Post By rolygate
The new CMS website section
Here is some important news about a website upgrade we are doing, scheduled for the end of July.
We are adding a CMS (content management system) to the site, to allow us to organize some of the important information better. Basically it's just a 'normal' website section, in addition to the forum. Unlike in the forum, you will be able to quickly find simple information you need on basic topics like a Beginners' Tutorial and so on. A CMS allows us to edit the pages online, much like posting to the forum, in contrast to the old HTML web page way of doing things. As a result it means managing the articles is much easier, and we can add extra features such as an RSS news feed and so on.
Why do it?
A forum is great for discussion, letting people know what's happening, organising campaigns and meets, debating issues, discussing which of nine options is best, and so on. But it's not good for quickly getting to lists and reviews, or for newcomers who just want some basic info quickly.
In fact for this purpose - finding important things quickly and easily - the usability is terrible. Even experienced members sometimes can't find what they need because it is buried. And if you tell a newbie to go to ECF, you always have to add, "It's huge so you can get lost, email me and I'll try and help". Which kind of defeats the point as you just want to help beginners the quick and easy way.
Usability is important for a website because if people get frustrated, they give up and go somewhere else. Just because all the best ecigarette info in the world is here, and some of the top experts in every topic, doesn't mean this information and help can actually be found and used.
Here is a typical comment from a visitor to ECF, a beginner who just couldn't find what they needed: "So what do you need to get started? The sites mentioned here don't have a FAQs or tutorials."
This is a comment on another forum, in some other topic area, referring to ECF and another forum, from someone who was directed to ECF *but couldn't find the info they wanted*. It's typical. Despite the fact that exactly what they needed is right here, they couldn't find it. They wanted to know what they need to get started but couldn't find it as they were overwhelmed.
We have to fix this and no matter what we come up with, it obviously hasn't worked on the forum. For example we have a great New Members Forum, with all the info they need in the stickies, but still that info doesn't get found.
OK but what about the established Members?
They usually know where things are so they aren't really affected. The forum will stay exactly as it is, except that some useful material will be republished in the form of Reviews, Tutorials and Articles in the new section. Everyone should be pleased when they see the result, it will be much better organised.
Will ECF look different?
It certainly will to a newcomer, as the front page will change. To those with bookmarks to the forum, nothing will change. There will be some new links to the new site pages, from out of the forum.
But is the site changing?
Just the front page, basically. There will be some new info sections that will grow over time, but the forum stays exactly as it is.
[the front page will change between the CMS and forum, while we get the content right]
The forum is the most important part of the site and always will be. It has over 150,000 pages, the new section will start out with around 10, so there isn't much comparison.
How will it affect me?
Well, you might land on the new front page first time round, in which case you can take a look at the new info sections (which will be a bit sketchy at first), or just go straight to the forum. Once you're there it's business as usual.
There will be a new category of site Member for those that are interested: Editor. Editors will be given a login to the new section and can edit pages as needed. For example, if you write a Tutorial on something, and it is published in the CMS instead of the forum (or moved there), you can edit that article whenever you like, and keep it up to date.
This means that tutes and reviews are always up to date. It's something that article authors / people who posted useful info on the forum really need - but it's impossible to do on the forum. In addition, all such material can be properly formatted for website publication. Forum posts tend to look like notepad jottings as there isn't really any proper way to format them.
Can I help?
If you have written useful content in the form of an article or review or list of some kind, then this is your lucky day. Finally, you get to edit it forever, whenever you like...
And, if you want to write a review specifically for the new section, we'd welcome it. There will be some guidelines for this, also a new private Editors section with FAQs and so on. There will also be a new private Editors board on the forum, a bit like the ECF Veterans board. (If you didn't know about that, it's a private board for long-term ECF members - the new Editors board will be a similar sort of thing but just for article writers / people who 'own' a page on the CMS.)
Is this a new idea or what?
Not at all, it is the system used by some of the web's highest-quality sites. In fact it's a great route to even higher quality resources than those we have now. The key is, things are organized and presented much better than we can do it with the forum. It's actually the only way to do justice to the resources and the people here.
'The CMS' isn't a great name is it?
OK, you're right there... So far nobody's thought of a better way to describe it. Maybe the Reviews section, the Magazine section - but both those aren't really right because it will be more than that. The Reference section? The Library? Who knows. Maybe we'll have a vote later on down the road.
[edit - we found the right name: the InfoPages]
What are the techical implications?
The combined usability reasons and technical reasons are the main drive for this change. This is also why the front page has to change and will no longer be the forum.
The change will be a big boost technically as well as for site usability. A busy forum is the hardest possible load on a server, it really canes it. This is because the server has to query the database dozens of times just to load a page, there is so much detail on it, and it changes frequently. In contrast a CMS page has much less work for a server to do, and this means in particular that the front page will load much faster, which helps everyone. Of course, the fastest of all is a simple HTML web page but those days are long gone for big sites. (We have over 3 million URLs on the sitemap - in fact even the sitemap is so big that search engines won't accept it, it has to be split into something like 20 parts.)
If you check out the world's biggest forums on big-boards.com, you'll find that many have done what we are planning, and changed to a standard web page as the front page, and are running a CMS to manage the non-forum content. It's the only sensible way to go. They started out with vBulletin or phpBB boards; but when it gets to giant size, it's time to change the site structure so that the front page is simpler and has obvious links to different sections. The forums stay as they are - the most important part of the site - but the front page is new, and there are additional resource pages.
Why not just add the CMS within the forum, as an additional section?
OK, that is a possibility. But adding the CMS as a new section within the forum wouldn't work because it doesn't fix either of the two main current problems: an extremely confusing front page for visitors and new members, and the excessive load on the site due to serving the main forum index as the front page.
Granted, it would give us a nice new home for a lot of properly-organized and correctly-formatted material, but those resources would be almost as hard to find as they are now. And we'd still have the forum front page drag on the servers.
Can we discuss this and ask questions?
Yes, we now have a new board for this topic: ECF CMS Discussion, a sub-forum of Site Feedback.
Last edited by rolygate; 01-25-2012 at 12:15 PM.