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When Starting a Forum, Don't Overload the Categories

I have seen this mistake enough times that I think a short blog on it is due.

When starting new forum, the creator usually envisions what he wants it to be like… what categories there should be and what people should be talking about.

The natural next step is to create the categories.  Often ten or more are created.  Then it is opened up for people to come… and it doesn't work.

There are two reasons that doesn't work.

First, all of those empty categories make the forum seem spacious and inactive.  It is overwhelming and quiet… like inviting 5 people to meet at a convention center.  Those same five people could be a crowd at a table for 4 in a nice restaurant.  Keep the number of places (categories, topics) to interact in very small until there are more people, and you won't have people look around wide eyed and wonder off.

Second, the categories you want them to talk in may not be what people want to talk about or the way that they want to categorize what they talk about.  Let's use the small party example again.  If you invite five friends over and give them each a list of 10 things to talk about, you may end up implying they cannot talk something else that was important to them or sharing two themes at once.  On a forum, you want to start with only a few very broad topics (maybe even one!) and let the natural conversation show you what new categories are needed.  (“Wow, half the posts are about turtle migrations… better break off and make a turtle migration category.”)

So to sum up, start with a very small number of categories so your forum immediately looks active, and keep the categories broad so that the community can create direction and inspire new categories.