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E-R.org Taxonomy - Best Method?
Old 06-09-2008, 06:50 PM   #1
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E-R.org Taxonomy - Best Method?

Ok, so we are at a cross roads where we have increased volume in our community and threads are either annoying people (Headline Spam) or members would like a way to group topics such as Eldercare. As we keep growing these issues are going increase and we need to discuss various solutions. The three solutions that I currently see are as follows:

Sub-Forums:
Subforums are a decent choice to help organize forums. The biggest drawback is as we evolve and want to keep adding more granular groupings, the list of subforums grows. They take up a lot of space at the top of the the parent forum that you have to scroll past every time you come into that forum. We could use the Forum Ignore feature for them (which is nice) and there are other tools like Forum Subscriptions that some members might find useful. One downside is that there is a one to one relationship with threads to forums. If we have a thread that could fit in more then one forum (as we get more granular this could be a more common occurrence) there is no way to associate it to more then one forum.

Tags - Tags are a new option we have and I think they could be an excellent solution for us. I think "out-of-the-box" it's hard to see how useful they can be but if we think of the theory of them, it allows us to associate threads to multiple topics which gives us added flexibility. An example could be a thread on Estate Planning that also deals with Estate Taxes. This thread could be associated to both tags which is an example of the one to many relationship that tags give offer. The ignore system allows members to ignore tags. That means if there is a very specific topic they do not like they can ignore on a more granular area.

I have put a "Popular Topics:" section that links to various tags in the Off Topic forum as an example (see attachment). This shows a way were we can group threads without having to add subforums. In the example the links are live so you can click on them to see how it works. Please note we can put the popular topics links under the most appropriate forum but the discussions can be located anywhere in the site.

On a couple Social Knowledge sites we have lots of subforums. Please take a look at the forum listing on Airstream Forums. You will notice it has a lot of subforums and these sometimes confuse the members on whee to post. With tags we can make it a bit easier for a member to know where to post because the forums are organized at a more macro level and the tags can provide a more granular level of organization. Its easier to pick a macro level category to post to when deciding where to post then having to figure out which subforum.

So with the above we need to consider the amount of work it takes to maintain. If a member posts a thread in the wrong forum it will take a Mod to move it to the right forum. If a member posts a thread without the proper tags it will take someone to tag it. If we select the latter option of tagging we can create a new group of members who are allowed to edit/add tags to threads and then let more members participate in this effort (we still can't open up tagging to everyone because of abuse in the past). We could enable this for many of our active members and ask them to "chip in" if they see a discussion that needs to be tagged.

So what do you all think about having links to our most popular topics as a way to create more granular views to similar topics?
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Old 06-25-2008, 09:41 PM   #2
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Please take a look at forum listing page to see the example posted above. I think this could be an excellent way for us to have more granular groupings of discussions. This is not only useful for organizing information but also for ignoring certain topics (if you so choose).
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Old 06-25-2008, 11:59 PM   #3
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I'm not interested in tagging. I'm not sure I'll ever be interested in tagging. I may be a Luddite but if it's not automated then I'm not expending the effort.

The PriusChat.com forum has a feature that jumps in when you title your new thread-- it searches the forum for similar keywords, displays those thread titles, and begs you to read them before posting a new thread.

Otherwise I'd go with the subforums-- I browse via the "New Posts" link and I don't particularly care how many forums there are.
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:16 AM   #4
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I browse via the "New Posts" link and I don't particularly care how many forums there are.
Ok, then thanks for sharing your opinion on this. Since it will not effect your processes, I'd like to hear what our other members think about this (the ones who use the forum listing page).

The tagging system would not require all members to tag threads. I could make the system very easy to use and if small team of members wanted to be kind enough to help us tag some discussions we can apply a new layer of organization to the discussions.

Common uses of this popular topic format could be used to group discussions about mortgage, asset allocation, health insurance, etc. Another nice use is to group threads related to our members served in the military. It seems like it would be great if they could click a link and see those discussions grouped together. Sure, we could make a military forum but if we start making forums for every subtopic then we are going to end up in forum overload. When that happens newbies won't know where the right place to post is and they will post in the wrong forum and it will be up to the mods to move it to the right place. Enabling some of our active members to support the mods by assisting in tagging could be a great way to spread the load to keep things organized.
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:25 AM   #5
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While I also primarily use the 'New Posts' link to browse the forums, I prefer the tags approach you outlined above to sub-forums. I find it VERY annoying to browse sites that make liberal use of sub-forums. Too difficult to find the info you're looking for.

As Nords mentioned, the only issue I see is I can't imagine all users either tagging their posts, or knowing what tags are appropriate. If there are users or moderators willing to tag threads, I don't see any reason why the tags approach wouldn't work just fine.
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:42 AM   #6
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Well we have about 20 new threads per day (average). I don't think it's fair to put this task on the mods only as they already have to deal with all the ungrateful peacekeeping that goes on. What would be great is if we could enable some members to help out the mod team with tagging. If we could get 5-10 of our regular members to help out it would mean just adding/editing tags a couple times per day.

We don't even have to tag all the threads. Really we just need define some of these popular topics and just add tags to discussions on those topics. That way we can keep things organized and it won't matter if a great Asset Allocation discussion goes on in the Hi, I am... (introductions) forum. It can still be tagged as asset allocation and left in the forum that was proper at the time.

Even cooler is when we have discussions that have one to many relationships to topics. Many of the discussions might fit in more then one subforum. when a thread is in a subforum it has a one-to-one relationship with the subforum. If it relates to another forum it can only be put in one of them. An example might be a discussion about asset allocation that also contains valuable information about the specific asset classes (could be grouped with other asset allocation discussions + bonds or whatever asset class was being heavily discussed). That's just a random example.

I guess what I am trying to stress is that tags allow a one-to-many relationship with discussions, take up less screen real estate (don't have to scroll past the subforums) and can also be ignored. Subforums = a one-to-one relationship. If we want to continue to be more granular in the organization of the discussions then I feel tags will be the least invasive way to do this. It will also allow members to filter out topics on a more granular level.
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Old 06-26-2008, 01:32 AM   #7
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The approach needs to be simple to implement by posters and simple for readers to find things.

If it is not intuitive, it will not work well.

Tags seem to be a bit of a problem because it requires people to label posts with consistent tag names to make it work. I am not sure many people spend much time studying "how to".
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Old 06-26-2008, 06:29 AM   #8
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I don't like the idea of tagging for this purpose, although I think tagging has it's own benefits and I'd like to keep the tagging feature as it is.

I initially thought I would like the idea of subgroups, but one of the problems I see is that if I decide to ignore the parent group (such as "Other Topics" in the example), then it would also ignore the "Eldercare" subgroup that I would be interested in.

With the ignore poster, ignore thread, and ignore forum in play now, I think it would be best to allow as many forums as necessary within reason. The key thing to remember is that this is an "Early Retirement" Forum!!!!! We need one flytrap to draw all the irrelevant posts regarding political and religious non-retirement issues, but other than that one area, the other posts should mostly have ER-related issues.

I don't see hundreds of new forums needed since eventually there will be overlap. Based on what I've seen here over the past few years, there isn't much demand for new forums, so the forum count shouldn't be a problem.
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Old 06-26-2008, 06:40 AM   #9
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Since you have chosen to force tagging with only approved tags, you know what I think you can do with the whole thing.
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Old 06-26-2008, 07:58 AM   #10
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If the "ignore forum" option can be applied to subforums as well, that would be a significant advantage over tagging. I also interact with the forum using "New Posts" (with the soapbox on ignore) and could imagine a benefit from adding a subforum to the ignore list if the signal to noise level drops in that particular subforum.

From the user's perspective, I don't see any advantage in using tags from a list of preset choices vs. choosing a subforum to post in. Both are requiring the user to choose a category for their posts, only the subforum is more intuitive. Most people have experience with creating folders inside other folders, reading forums that have subforums, etc.

Choosing a tag from a preset list presents the user with an inconsistent experience. It requires the user to first choose a top level category for their post by selecting a forum, and then to choose a second level category with a tag. If users have to choose a second level category, it is best to make the interface the same as the top level category. In other words, if you're not going to take advantage of the flexibility that tagging offers, don't complicate the user experience with a second and different method of categorization.

If you feel the need to add second level categories, the best user experience (IMHO) would be if a top level forum could be browsed showing all the posts of the subforums. This way, a user interested in ALL "Other Topics" wouldn't be forced to navigate into each subforum, but a user interested only in "Other Topics: Bacon" could still navigate into that subforum.

For an example of tagging implemented in a way that adds to the user experience, instead of cluttering it, take a look at del.icio.us. (I've chosen that example arbitrarily; this is how tagging is most commonly implemented.). This allows the creation of a tag cloud, which shows not only the variety of tags, but also the frequency that a tag appears. Note that one-off, or "joke" tags, don't appear in the cloud because they don't appear often enough to make the cut. Also, as implemented this way, tagging is optional, so users that don't want to deal with it aren't forced to.

Of course, there may be practical reasons for you to choose a restricted set of tags instead of subforums, i.e. the forum software doesn't handle subforums well. I know there's often a big difference between "what gives the best user experience" and "what can we do with our current tools, time, and budget."
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Old 06-26-2008, 08:09 AM   #11
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I favor the tagging approach, if we can recruit a group of volunteers to maintain the tags. I'm guessing we have enough frequent readers who would be willing to be taggers.

In this approach a finite list of valid tags makes sense.

I read from "New Posts", and haven't yet ignored any forums or threads -- so far it's been easy enough to ignore by simply not reading threads based on the title. Tags seem like they would be a big help for searching, although it will take some time for enough tagging to happen to make that effective.

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Old 06-26-2008, 08:20 AM   #12
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all the ungrateful peacekeeping
I'm grateful!
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Old 06-26-2008, 09:54 AM   #13
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Just chiming in: Although I also use the New Posts system, I'm generally against over categorizing the posts. In fact, the New Posts system demonstrates the value of keeping everything in one pot. There's often a post I'm interested in that is in a forum I don't usually care about.

IOW I'd recommend resisting the urge to over-granulate.
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Old 06-26-2008, 10:03 AM   #14
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I'd recommend resisting the urge to over-granulate.
^ haha, that sounds like a post on a board for makers of illegal drugs...

The nice thing about tags is that they offer us the ability to keep posts at more macro level (as they are now) but also organize them in more granular for those who want it. Subforums (or even adding many top level forums) do the same thing but they break up the macro level topics.
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Old 06-26-2008, 10:17 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Andy R View Post
The nice thing about tags is that they offer us the ability to keep posts at more macro level (as they are now) but also organize them in more granular for those who want it. Subforums (or even adding many top level forums) do the same thing but they break up the macro level topics.
That's what I like about the tags approach. The folks who have signed up to tag posts can tag threads at will, without physically moving posts anywhere. On other boards I frequent with many sub-forums, there's an endless list of 'Moved:...' threads because the poster didn't know the appropriate forum to create the thread in. It just junks up the forum, IMO. With the approach that Andy is prescribing, the thread creator doesn't HAVE to assign a tag; the ER.org taggers can do it.
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:55 PM   #16
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^ haha, that sounds like a post on a board for makers of illegal drugs...
And you know this, how, exactly.....?
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Old 06-26-2008, 12:57 PM   #17
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I'm grateful!
I, for one, welcome our tagging overlords.
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Old 06-26-2008, 04:03 PM   #18
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The approach needs to be simple to implement by posters and simple for readers to find things.
If it is not intuitive, it will not work well.
Tags seem to be a bit of a problem because it requires people to label posts with consistent tag names to make it work. I am not sure many people spend much time studying "how to".
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I, for one, welcome our tagging overlords.
Yeah, but see, it's easier to impose a tagging system on 6000 posters than it is to make the vBulletin "Search" feature actually find the words that are already in the threads. Hence the tagging system is supposed to find those same words better, after we call the system's attention to their existence by officially registering the approved ones.

Sure.

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Old 06-26-2008, 04:29 PM   #19
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Yeah, but see, it's easier to impose a tagging system on 6000 posters than it is to make the vBulletin "Search" feature actually find the words that are already in the threads. Hence the tagging system is supposed to find those same words better, after we call the system's attention to their existence by officially registering the approved ones.

Sure.
I don't follow your logic here. First, I don't see how the proposed system "imposes" anything on anyone. The tags are there. Add them to your threads if you want, or don't. If you don't, a willing party will do it for you, if appropriate. Using the 'New Posts' link, as you've said you do, the tags won't even be apparent to you.

I'm also not sure what this has to do with the Search feature. Andy didn't mention that it would be replacing the existing Search functionality. Seems a lot easier to me to browse a group of posts tagged as 'Eldercare' or 'Technology' if I were interested in those subjects than trying to guess all the different words users may have chosen when creating a post. I'll agree that if you're interested in a specific topic, using Search would be the preferred way of finding posts on that topic. The search function seems to work fine in that regard. What words isn't it finding?
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Old 06-26-2008, 05:42 PM   #20
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I don't follow your logic here. First, I don't see how the proposed system "imposes" anything on anyone. The tags are there. Add them to your threads if you want, or don't. If you don't, a willing party will do it for you, if appropriate. Using the 'New Posts' link, as you've said you do, the tags won't even be apparent to you.
I appreciate the sympathetic perspective of posters who may perhaps have a change of heart when they're another 3-4 years down the road with this board. This attitude is carryover from various "upgrades" that fell short of the advertising.

The vBulletin "Search" feature does not work on this board with anything approaching the effectiveness of the "Search" feature of the board's previous software. But rather than fix that, we're going to implement an entirely separate system devoted to finding things... because "Search" can't. Of course we have to put the new system together first, and it's going to take a lot of tagging labor to index the current threads... let alone the other four-plus years of archived posts. Some of which were mangled by the aforementioned software upgrades.

As for the "willing party", are you volunteering? I've served my time. I wouldn't expect any of the current moderators to be asked to assume tagger duty, and I don't think anyone else should have that expectation either. Moderator half-lives have shortened dramatically around here, and it's not just because the surf's up.

I could be wrong, you could be an expert administrator of a number of other discussion boards and a guy with 25,000 posts on them... and if so then now's the time to step forward on this board.

I just want to make real clear, up front and out loud, what features I do and do not support. I do not want silence to be assumed to be assent, let alone consent.

And, hey, sometime you should check with Chinaco to see how he's coming with the board's privacy policy. That might give you another insight to the attitude displayed by some of the board's posters.
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