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Old 28.09.2006, 16:34
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New forum structure

As we've discussed in other threads, the time has probably come to overhaul the structure of the forum. It's impossible to tell in advance what types of messages will be posted, therefore a forum's structure must evolve. At present we are approaching 14,000 posts spread across almost 1400 threads.

The proposed structure below represents a mix of the old and the new - in other words the historical structure has not been forgotten.

General
Sub forum: Life in Switzerland (Got something to say about life in Switzerland? If it doesn't fit in any other area, then maybe it will fit here...)
Sub forum: Introductions (Are you new in Switzerland or maybe just new to this forum. Drop in here and introduce yourself)
Sub forum: Swiss Politics/News (What's going on in Switzerland?)
Sub forum: Business and Entrepreneur (Information exchange for self-employed and business-oriented expats)
Sub forum: Complaints Corner (Something really annoyed you lately? Get it off your chest here. If easily offended, please look elsewhere)
Help and Tips
Sub forum: Permits/Visas/Government (Work permits, residence permit and visa issues, dealing with government)
Sub forum: Insurance (Health insurance, car insurance, any insurance-related issues)
Sub forum: TV/Internet/Telephone (Satellite TV discussions, internet access, cable, telephone issues)
Sub forum: Family Matters (Birth, death, marriage, divorce, school, etc.)
Sub forum: Transportation/Driving (Public transport issues, driver's license questions, buying cars, anything transport related)
Sub forum: Language Corner (Questions and answers for learners of German, French and Italian, translation help)
Sub forum: Employment (Rights at work, legal problems, employment conditions, contracts, etc.)
Sub forum: Other/General (Swiss-related questions or tips that don't seem to fit elsewhere)
Activities
Sub forum: Non-commercial Events (Private events organised directy by our members - ski trips, drinks, hikes, book readings, etc.)
Sub forum: Commercial Events (Public events which are of direct interest and relevance to the expat community)
Sub forum: Sports/Fitness (Life in Switzerland for the more active among us)
Sub forum: Travel/Day Trips/Free Time (Ideas, tips, questions)
Sub forum: Entertainment & Dining (Concerts, clubs, restaurant reviews, what's hot, what's not)
(all sub forums above this point would appear on their own line with full description - all sub forums below this point will be "collapsed" on the front page and will appear only as hyperlinks under their parent category on a single line. Therefore only three lines of space are required from this point for Market Place, Off-Topic and Support)

Market Place (Advertisement area)
Sub forum: Commercial (Promotion of commercial services run by our members (subject to limitations))
Sub forum: Jobs (Looking for work? Need to hire someone?)
Sub forum: Apartments (Moving out? Looking for place? Heard of a place coming up for rent?)
Sub forum: For Sale/Wanted (Buy and sell whatever you like)
Sub forum: Free Stuff (Not worth selling? Just give it away...)
Off-Topic (Topics not directly related to Switzerland)
Sub forum: International Affairs/Politics (Discussions about events and issues outside of Switzerland)
Sub forum: Jokes/Funnies (Viral emails, pictures, videos, etc. If they are good, share them)
Sub forum: Football/Sports (Who won, who will win, who is total rubbish, etc.)
Sub forum: General Off-Topic (Gossip, surveys, general interest)
Support (Questions and information relating to the use of the forum)
Sub forum: Announcements (Forum-related news, policies, guidelines, announcements)
Sub forum: Forum Support (Questions or suggestions relating to the forum itself)
Sub forum: Newbie Zone (Total newbie? Never used a forum before? Unsure about something? Look in here without delay)
Try to visualise the bottom three areas "collapsed" (see note in blue in the middle). I'm not a fan of web pages that require huge amounts of scrolling, but I'm not fan of burying information either - a balance must be found.

Due to the fact that two out of three staff are shortly going away I'd like to start implementing this as soon as possible - there will be a lot of work moving existing threads to the new areas.

I'd like feedback on whether you think this new format is useable. It's impossible to make something clear to everyone, but I hope that the structure is clear to a "reasonably intelligent person". The descriptions of each area have been carefully chosen to give clues to people as to where their messages should be posted.

Overlap in any structure is impossible to avoid and this won't be perfect, but I think it's better than what we have today. If you don't like a particular aspect then I'd welcome constructive suggestions and alternatives.
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Old 28.09.2006, 16:41
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Re: New forum structure

Given the growth of the forum and the need for change I think the catagories that you have outlined are good. Maybe the newbie zone should be more prominent so it is easily found? Will off topic still be hidden from non-members?
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Old 28.09.2006, 16:59
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Re: New forum structure

Hi Lou,

I was planning on making new members aware of the "Newbie Zone" by way of automatic private message. Didn't really want to have something prominent that gets in the way of things for the majority of people who don't need it

Yes, offtopic will still be invisible to guests and google. It's a shame because we sometimes have some semi-intelligent discussions in there, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Posts made in off-topic will also not count towards the total, same situation as today.
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Old 28.09.2006, 17:03
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Re: New forum structure

Quote:
I was planning on making new members aware of the "Newbie Zone" by way of automatic private message. Didn't really want to have something prominent that gets in the way of things for the majority of people who don't need it
That would work
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Old 28.09.2006, 17:15
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Re: New forum structure

Dammit. After spending all afternoon writing the epic post "Heather's Proposal for Sweeping Categorical Reforms to englishforum.ch", I made my post, only to discover that you'd beaten me by half an hour.

I'll just go to my 'special alone place' and cry right now.
  #6  
Old 28.09.2006, 17:16
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Re: New forum structure

Quote:
Dammit. After spending all afternoon writing the epic post "Heather's Proposal for Sweeping Categorical Reforms to englishforum.ch", I made my post, only to discover that you'd beaten me by half an hour.

I'll just go to my 'special alone place' and cry right now.
Well at least I know you like it
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Old 28.09.2006, 17:44
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Re: New forum structure

Looks good.
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Old 28.09.2006, 17:56
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Re: New forum structure

I agree with the idea, but I do think that the category structure you've stated is far from optimal, and that there are other ways to organize the forum to make it more user-and moderator-friendly.

One of my main beefs with the (current) forum is that the main category titles reveal little about the category content. (For example, the word 'General' is, well... far too general, and the category title "Help and Tips" is vague. Help and Tips on what? Baking souffles?)

Keeping the exact set of sub-categories you have already proposed, I think that with a few changes to main categories with respect to the sub-categories they contain, and the category titles, the forum will be easier to use and easier to maintain.

Before I make the mistake of going where I'm not wanted, Mark/Litespeed (nice bike!), would you be interested in hearing my suggestions for alternate category grouping/titles?
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Old 28.09.2006, 17:58
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Re: New forum structure

General will only hold the sub-fora (ums?)
So actually, it'll change from now to be slightly more tuned to the common threads that we're seeing here.

It still, however, relies on FMs to actually engage brain before clicking

But go ahead HeatherM, go ahead
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Old 28.09.2006, 18:02
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Re: New forum structure

Don't worry Heather, get right to work on that Privacy Policy that Ming-the-Minger didn't deliver

dave

Quote:
Dammit. After spending all afternoon writing the epic post "Heather's Proposal for Sweeping Categorical Reforms to englishforum.ch", I made my post, only to discover that you'd beaten me by half an hour.

I'll just go to my 'special alone place' and cry right now.
  #11  
Old 28.09.2006, 18:05
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Re: New forum structure

Quote:
Before I make the mistake of going where I'm not wanted, Mark/Litespeed (nice bike!), would you be interested in hearing my suggestions for alternate category grouping/titles?
Of course - we are standing here - power tools in hand...

Quote:
One of my main beefs with the (current) forum is that the main category titles reveal little about the category content. (For example, the word 'General' is, well... far too general, and the category title "Help and Tips" is vague. Help and Tips on what? Baking souffles?)
Well the idea here is that it's Swiss related. So help and tips could concern anything that's related to life in Switzerland. Reading the content should give that away. Baking souffles because there is some issue with a Swiss over - yes, or because some ingredient can be found here. Baking a souffles because they are tasty? No.

How does one convey they Swissness of purpose to this place without resorting to stating the bleeding obvious? Perhaps something in the newbie welcome note? Note that "General" and "Help and tips" will be upgraded to categories rather than forums (the ones that look like headings but not forums).

Quote:
Keeping the exact set of sub-categories you have already proposed, I think that with a few changes to main categories with respect to the sub-categories they contain, and the category titles, the forum will be easier to use and easier to maintain.
One man's confusion is another man's clarity sometimes, but always open to suggestions - fire away.

Just one point about category titles - where possible both they and the names of the forum have been kept short - they end up in the URL.
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Old 28.09.2006, 19:17
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Re: New forum structure

Sorry HeatherM, due to poor planning on my part we have to start this work ASAP, so we'll have to deal with your suggestions after (or during) the change-over. Chances are if we choose to adopt any of them it shouldn't (hopefully) be a big deal. Still look forward to hearing from you though.

To everyone else - you might see some stuff moving around and things popping up where you didn't notice them before. Don't worry - we are just busy working. The sound of power tools may heard above the din of the church bells...
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Old 28.09.2006, 22:47
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Re: New forum structure

Duuuuudes. I can't believe you've been able to implement the formatting changes already. You guys are machines! I'm seriously impressed. The forum is already looking really good, and the new structure is much more intuitive. Hopefully the new layout will make it much easier for people to locate threads of interest, and (eventually) make life easier for the moderators.

Just a few notes about the organization:

(Disclaimer: remember that you guys invited me to give my opinion! But that was a few hours ago, which apparently is like decades ago in Forum Standard Time. Sorry, but I don't live at my computer.)

I realize that the "Life in Switzerland" section is at the top of the page because it is replacing the former "General Chat", which had traditionally been the most heavily used category. However, from a user perspective, it makes little sense to make the very first category the one where "If it doesn't fit in any other area, then maybe it will fit here..." This is inviting people (mainly new users) to post questions here first without doing a thorough scan of all the headings to see if there is a more appropriate category.

Assuming that this may be among the first pages that people see when they visit the website for the first time, it makes sense to me to begin with a Welcome Statement (not a forum category, just a Link that says "Welcome", and links users to a welcome/about us/how to use the forum statement), followed by sub-cat Introductions. (The "Welcome Category"). This might be a particularly good idea if, as I've read elsewhere on the forum, forum user numbers are growing quickly. I know that there is a short statement above the forum index for new users, but it's not very obvious, and I think many people would miss it. The very first thing to catch people's eye is the General category.

Feel free to disagree with me on this, but I also think that if the categories currently under "Help and Tips" were moved towards the top of the forum, it would promote people posting advice and questions about moving to and living in Switzerland in the appropriate sub-categories, and then perhaps the "general chat" section will actually contain general chat. I'd also like to suggest that the category be renamed "Living in Switzerland", as all sub-cats seem to deal with aspects of living in Switzerland from a practical point of view. Furthermore, the not-very heavily used Business and Entrepreneurship sub-category seems it would be more appropriate in this main category. Lastly, the Other/General description might be improved by describing it as "Questions or tips about Living in Switzerland that don't seem to fit elsewhere." Its current description does little to distinguish it from your current "Life in Switzerland" sub-cat.

Next would come the Swiss Chat (or SwissChat?) section, which I'll admit is not a great title, but conveys the idea that it's for more general comments and chat about Swiss-related subjects, as opposed to the previous section, which is more for Q&A. The sub-cat currently called "Life in Switzerland", could be renamed "General Chat" or "General Swiss Chat", which is a more apt description of the types of threads I expect will appear there. This section would still contain the Politics and News, and Complaints Corner, and perhaps a link to the Off-Topic section at the bottom? (So people know where to begin off-topic threads?)

The Activities section is great, but a few notes:

The name Non-commercial events isn't particularly descriptive or inviting, and doesn't quite capture the essence of what events will be posted there. (I honestly didn' realize it was for posting social activities until after many visits to the forum, wondering where I might advertise a get-together in Lausanne.) Social Activites and Events is a more obvious title. I, for one, would be much more likely to go out for beers if it was described as a "social activity" as opposed to a "non-commercial event".

Apart from that, I like all the other categories and sub-categories, and can't think of any other categories to add. I was wondering, however, if it would be possible to change the layout of the main forum index to two columns. This way I think the entire forum contents could just about fit on a single screen, and always popular general chat section would be accessible without having to scroll down the screen.

On a final note, I was thinking that for the Living in Switzerland category, perhaps each sub-cat could have an "About" post at the top. (Note: don't call it a read-me, that's a suggestion for people to not read it.) I was thinking that if I was a first time visitor browsing through the forums looking for info on, for example, whether or not my spouse would be able to work in Switzerland, if I selected the sub-cat Permits and Visas, a leading statement in bold entitled "ABOUT RESIDENCE PERMITS AND WORK VISAS IN SWITZERLAND would definitely catch my eye. Each about statement could be a short summary of the subject in the sub-cat, and perhaps contain some links of interest, and advice for where to get more info (such as Embassies.) I'd be willing to help make them, as it seems a bit silly for me to suggest something but request that someone else do it. Does anyone else think this is a good idea? Is anyone still reading my stupidly long post? Congrats if you've made it this far.

Anywho. That's all for now.
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Old 28.09.2006, 22:54
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Re: New forum structure

Hi HeatherM, thanks for the comments. I've skimmed them quickly. A lot of them are valid points and we were planning to do a lot of these things anyway. The good news is that the suggestions you made, if implemented, don't require huge structural changes, which means there's no danger to the work we are doing now.

Therefore I'll come back to your points probably in a couple of days. The reason for the speed is that two of us are away from tomorrow, and we don't want to leave the job half finished. We are now moving threads into to individual areas - quite time consuming.

As for writing contents, guides etc - sure go ahead. There's always need for good content that hasn't been written yet.
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Old 01.10.2006, 17:36
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Re: New forum structure

Quote:
(Disclaimer: remember that you guys invited me to give my opinion! But that was a few hours ago, which apparently is like decades ago in Forum Standard Time. Sorry, but I don't live at my computer.)
no problem, feedback is always welcome - even if we don't always agree.

Quote:
I realize that the "Life in Switzerland" section is at the top of the page because it is replacing the former "General Chat", which had traditionally been the most heavily used category. However, from a user perspective, it makes little sense to make the very first category the one where "If it doesn't fit in any other area, then maybe it will fit here..." This is inviting people (mainly new users) to post questions here first without doing a thorough scan of all the headings to see if there is a more appropriate category.
Actually help and tips used to be the most frequently used area - but there was always confusion about it - and when we were cleaning up we found loads of help and tips messages in general chat. I do take your point about putting the most general category at the end of the list, in the hope that people will read the descriptions of the more specific areas first. In fact - this was exactly the logic used in the help and tips section (sorry to steal your thunder again ). However, when I tried to apply that under General is didn't seem to work the same way. I didn't want the complaints corner to seem more important than general Which order would you suggest for general in that case?

Quote:
Assuming that this may be among the first pages that people see when they visit the website for the first time, it makes sense to me to begin with a Welcome Statement (not a forum category, just a Link that says "Welcome", and links users to a welcome/about us/how to use the forum statement), followed by sub-cat Introductions. (The "Welcome Category"). This might be a particularly good idea if, as I've read elsewhere on the forum, forum user numbers are growing quickly. I know that there is a short statement above the forum index for new users, but it's not very obvious, and I think many people would miss it. The very first thing to catch people's eye is the General category
It's impossible to tell where people come in - but they seldom enter via the front door - google usually takes them directly to a thread. Therefore I planned to provide the orientation via PM (since once they have the ability to post it's time to tell them how it works). That said - I will put an "About Us" or something like that on the left hand menu on the portal page. I still have to figure out exactly how to do that properly.

Quote:
Feel free to disagree with me on this, but I also think that if the categories currently under "Help and Tips" were moved towards the top of the forum, it would promote people posting advice and questions about moving to and living in Switzerland in the appropriate sub-categories, and then perhaps the "general chat" section will actually contain general chat. I'd also like to suggest that the category be renamed "Living in Switzerland", as all sub-cats seem to deal with aspects of living in Switzerland from a practical point of view. Furthermore, the not-very heavily used Business and Entrepreneurship sub-category seems it would be more appropriate in this main category. Lastly, the Other/General description might be improved by describing it as "Questions or tips about Living in Switzerland that don't seem to fit elsewhere." Its current description does little to distinguish it from your current "Life in Switzerland" sub-cat.
I spent a lot of time thinking about these points and then eventually changed the category to "Living in Switzerland". This meant that the forum "Life in Switzerland" had to be renamed, but I didn't want to make it anything called general or chat due to possible confusion with the help and tips section. I considered "General Discussion" then settled on "Daily Life". I'm not sure if this is an improvement - sometimes one can think too much about this stuff.

I didn't really like the idea of moving help and tips above the living in Switzerland section. Some people are under the impression that the primary focus of the forum is to help new arrivals, people from outside Switzerland or people too lazy to google or contact the authorities themselves. Not so - the primary focus was to bring people together who had something in common (being foreign in Switzerland) and for them to be able to connect to others. In the beginning the tips were more insider-related tips, but with time more and more really basic questions were posted, and eventually this grew into a big section on its own. But I still don't want it to take top spot - as it isn't the primary focus.

Quote:
Next would come the Swiss Chat (or SwissChat?) section, which I'll admit is not a great title, but conveys the idea that it's for more general comments and chat about Swiss-related subjects, as opposed to the previous section, which is more for Q&A.
I wanted to avoid all references to the word "chat". While there's nothing wrong with chat as in conversation - some people take chat as an invitation to post absolutely mindless drivel or start speaking in text-speak. There are many people who think they have somehow found themselves in a chat room.

Quote:
The sub-cat currently called "Life in Switzerland", could be renamed "General Chat" or "General Swiss Chat", which is a more apt description of the types of threads I expect will appear there. This section would still contain the Politics and News, and Complaints Corner, and perhaps a link to the Off-Topic section at the bottom? (So people know where to begin off-topic threads?)
Not sure if I follow you there. By sub-cat do you mean forum? The categories are white on blue, the forums are blue on white and sub forums are marked as such.

To be honest - I'm not that happy with the separation between content which is help and tips and content which isn't. But I can't really think of a good way to resolve this at the moment.

Quote:
The Activities section is great, but a few notes:

The name Non-commercial events isn't particularly descriptive or inviting, and doesn't quite capture the essence of what events will be posted there. (I honestly didn' realize it was for posting social activities until after many visits to the forum, wondering where I might advertise a get-together in Lausanne.) Social Activites and Events is a more obvious title. I, for one, would be much more likely to go out for beers if it was described as a "social activity" as opposed to a "non-commercial event".
Good point. In the beginning it was attempt to keep out the various integration companies from posting "networking" events or other events which cost money (but they insist are not commercial, etc). Probably the idea is to put social in the name of the category, but non-commercial in the area description. Will implement that shortly.

Quote:
Apart from that, I like all the other categories and sub-categories, and can't think of any other categories to add. I was wondering, however, if it would be possible to change the layout of the main forum index to two columns. This way I think the entire forum contents could just about fit on a single screen, and always popular general chat section would be accessible without having to scroll down the screen.
You can't think of any to add? We could. As we were moving existing messages we constantly came across messages and said "oh b*ll*cks!" when we realised that certain threads didn't fit well into a given area, or that they could actually go into two areas. But any structure will never be perfect. The two column layout isn't really possible, and if it were can sometimes make things easier to miss, as well as turning into a formatting mess (too much information densly packed), but since it isn't technically possible no point into going into the pros and cons

Quote:
On a final note, I was thinking that for the Living in Switzerland category, perhaps each sub-cat could have an "About" post at the top. (Note: don't call it a read-me, that's a suggestion for people to not read it.)
Yes, this is planned - in fact many of the old areas did already have such stickies at the top like "What is this area for?". I know what you mean about notices like "Don't post unless you read this". For some people this translates to "Do not read this ever, just post anyway". However in some areas like events there are specific protocols like putting the date into the subject line, location of event etc. Therefore they have to be read. A softer title like "About this area" gives the persistent non-reader a perfect excuse - "Oh you mean I should have read that - it didn't say that". But the summary - yes, such areas have been used, and will be used in future - you just don't see a lot of it because we just created a lot of the new areas.

Quote:
I was thinking that if I was a first time visitor browsing through the forums looking for info on, for example, whether or not my spouse would be able to work in Switzerland, if I selected the sub-cat Permits and Visas, a leading statement in bold entitled "ABOUT RESIDENCE PERMITS AND WORK VISAS IN SWITZERLAND would definitely catch my eye.
Absolutely. I've come to the conclusion that trying to fight for meaningful subject lines is a losing battle. Many people only consider their question and not the fact that the information becomes useful for others afterwards. People don't have time to click through thousands of threads with subject lines like "Question" or "Need some help". So recognising that this user behaviour is probably not going to change the mods are going to start tagging subject lines with keywords and more accurate descriptions. You'll start to see things like "Question [Can my spouse work with her permit]" - where the contents of the square bracket have been inserted by the mods. They will start to do this for existing threads (long process) and just start adjusting subject lines on the fly for new threads without notifying the users. This should make it much easier for people to locate information by browsing or using the search function. It's especially helpful where people have put German or French words in the subject title - these may not be understood by everyone.


Quote:
Each about statement could be a short summary of the subject in the sub-cat, and perhaps contain some links of interest, and advice for where to get more info (such as Embassies.) I'd be willing to help make them, as it seems a bit silly for me to suggest something but request that someone else do it. Does anyone else think this is a good idea? Is anyone still reading my stupidly long post? Congrats if you've made it this far.
Don't worry -here's an even longer reply

I see two possibilties here. One is like a directory of useful threads in the area. Sort of like a short summary of the topics discussed and which threads they were discussed on. Some threads may have raised several different issues so these issues need to be split out and listed on a page. Someone looking or information on a subject might use the search function and find 10 messages asking "Where can I find XYZ" and one message which says "Information on finding XYZ". Of course the more people that add additional "Where can I find XYZ" messages, the harder it becomes to actually find that information. A forum summary notice attempts to provide a quick overview or map of all the issues which have been discussed in a given forum.

The second possibility deals with resources outside the forum - take the resource thread in the language corner as an example. It could also take the forum of a frequently asked questions. The FAQ could point to threads with the answers, or give the answers themselves. Many possibilities exist and exactly how to best approach them probably depends on the particular forum and the issues involved. Glad to know you are willing to help out with this task. Keep in touch as things develop.
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