs. As we (most of us) know right now, a ListServ is like an email broadcast subscription system where you can send a message out to a large group and a moderator can approve or disapprove each message or response. Once subscribed to a ListServ you can choose if you receive an email every time a message is approved OR whether you want to receive a digest (one email containing all the day’s or week’s messages).

ListServs tend to be a bit more difficult to modify or manage from a user’s perspective AND from a moderator’s perspective. If you are subscribed to a ListServ, do you know how to login to modify your subscription? Do you know all the options? Since you generally only read the messages vea email, it’s likely that when you receive a ListServ email you either just read and delete them OR maybe you’ve even put a filter in your Outlook to automatically delete them. I’m sure there are a handful of folks who login and update their ListServ profile and options on occasion, but those folks would seem to be the more rare.

Don’t get me wrong, I like ListServs well enough. They do serve a good purpose, but there’s something better! Welcome to the new world of the Online User Forum.

So, here’s the gist, an Online Forum is based online, meaning on a website as opposed to via email. On the website you’ll have all your main topics, for PSALA think of each of the sections (Finance, HR, Technology, etc.), then under those main topics you would have sub-topic like (under HR) Benefits, Dress Code, Hiring Policy, Firing Policy, Employment Law, etc. So, once the user finds the specific area they are interested in they can post a question for other users to read. Before that question or post is viewable by anyone a moderator, just like with many ListServs, still has to approve the content of the message. Perhaps under Hiring Policy they post a question/conversation like, “My firm is starting a hiring checklist and want some feedback on some of the best practices other firms are using. Is a three day orientation process too long?” When someone reads this question and wants to post a reply, right below this question will be a box where they input their reply and hit Post! That’s it!

With most Online User Forums once you submit a reply to a question/conversation you are automatically “subscribed” to that “thread” (a thread is that “conversation”, meaning that question with all the subsequent responses/posts). Each Online User Forum allows you to determine how your “subscribed threads” notify you of new posts. They can send you an email each time someone posts a reply OR a daily, weekly, or monthly digest of all the posts. It’s also possible to say, “DON’T email me”. In that case you can just come back to check in just when YOU want to read the materials.

Also, for me, there are occasions when I would like to check in on the HR side of things. So with an Online User Forum I can just browse all the threads which are of interest to the topic I have in mind OR I can post on any other subject and not just “my area’s” list.

Online Forums REALLY help in another HUGE way, it’s a great way to keep archives! I’ve seen a few questions that are circulated through the ListServ at least once a month…. and the same replies are also always posted! Why not have a place where all those common nagging questions are posted and maintained? If there’s an update you can always post a new message on the specific topic, or you can send out a post requesting an update.

Have I lost you yet? Or have I gotten through and now I’m just rambling?

I want your feedback. Do you have a favorite Online User Forum?

Here are my favorites (my user name is always “woodi68”):

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