Why so few replies?
I have just browsed through the list of past questions asked by Design Spark members and it set me wondering why the vast majority have never atracted an answer.
It appears that the questions have been read by many people, in some cases, questions have been read hundreds of times but even those rarely get any response. Interestingly where questions have been answered these same questions also show that the same number of people 'Commented' although what the comments were is not clear!
Posted by Mark Cundle at
Interesting question, I think the answer lies in the infancy of the site. For any community site to be successful the aim is to attract a critical mass of members, I'm not sure what that number looks like to be truthful. In all online communities the majority of the membership will be happier to browse the site than post, you have the occasional contributors who will answer questions if close to their heart and then you have the 'Super-Users' who tend to contribute more, start discussions, answer questions etc. We have a small number of Super-Users today from the community who are knowledgeable in a particular area and you'll see those usernames appear again and again when answering questions. Of course the number of Super-Users will grow over time.
The vast majority of questions posted at this point are DesignSpark PCB related and I suspect because this is a new tool, the number of members who are confident in contributing answers is currently low. We now have a substantial number of DS PCB users (and growing rapidly) so I'm confident members will contribute more and more over the coming weeks and months.
It's also worth pointing out that a good number of questions posted are individual support cases (like activation code questions etc) that we respond to directly (via the users e-mail address) as opposed to over the forum board.
For what it's worth I also think the structure of the question board needs work, I'm not sure it's the easiest board to navigate so having some folder structure may help individuals to find questions easier and therefore contribute their knowledge. As commented, the site is very much in it's infancy having launched officially on 5th July, so of course there's some evolution to take place.
Lastly, another function we've just introduced is the 'Get Alerts' button you'll see at the bottom of the original question...you click this so that you get an e-mail if anyone posts a response to the question, I think this will encourage more dialogue as previously the question could get lost off the bottom of the list and forgotten.
Posted by Elanman99 at
An iteresting reply! I realise that the site is very new and in its infancy and it will take time to find its feet and shake all the bugs out but I for one am confused about the overall aims of the site. To be honest I dont know much about social networking sites and have no interest in Facebook and the like. I do though appreciate and participate in various product support forums and hoped that support (both for the PCB software and RS products in general) would form a major part of this site.
I think one of the reasons there are few replies is that navigating the site is hard work, even the simplest things require a multiplicity of clicks and finding information is labourious!
By the way, I dont think the 'get alert' function works. I have had three replies to three questions and did not get any emails. As far as I know I have not made any errors in my address details.
applaud general idea.
Posted by Mark Cundle at
Thanks again for your comments. It is constructive feedback like yours that will evolve the site into something hopefully very useful for engineers. I will look into the 'Get Alerts' function, to be honest I used it for the first time on this thread and it worked fine for me but I will ask the IT guys to check it.
As for the purpose of the site, I can categorically state that we are not trying to create a 'social network' along the lines of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc, they are extremely good at what they do and I have no interest in 'competing' with an engineers version of them! Like you I participate in a number of usergroups and engineering forums and the more useful (with my engineers hat on as opposed to my marketing hat!) among them tend to be very narrowly focussed - the MSP430 Yahoo usergroup and the Microchip (own) forum being good examples IMO. With RS being a very broad distributor of parts it would be difficult to focus on any one area or product, and to be honest why would an engineer come to RS to talk about Processor A if the manufacturer of Processor A has a forum that is full of experts supporting the community.
The team behind DesignSpark are engineers first and foremost, we may have hung up the soldering irons and lab coats for PC's and suits for 8 hours of the day but we're engineers at our core. That means we share the same frustrations as our customers, we understand that finding useful information on the internet is becoming a nightmare, there's so much information available it's like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. Therefore we wanted to launch a site that rather than creating, plugged in to the existing communities/usergroups/forums with useful features you wouldn't find elsewhere. Three immediate things sprang to mind...firstly the team all love testing out new software, if free even better! A week wouldn't go by when one of us came into the office and said "hey have you seen this new spice model software/simulator/open source IDE/interactive Smith Chart/blah blah" and so we thought a virtual shop where engineers could download all this great software in one place rather than searching or never realising it exists, would be great. Secondly the vast number of development kits available on the market now is staggering, it's tough to know which to buy, so we wanted to provide a review site where you could read reviews from peers (not RS or someone else with a vested interest in a particular kit) before making your decision. Lastly, a few of us in the team have recently been FAEs (Field Apps Engineers) supporting customers face to face. More and more we were being asked "do you know an RF expert who can help me add ZigBee to my product", "do you know a power engineer who can help optimise my PSU", "do you know a subcontractor who can productionise my design"... so we thought a place to host expert consultants would be useful and allow people to search, connect and then move offline to discuss projects, contracts, business etc.
So these 3 things are what we built the site on - free/evaluation tools (the SparkStore), dev kit reviews and a partner/consultants portal (which is still growing). Other bells and whistles have been added to the site that we hope engineers will find useful whilst they're visiting. You'll note no forum element to the site was intended hence the 'Ask' section may not be properly structured to handle large numbers.
Every good website needs a hook, something to get people there and DS PCB was/is that hook for this site, it's a little bit more than that of course, but we knew that one benefit was going to be the traffic driven to the site. We are the victim of our own success in that the vast number of activations of the tool has led to a need for a more structured 'forum'...something we're having internal discussion about.
Apologies for the long winded response, I think it's important to be up front and honest and hopefully people reading this will understand why the site is the way it is and see the evolution that will follow and want to get involved with shaping that evolution. Thanks again, Mark
Posted by Elanman99 at
Having read your reply I actually feel better about the site! It explains a lot about the site objectives in plain english (previously I looked at 'Fresh Networks' website and to me its all baloney!). I still think this site has a way to go in terms of usabilty but I'll look at it in a more tolerant way now.
Just as an example, to see your reply (I got no alert) I had to go to the 'Ask' on menu, then through to second page and scroll down to my original message. Maybe there is a quicker way?
I agree with all your remarks concerning development kit/system choices etc and I think seeing peer reviews would help in making a choice. To that end my suggestion would be that all replies, reviews and comments should be listed on the home page with the most recent first. That way even the casual user will see which topics are popular and also it would mean that the home page looked up to date.
You stated that "no forum element to the site was intended", also Lee Stacey has told me that the 'Ask' feature was not a forum although since it does invite answers I am not sure what else you could call it! However your website terms and conditions states 'The content posted on DesignSpark is created by MEMBERS of DesignSpark and us to provide an open discussion FORUM' (My capitalisation) so once again I am confused.
PS I was just about to click on a 'get alert' button, but when I looked I couldn't find it!
Posted by unitman at
I have to tend to agree with the set up of the question and answer forum. I use a number of forums and the best ones tend to be easy to locate information or sections you want to look at. The bar here on the right side that says view "questions by......" to me seems a bit of a waste.
The number of forums that I do use, use a PHPBB setup where it is easy to identify parts of the forum you want to go to.
This is a great site that uses the forum very well and is the type of thing right up this sites alley that is is competing with.
Breaking up of subjects on the main forum screen and then within the sections, a simple subject (question) with minor details.
You do also have to make it a little bit of fun, a lot of forums have a fun corner (not all). It is also appealing to see how many posts you have made shown live on the forum and some sites use ranks as part of posting. This easily identifies those who like to answer questions and also gives a bit of competition to the members within the site as to who can answer the most questions and get there post count up.
I hope this helps with the sites admins in getting this idea off the ground because the idea of this site is very good and I would like to see it succeed.
Posted by LStacey at
Some good points there. We're always looking at ways to improve the site and will be gradually updating and taking onboard suggestions with time.
We originally wanted to avoid the "fun corner" aspects of a forum because they can be tricky to manage, detract from the professional nature of the site and in some cases give forums a bad reputation. Do you think that would work here?
Posted by unitman at
I don't know if it would work here. You would have to ask the users of the site. They are the main targets. Everything that is within here should be aimed at the users. Why not ask them? I don't mind looking at the odd fun stuff on a forum. It could be a funny happening in a project that someone is working on - simple as that. The tricky to manage part shouldn't detract if you have moderators looking after the site, good moderators can give a site respectability.
Some tips I would follow would be to try and be unique, I know I made reference to another forum that I think is great, but you need to not only be like this one but better it by introducing something unique. This site isn't exactly like the one I mentioned so you have a starting point, and already this site isn't just about the forum, but using a forum type that others use would help new users adapt to something that is already familar.
Another tip is allow controversy on here, nothing like a good arguement to get your members talking about issues someone might have on a project they are working on. But you must keep it on track and avoid personal attacks (that is where a good moderator comes in). These people as well as admins should be visible on the site so the users know that they shouldnt step out of line (you can ban even if temporary).
A simple site can be a good site. Over doing it can detract users from coming back, so it is good getting members but it is even better getting those users to regularly participating.
Be honest with your users, if your honest then you form a good relationship with your users.
Value your members. No matter how much you have to offer and no matter how valuable the information you distribute, your forum can’t exist without its members. Treat them well, don’t exploit them, keep them informed and try not to surprise them.
I know that a company like RS Components would like to think that they would get more customers buying their products. Starting a forum is a lot of work and the financial rewards come slowly. During the lean times (forum activity), your passion is what will sustain you. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be YOUR passion. Its your commitment that draggs you through the tough times. I actively participate and actually moderate and even admin some forum sites. Get the users invovled and you will be successful.
Posted by LStacey at
I agree completely. I too think getting the members involved is the winning stroke. We are on the lookout for "community champions", not as moderators per se but we may give certain priveleges and powers to community members that prove to provide real value to others.
Posted by LStacey at
Hi Ian, the "Get alerts" link is under the main post at the top of the thread.