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Interview (email): Patrick O'Keefe
How did your forums come to be?
With SportsForums.net and CommunityAdmins.com, simply enough, I found subjects that I wanted to start a community about, subjects that I was interested in.
In the cases of KarateForums.com and PhotoshopForums.com, I saw a need that I could fill for a friendly, respectful martial arts community and Photoshop support and enthusiast community.
And with the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums, I saw both a need and something that I wanted, back when we launched, which was a friendly phpBB support and user community.
How I come up with ideas for forums and websites is varied. You can get an idea from anything. I get ideas when I'm showering or when I'm just about to fall asleep. You can want something, but not find it. You can sense a need. You can have a passion about something. You never know when inspiration will strike.
What is the primary purpose of your forums?
The titles are pretty descriptive, but SportsForums.net is a sports discussion community, KarateForums.com is a martial arts community, the phpBBHacks.com Support Forums is a community for phpBB users and related support, PhotoshopForums.com is for Photoshop users and enthusiasts and CommunityAdmins.com is a community for people who manage communities.
They are all friendly communities based firmly upon respect that are family and work friendly wherever they can be, within their core subjects.
Having already created a highly active forum, in what areas do you focus?
It really depends on what your goals are, but I'd say that you should work on engaging those that you have and continuing to maintain a community where people feel like they can approach you or your staff without hesitation. Continue to appreciate people on both an individual and wide level. Expand in areas that make sense. If a lot of people are into one thing that's not your main subject, but is a part of your community, give them their own section and encourage them, as long as the subject is healthy.
Really: keep doing what you have been doing. Don't change where you don't have to change. Yes, we all have to make adjustments for "scale" but don't lose what got you to this point.
What do your forums do differently to attract new members?
The main thing we do is create a friendly, welcoming environment. Respect is a huge part of my communities. We have a big register link in the header and we welcome people in as they come in and participate. I think if you create an environment like this and have some activity, that goes a long way. Other than that, we're rather laid back.
What was the hardest obstacle you've had to overcome to get your forums where they are today?
The most challenging times tend to be things like when a long established member does something they shouldn't and makes you take some sort of moderation or ban action against them. We make it a point not to make private business public, where we can help it, so most of the time, people don't know why a person was banned and may not even care, they would rather believe whatever half truth or outright lie they have in their head. It can be challenging, but you can only do what is right. And then, you have to keep it moving.
Are there any inherent issues managing a high traffic forum? How do you deal with them?
Everything is magnified. It takes more time, more work, more commitment. It becomes harder to maintain your standards, but you have to fight for them and fight for the community. You just have to stay on top of things and have a higher level of commitment than those who wish to harm you.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I'm proud of my communities in general and what they have accomplished. They have all received unique accolades or do something particularly well.
One of the things that I love is when our members discuss a controversial issue in a respectful and productive manner because that is why we strive for. I love when someone registers and needs help - and then they receive it, in a kind and respectful manner. That is what my communities are all about.
What advice would you offer new admins just starting their forums?
When we're new, I think it's easy to want to try to please everyone. You can't do this. Know what your community is, who you are and who you want to be. Everything that you do should be in line with this. No community is for everyone and even a community for everyone really isn't, because some people don't want a community for everyone. (That's a bit of a tongue twister, I think). You have to have vision.
Before you launch, make sure that you have guidelines that outline the participation requirements for your community. What is allowed, what isn't and what people need to know. And, along with that, make sure that you have a system in place for handling those violations.
What advice would you offer established admins looking to grow their forums?
Never stop learning. As administrators, we face new problems every day. Be open and ready to tackle them with creative and well thought out solutions. Your community needs leadership and it needs to come from the top. Be that leader. Speak to everyone the same, from the newest user to the most veteran member. Set the example for everyone to follow.
How do you gauge member satisfaction?
There aren't any specific endeavors I have undertaken. I guess you could say I witness satisfaction in the form of members enjoying the community and I'm always paying attention in case they show me a way that I could make it better.
Along with that, I'm very open to feedback and any member can contact me directly with ease with any questions, feedback or concerns and I do my best to handle any problems that arise in a fair, honest manner. I can't guarantee that I'll see it your way, but I will be honest and respectful.
Do members have input in how things are managed?
Yes, they do because, as I said, we're open to feedback. Where we draw the line is members that actually try to manage other members. That's not appropriate. If a member has an issue with another member or an issue with the community, I want to hear it directly - I don't want it spread in the forums. Good ideas are good ideas, wherever they come from. My door is always open.
What is your stance on forum moderation?
I believe it is an essential part of any well run, professional community. You need to have a good, consistent system of moderation to ensure consistency on your community and to ensure that it accomplishes the goals that you have set for it. In a perfect world, we wouldn't need moderation. This is not a perfect world, unfortunately. People are waiting to take advantage of you and to harm your community.
What do you look for in potential moderator?
I look for someone who is setting an example other members can follow. I look for someone who is following our guidelines, who is kind, helpful and respectful. I am not necessarily looking for someone that is an "expert." Even on a support community, I am not looking for an "expert," I am looking for someone who has knowledge that can help others and is able to communicate it in a kind manner.
Moderators are examples of you and the community as a whole and it is vital that they be good ones. You want good people, people who know how to treat others and can work within a team and take direction.
Do you have a process to train and acclimate new moderators?
Yes, we have staff member guidelines that detail the expectations of the position and how they are to handle their responsibilities. We also have other documentation, such as what I call a situations guide. It talks about specific, common situations that we see on the forums and how to deal with them.
Our system of documentation of violations is also a great training ground in that a new staff member can look and see how other staff members are handling violations right now and what has been removed recently or in the past. Plus, I make it very clear that I am here to answer any questions that they may have and that questions are also welcome in the private staff forums, as well.
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