A question about the discussion forum experience

9 Sep 2008 - 10:20am
6 years ago
2 replies
941 reads
Alex Jones
2007

Howdy all, I'm wrestling with a small difference around forum behavior that I hope will generate some interesting conversation here.

When you return to a forum that you are a member of (you have an account and are logged in), and that forum displays the count of unread posts for each discussion topic (12 unread out of 50), which of these two options makes more sense from an end-user point of view:

- Clicking on the link delivers you to the last post you read

- Clicking on the link delivers you to the first post you haven't read

The difference is small and in many instances it doesn't have a large impact, but there are a couple of views that can impact the setup:

A) A user returning after a lengthy absence may benefit from reviewing the last post they saw to regain context.

B) An active user may be annoyed that they are taken to something they have just read, when they were expecting to see the next discussion post

This is complicated further when the last read post is the last item on Page 1, and the first unread post is the first item on Page 2. If the user is taken to the last post on Page 1, the active user must click again to get into the conversation. If the user is taken to the first item on Page 2, the user who is returning after a length of time may not remember the text and tone of the previous discussion points.

Any thoughts, real world experiences or recommendations would be very appreciated.

Cheers,

Alex

Comments

9 Sep 2008 - 10:51am
Mark Hurd
2008

I'm an active member of several forums, and I personally would prefer
to be redirected to the first unread post. Granted, I normally visit
once per day so I don't need a context refresher. In the event that
I *do* need to refresh my memory, scrolling up a few posts or
clicking back a few pages has never been an annoyance.

In observing users of one very active forum, if someone is in fact
away for a long period of time, there's normally a *lot* of unread
posts. The majority users take a "meh, screw it" approach and mark
everything as read rather than look for a specific topic from several
weeks ago.

So, in my case, users coming back after a long absence are few and
far between compared to regular visitors. I'd rather cater to the
folks visiting multiple times per day.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=32780

11 Sep 2008 - 5:31pm
Alex Jones
2007

Thanks to everyone for the replies, they've been very helpful. My apologies for the delayed response. I'm going to group my responses in this message instead of sending several replies and filling everyone's inboxes.

Diana: The idea of double-posting the replies is interesting. I've been thinking about including and/or highlighting the previously read post directly above the first unread one. Thanks for the pointers to ChowHound and Lonely Planet - they have nice clean designs.

Nick: Providing the user both options is a possibility, but I'm avoiding it as I think it will add a lot of clutter to the forum interface, as every single discussion would need both links in addition to every other bit of discussion information (title, total count, unread count, last poster...)

Donny: Thanks for sharing your subscription practice. Sadly this is a purely Web-based forum, so the users of the boards won't have Gmail's capabilities.

Mark: Your opinion closely matches my own (link to the first unread post), as the fact that the user is returning to a discussion indicates an interest in the topic and a higher likelihood of understanding/remembering the context of the original post.

Another IXDA'er (I think) posted a link to QBN, but I can't find the e-mail now, so my apologies to the poster. QBN's forums take a different tact in some of their decisions which I rather like (http://www.qbn.com/ - a good topic to view is http://www.qbn.com/topics/535303/):

The discussion view is single-threaded, but they've added the ability to add comments to each post, and they've limited the size of the comments. This method provides a couple of interesting attributes to a discussion:
1. It naturally separates one-off replies ("nice work", "Gallery was best part :) The rest of the site feels left behind :(", "love it, bookmarked") from the larger discussion. Users aren't forced to read through off-topic or content-light posts in order to participate in the core conversation.
2. More of the core discussion is available per-page, and there may be a higher likelihood of people staying on-topic for full posts.
3. People may feel more comfortable providing quick feedback ("nice work") in a comment that takes up little room than they would creating an entire post/reply. The UI doesn't provide much display room per comment, so if they want to write a lot, they have to use the forum Reply functionality

And directly related to my initial topic, QBN has a "Dog-ear" concept, which allows viewers to mark their place in the conversation. When they return to a discussion they've dog-eared, the system takes them to the next item after the dog-ear. So instead of tracking last-read on the backend, the user takes an action to mark the spot to which they want to return.

Thanks again to everyone!

Alex

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