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Special thanks to M. Thorn for taking the time to speak with me on the phone about JLA FORUMS and sharing his experiences and recommendations.

Interviewee: M. Thorn

Forum URL: http://www.jlaforums.com

Stats as of interview date: 25,209 members; 19,029,619 posts; 1,940,691 posted pictures.

Interview date: March 31, 2009.

Interviewer: Chris Davis

Interview: JLA FORUMS

INTRODUCTION

JLA FORUMS was founded in November of 2004. JLA FORUMS was originally an experiment by JLA Enterprises; intended to explore how open source software (phpBB2) could be utilized to capture an audience to which they could market their products and services. JLA FORUMS soon became much more than that.

STARTUP

Thorn is aware that JLA FORUMS has succeeded by going against the general rules suggested by most experts. Rather than focusing on a particular niche (like CorvetteForum.com), JLA FORUMS offers everything they can and continue to expand their forum line. Thorn agrees that it is a good idea to start off with a particular idea as a focus, but his success over such a broad range of topics is evidence that a forum can be successful by following the wills of its members first, and conventional rules second.

JLA FORUMS was created whilst the staff had limited knowledge of PHP and MySQL. The forums have been a work in progress since the beginning and improvements and modifications are added regularly. In fact, the focus of JLA FORUMS has been more so on improving the backend (preventing spam, adding new content, broadening forum line, and assorted tweaks). As with most forums of its size, JLA FORUMS is subject to thousands of spam and hacking attempts each day. However, due to custom backend modifications, the vast majority of these attempts are automatically prevented. JLA FORUMS has even made use of modifications posted by the GAIA forum (the largest forum in existance) to increase software performance. Content is obviously a huge part of JLA FORUMS' success. JLA FORUMS offers content syndication of many of their posting areas to make it easy for other websites to display JLA FORUMS' content on their own pages. Additionally, JLA FORUMS continues to extend their reach through increased attention from Google, MSN, Yahoo, and BoardReader.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Thorn says he is quite proud that they have been able to develop such a large photo gallery. He explained that their photo galleries run off the Photo Gallery Mod developed for phpbb2 by Smartor. After reaching the 20,000 posted pictures milestone, they discovered that the base mod was unable to efficiently support such a large number of pictures. Thorn and his staff have since rewritten the mod from top to bottom. At the time of this interview there are nearly two million photos posted in the JLA FORUMS Photo Galleries. The gallery is not only expansive but also fast, efficient, and searchable. The JLA FORUMS is also working on a social networking system to allows members to better express themselves and interact with the community. Thorn says JLA currently has no intentions of directly competing with existing social networking sites but expects his members to appreciate the added functionality.

MODERATION

All of the JLA FORUMS moderation (anything that isn't automatically prevented) is handled by in-house employees of JLA ENTERPRISES. JLA ENTERPRISES is able to make the most of its labor dollars by having idle employees surf their own forums and handle any moderation issues. Effectively, JLA FORUMS has true 24/7 moderation. Generally, staff will not get personally involved with any topics on the site and will moderate in accordance of the JLA FORUMS terms of service. Thorn believes everyone is entitled to one's own opinion and he doesn't interfere with political, religious or personal opinions.

CHANGES

Thorn hopes to eventually work on the design of the forums but makes it clear that backend functionality is a priority and will take precedence over any aesthetic changes. Thorn understands some may disagree with how the forums are run but says they do things they way they want and in the best interest of the community. "If it works it works if it doesn't, hey that's our fault".

YOUR SITE HERE

JLA FORUMS also has a special affiliate program where they allow other forums to take full advantage of the custom modifications and great reach of JLA FORUMS by actually combining their forums with JLA FORUMS. If a forum is accepted, Thorn and his staff will restore a backup of the affiliate forum in its own sub forum of JLA FORUMS. The admin of that forum will then have control of that sub forum and profit from the ads that are viewed within that sub forum. JLA FORUMS is one of the few forums to successfully maintain a program like this. There are a few undisclosed forums participating in this program already and Thorn is passively looking for larger forums to give the program a try.

ADVICE

Thorn urges admins to "...be aware of what visitors are doing on your site...be really, really aware and in real-time". He goes on to specify you should know what visitors are looking at, where they came from, and why they are there. "This will help you no matter what accross the board". Thorn stresses you should put out content that visitors want. You may have to deviate from your original plan but it is more about what visitors want, and less about what you want - "if you don't have people visiting your site then you have nothing". Thorn says it is vital to adapt and reform like the tech industry itself. Citing the rise and fall of Internet fads like AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and MySpace, Thorn says, "Everything is constantly in a state of change and you need to be willing to change with that. You have to otherwise you'll be left behind and you'll be the last great thing".

Thorn doesn't really mass market JLA FORUMS but says if you put stuff out there, they'll come. "Sometimes you have to spin your wheels for a while...of course you have to let some people know but eventually it will snowball". Thorn encourages admins to stop worrying about what the other guy and how big they are vs. you. "There will always be someone bigger and better than you and if you are always worrying about that then you are causing yourself undue stress". Thorn also says to be unique, interesting, and consistent. You can't offer everything a member wants one week and not the next, or they'll stop visiting. Stay consistent and your members will better understand and value your forum.

Thorn also recommends you cater to your current members first as they are your backbone. Changes are fine but radical changes are one of our top 10 ways to kill a forum if you don't keep the interests of your current members a priority.

CLOSING

It was a pleasure speaking with Mr. Thorn and learning the history behind such a diverse forum. Mr. Thorn had many great tips for admins and I'm sure they will be well received.

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Author: Chris Davis

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Link & description: Interview: JLA FORUMS - Interview with M. Thorn about the success of JLA FORUMS.

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