For those of you with some of the largest forums (or other large online communities out there), what are the biggest challenges that you face? How have those challenges changed since you started out?

For me, the biggest challenge when we were small was recruiting new members, and now that we average well over 500 new members every day, the biggest challenge is maintaining that sense of community and making sure new users don't feel too overwhelmed to join in. We have a very high conversion rate when it comes to filling out the registration form, but that rate decreases when it comes to email activation, and decreases even more so when it comes to actually going ahead with that first post.

I'm also curious about any technical challenges big board owners face. We currently spend a small fortune a month on web hosting fees, and our server still gets taken down by malicious traffic and DDOS attacks.

I feel the forum owner usually face challenge to motivate the members to keep them active and retaining them longer. Also it depend on how the forum develop to be useful to specific niche, I find few forums started nice but diverted to other topics and few of them have absolutely no direction.

I definitely have to agree with your point about a lot of forums not having any direction, or having the direction/goals constantly changing, making the community forever appealing to new audiences and becoming unpallatable to current audiences.

Excellent topic cscgal! This has been something I've been struggling with for a while now. I'd LIKE to be a "Big Board Owner" at some point, but there are just too many obstacles that need to be overcome.

When I started my boards up, I had a goal (or so I thought). The goal I had set was apparently the wrong one, because I wasn't seeing the traffic I had anticipated (even after 6 months). My mistake was expecting to take-over topics that were already well established elsewhere. In an attempt to correct that mistake I decided to sit back and look at what we (as a business) are doing then try to redefine our original goals from there.

Here are a few things I've noticed about my own boards. Some we have done, others we're still working on.

#1 SEO. Research the type of boards you're planning on using. There are many different flavors out there but not all of them play well with the search engines. Here are a few that I can remember of the top of my head: VBulletin, Invision, PHPBB, ASPBB, SNITZ.

#2 Avoid competition. There are too many large boards out there already and many of them have been well established for a couple years, competing with them will only make things harder on you.

#3 Find a niche topic (or group of topics) that people are equally interested in. If you've got the same topics as everyone else you're probably going to have less of a chance of surviving.

#4 Get a team together. You need a team of people that know how to keep a conversation going and know how to make people feel like they are welcome everytime they open your window. The larger the team the better, but I suggest a minimum of 4 + yourself.

#5 "Pad the Jar". You can't just put up some topics and expect people to flock to you. You've got to get the topics and conversations going before anyone will be able to find you. Word-of-mouth will only get you so far.

#6 Hit the search engines. Not immediately of course, give it a month or six, before you start searching for terms you KNOW can be found in your boards (and other boards) to see where you're ranking with the other boards in the neigh"board"hood.

The only other issue I'm having right now is getting people to post their comments/concerns. Currently we're getting ~3,000 hits/mo to our boards (many are the search engines). On average we're getting 5 new members/week, 1 usually turns out to be a spammer (which we ban), and the other 4 sit dormant. I'm hoping this topic will help me convert those numbers. Thanks again cscgal!!

I thought this thread was about when i first saw the title :)

I think this site is pretty BIG and very helpfull to people having computer issues!

I hope your not feeling down about your site Dani,we all love it and if i had a way to pay you,i would!! (As i would on some other sites im on)

I know it helps,and this site IS WORTH IT!!

Not to worry Dani :)

I own 2 groups of software professionals around 5000 members (not big though),
and a forum with 500 members.
biggest problem is moderating spam messages.

I own 2 groups of software professionals around 5000 members (not big though),
and a forum with 500 members.
biggest problem is moderating spam messages.

What type of boards are you using?

I know that there are some which have 'add-ons' that prevent spam. If they don't, many give their users an option to request such features.

For instance, I'm using the Snitz2000 boards which has an add-on to prevent members from emailing other members if they don't have X number of posts. There is another add-on that looks for specific verbiage in the member's 'ServerVariables' and denies them access if there is a match.

I know that doesn't get rid of your spam issue completely (nothing can do that), but it may cut it down to a managable size and make the moderation jobs a little easier.

There are a couple of spam-prevention techniques: email confirmation and CAPTCHA being the top two that come to mind.

When I was starting out, the best way to encourage conversation was to be very proactive each time a new member registered (yes, almost to the point of obnoxiousness). Each time I saw that new member, I'd pounce on them ... introducing myself, asking them if I could help them with anything, asking them what brought them to my site ... they'd have no choice other to reply. It made them feel very wanted, and even though the site was very empty and there wasn't much to see, they knew that anytime they posted anything, they'd get an instant, personal response from me. It got them to keep coming back and telling their friends, and eventually the site grew. It took nearly a year before I stopped giving every single individual member this special treatment (basically until we had 100 new member registrations daily).

Those are great prevention techniques and I employ both of them whenever a subscriber's email could be put at risk, but there are spammers that also like to manually spam forums.

You've certainly done a great job here. I have noticed that many of the members that post on my forums are a product of my initiating contact (usually emailing them), thanking them for joining, and asking personal questions about them. Thanks for the input. ;)

The biggest problem I face is that our boards are concerntrated on a single profession, and we have a single forum for "off topic" discussions, however we have a number of small users (not unco-incidently admins on smaller forums with a similar theme) who the majority of their posts are criticising the administration or posting rules, while they are not in breach of the rules themselves because we like to keep the community atmosphere each of those whines/moans/complaints etc are answered. The rest of the website ticks along with member interaction quite nicely.

Consider yourself very lucky if that's your biggest problem. I think cultivating a community atmosphere where you publically demonstrate that you're approachable and appreciate and are open to site feedback is very important. It can definitely make your community members feel like they are being heard.

Even if it's just a small batch of annoying members who are complaining, your regulars will take notice that they're not being ignored, and it will make them feel closer to the community and like they will have an outlet to get heard if they need to in the future.

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