Changes to the forum during the Couchers.org Beta

Hi all!
We’re only a few weeks away from the beta launch and some gradual changes are taking place behind the scenes. A key question we’ve been tossing around is, what will the purpose of the forums be once we move into the beta phase of Couchers.org?

But what IS the beta? While it’s not the final product, our aim is that it can be used for creating content and communities on the platform. At a minimum, it will have:

  • Base features: Profiles, host requests, messaging, basic references, basic user search
  • Community features : City pages, guides, events

Therefore, we’ll want community building to start taking place on the Couchers.org beta platform as much as possible.

At the same time, we still want meta and global discussion - like talking about bugs, feature suggestions, the future direction of the platform, any problems you’re having with the platform in general - to take place here on the forum. Therefore, we will be changing our forum URL to something more broad, acquiring our own secure domain, and opening up the forum to be publicly viewable without logging in.

You’ll also see a new look for the forum, which will be revamped with our branding and logo. There will also be a shift in how the forum is organised (for example, closing/archiving older topics and changing our discussion categories).

We’d love your feedback before we start making these changes. As always, let us know if you have any questions or concerns about the direction we are headed with the forum.

A big thank you from everyone on the moderator team!

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I had also started a general topic about goals and direction of the forum a little while ago. One thing I really love about Discourse, the forum software, is how it enables us to easily re-organize without breaking any prior links as we grow or change the forum! So if you have any ideas about organization, please share and we can generally always consider these.

In addition to what @Emily laid out and my prior topic, I’d see us moving towards just a few main sections for better overview. Something like this:

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I think someone mentioned in another post about forums being kind of dead. I tend to agree. I hate the setup of a forum-based site like TripAdvisor’s. Something more fluid like an app for discussion/suggestions. Discord, maybe? Is that similar to Discourse?

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Hey Lilly, welcome to the forum!

We’re definitely going to be looking into other dynamic forms of communication, especially on the platform. If you check out the alpha you’ll see that group chats were actually one of the first features we implemented. We’ll be experimenting with group conversations with entire communities.

I think though that forums are still very much alive and important. It’s the best way to focus conversation across many topics for a lot of people and extended amounts of time. So many of the most popular websites like reddit, facebook, instagram and youtube use use forum-based communication for that very reason.

You could be onto something thought, formats like Discord and Slack are becoming more and more popular, so maybe it’s something we can look into down the line!

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Personally I love using forums and I love the freedom of being able to not check for days/weeks and come back and catch up with context, etc. I never feel like I miss anything!

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Yeah, that’s the main objective for me on the forum too! We want everyone to participate in a more reflected and reasoned discussion about mid and long-term issues. And be able to chime in and add another view on a topic after weeks as well. On a more chatty setup, you can already be too late to the party if you’re just on another timezone. I think Discourse does a great job in that sense, keeping together a slower and asynchronous conversation.

But also totally agree that we shouldn’t have a forum vibe on the app. Though I think we’re not going in that direction anyways!

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I started with re-organising our discussion categories, there are now 4 main sections:

  • Announcements (posts from the volunteers team, our community newsletter, the online events)
  • Conversation (general conversation on the online and offline community and directional discussion for the project)
  • App (all things related to the Couchers webapp: feedback, feature discussion, updates)
  • Forum (for discussing the forum itself and how we best approach moderation matters across the platform)

You can get an overview of our forum structure on the Categories page.

Going forward, we will next make some theme changes and enable read-access without the need to be logged-in.

Also implemented these changes. We added banners to each category that show the category icon, name and about text. Before we had this brief information about each category in a pinned topic within the categories:

Also enabled read access to all topics without the need to login. You can now link to any topic or post on the forum without visitors needing to sign-up or sign-in to read it. You still need to be signed in to post or access user profiles beyond the user name and miniature avatar that’s visible on each post. You can read more on these settings in Remaining anonymous.

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As another adjustment, I cleaned up our theme settings. We have one default theme now and you can select whether you want to use a Light or Dark color scheme. You find this option in your interface preferences:

Screenshot from 2021-02-21 10-31-21

As you can see on the above screenshot, you could also choose the Light scheme together with Dark Mode. The forum will then automatically follow the color scheme of your browser or operating system.