Yeah, emails would be a very bad idea -- except for maybe a true
special request or fundraising request no more than once every 6 months (Jimmy Wales has it right).
Also, a great many "users" are spammers. Some are blatant, and we've done a good job zapping those. Some are more subtle, like this
Many users are Looky-Lous who only have accounts so that they can track what they've read and/or see "members only" stuff (they think).
Content is king and the DCF has some good content, BUT it may be hard for people to find that which tickles their fancy. The DC audience is also not mainstream, but many potential fans have never heard of DC (every time I mention it to people, they've never heard of it).
But, you asked for forum improvement suggestions, not the need for more promotion and marketing, so...Forum improvement:
- See Jakob Nielsen's guides. Starting with Top 10 Mistakes in Web Design.
- The DCF would annoy the hell out of me but for my Greasemonkey script -- which makes it tolerable.
Links, text-contrast and size, color-coding, and built-in page delays -- these all need improvement or elimination.
Users want fast sites that are easy to Grok, and don't strain the eyes when reading for any length of time.
- Super-long threads can intimidate some users (not sure if this is a bad thing, though ).
- Fix the page titles per usability guidelines.
For example, this page is titled:
"The Drabblecast Forums • View topic - Forum improvement suggestions?"
It should be:
"Forum improvement suggestions? -- The Drabblecast forums -- View topic"
"Forum improvement suggestions? -- The Drabblecast forums"
- Many big improvements are difficult or impossible in a forum format, see below.
- Make the forum iPhone-friendly! See Jakob Nielsen again.
- Consider simplified, human-friendly access to key/big areas. For example, drabblecast.org/drabbles, drabblecast.org/twabbles, drabblecast.org/megabeasts, etc.
Use URL paths as much as possible instead of sub-domains (drabblecast.org/forums versus forums.drabblecast.org). This is especially important for "Single sign-on".
- Get that #$%@&*! squatter off of Drabblecast.com!
- Provide ways to Classify, vote and rank stories and podcasts. See the way Stack Overflow works for ideas.
- Search by rank and category to match the above.
- Speed-test the site, to make sure that every page loads in 0.5 seconds or less (for you, it WILL be slower for others depending on net state, their country, etc.). If meta-refresh is used at all, it should be instant.
- User-test the site. Take people who are not experienced with the site (or at least the aspect you are testing), ask them to do task-X, then shut up completely and record their struggles (not what they say, what they do).
- Make the site(s) iPhone-friendly. See Jakob Nielsen again.
- Monitor the server logs. Look for patterns of use that will suggest what users wanted to do and what difficulties they had.
Ruthlessly address every 404.
- Come up with a marketing plan.