State of the Community – September 2011
2. The Community as a whole
3. Promotion in the ranks! Congrats Sarah!
4. The Message Board
5. The Chat Room
6. The Main Site
7. The Ostomyland wiki
8. Ostomyland at Conferences/Events
9. In the Works for Oland
10. Main Site Stats
11. Main Site's Country of Visitors Percentage Stats
12. Board Stats
Welcome to the Ostomyland State of Play – September 2011 blog entry. This is a run-down of the various events, achievements and feature updates/changes/launches for Ostomyland in the last year or so, along with details of our aims/plans for Ostomyland in the coming months/year. The last SOTC posting was in June 2010 so I’ve quite a lot to go through, therefore I’ll get right on to it.
The Community as a Whole
Unbelievably its been approximately 15 months since the last SOTC address, and there’s been a lot happening at Oland Towers during this time. We’ve promoted a member of Team Ostomyland; attended our first (and not out last!) ostomy conference event; had a major redesign of the main site along with a huge update to the message board software on which you are reading this very blog message!
And that’s not all, we’ve got plans in place for the future. Firstly, there’s the chat room re-launch next week introducing a new system which we’re hoping will make chatting a whole lot more friendly for our valued members. Speaking of our members, I’m actively looking for a support system which will allow people to seek our help over technical and account problems easier and with less confusion over who to message over which problems. There are some irons in the fire which I hope to keep stoking over the coming weeks.
We've also welcomed a new staff member to the staff room. PaulineNZ's contribution towards welcoming the vast majority of new members and first time posters was both welcomed and valued and she was an ideal candidate to join the mad house of Team Ostomyland.
For the community itself, I continue to be amazed at how great a collection of folks we have on our support boards; people who are willing to help total strangers with the most intimate of problems through the sharing of their own personal experiences. Over this 15 months period the community has automatically steered itself towards the direction of “support” posting, over “off topic” posting. Both are welcome of course, and encouraged, and I hope more off topic posting will develop over the coming year, but I never lose sight of the fact that Oland is here to offer ostomates support for their stoma and pouch issues and I’m very proud of the support our community offers it’s visitors and on a personal note, I’m very proud to be able to call a lot of our “regular” posters as my friend. And I’m sure Kathy feels the same way.
Speaking of everyones favourite coffee maker admin.... Last year I was honoured to be nominated for the Ostomy Lifestyle (UK Charity) Volunteer of the Year award, as part of their 2009 awards. Well, I was delighted to see that in 2010 Kathy got some acknowledgement for all the hard work she does for the ostomy community both on and off line by being nominated for the same award. The winners announcements were made in early 2011, and sadly Kathy did not win either, but she lost to a very worthy winner who is responsilble for overseeing a support group with many thousands of pounds investment from the various ostomy companies every year. Ofcourse, Kathy has to do her part here on Oland with no money at all, so in my eyes that makes her a value-for-money winner. hehe
Promotion in the Ranks: Congrats Sarah!
I’m delighted to be able to announce that Team Ostomyland has had a promotion in its ranks. Sarah73, who has been helping to moderate a forum for over a year now, and did us proud by staffing the Ostomyland table at the Colostomy Association (UK) Conference recently, with Kathy also there. It was thanks to Breakaway founder, Julie Bastin (and fellow Team Oland staffer) that we were invited to the show, and for that I’m immensely grateful.
Sarah has been promoted to Global Moderator which means she is co-responsible for moderating all the forums on the Ostomyland board, along with helping resolve member queries, and most importantly, helping us get the Oland invited to more exhibition events, as well as helping staff the table to promote the website, and most importantly the community itself. Effectively she’s been promoted to Junior Management, only one step behind the admins.
I’ve been looking at the staff rankings and tweaked them to accommodate in Sarah’s new position. The ranks are now:
Level 1: Welcome Wagon/Happy Helper – low responsibility, usually chat room members who actively go out of their way to welcome new members and guide them where necessary to the relevant section of the site, or even to other parts of the net where appropriate. Have no moderation or chat op'ing powers.
Level 2: Moderators – Members who have accepted the responsibility of looking after one, or more, individual forums, making sure that all posts in their forums get a reply whenever possible, and passing any problems on to the admins when necessary.
Level 3: Global Moderators (Junior Management) – Sarah73’s new role. Someone who does the same as levels 1 & 2 but over ALL forums on the board, and helps members with any account problems they may have. Also, a GM is someone who actively promotes the website & community out in the real world to help bring new members to the site so that the circle of member evolution can continue.
Image 1: The Circle of Member Evolution - how members grow in confidence and become supportive of others
Level 4: Administrators (Senior Management) – Kathy and Me. We sit back, let everyone else do the work whilst drinking lots of coffee and watching telly, and reaping all the rewards from the praise Oland gets. Nah, not really! We’re always looking to promote the community offline, and try very hard to make Oland as good as it can be online, considering that this is only a hobby website which started one bored New Years Day after reading a computer mag article on making websites – i.e. we’re not professionals at support or technical stuff. This is not a job, we are not experts in any of this and are followers of the Indiana Jones philosophy – “I don’t know [what I’m doing]… I’m making this up as I go along!”
The Message Board
There’s been some big changes to the message board thanks to Invision’s latest version update to their message board software. Last month v3.2 launched, bringing with it a whole host of changes designed to make the board and its secondary features (blogs etc) as user-friendly as possible. The biggest change however has been in the redesign of the board’s main template theme (its look). The colours have been lightened, and the design brought more in line with current website design protocols. These changes have been very well received, with not one negative comment. In fact, we’ve been getting lots of positive comments from people who would normally not message us, which is great to see.
Obviously, all these changes are nothing to do with us. The message board software is a program created by Invision, so all praise has to go to them and I have sent a message to their feedback department saying how well received this latest update has been received by our members.
From our point of view, theres been very little done to the board’s structure or layout. A few forums have been merged, and some long dead & unused forums have been deleted. This has helped to try to prevent “forum overload” i.e. having a forum for every topic under the sun. In turn this makes the board’s home page seem more concise with a lot less down scrolling needed to browse it’s content.
At the moment there are no real plans in place for the future plans of the board. I’m happy with it as it is, and so I’m going to just continue to patch it when Invision releases their updates, and maybe possibly try to bring some more life to the off-topic section which has gone very quiet. This might be because of the “hidden” member-loyalty-reward forums such as the 150BG getting a lot of the daily member “chit chat” talk these days.
Speaking of the loyalty forums, because of the board’s focus switching more to support these days, post counts are not getting to the target levels for the clubs as quick. I don’t know what to do yet to try to level the playing field. The main choices are either reducing the post count needed to access the current loyalty forums (150 and 500) to maybe 25 and 100 respectively. Or… to open up new loyalty forums for those levels to act as stepping stones to the 150 and 500.
Out of the two, the latter seems the fairest, after all the members in the 150 and 500 clubs earned access to those clubs by reaching those post counts, which is a great achievement. If I opened those forums up by reducing the post count access then it would diminish that achievement, and that would be unfair.
I’m still thinking on this though, so it’s something for the future and not for the present.
And I'd just like to state for the record that just because I've said this, it does not mean I'm unhappy with the clubs. In the past it's been intimated that I was, and thats totally not the case.
The Chat Room
The chat room is finally having an overhaul. We've used the same IRC system with access via mIRC and/or a java based web browser client since year 1 of the site. In fact our weekly meetings we're largely the reason that we became so successful until the popularity of the message board community over-took it.
Over the years IRC has lost its popularity as the main chat format on the net. Nowadays chat rooms which are hosted directly on a website without the need for IRC servers and extra software are the norm. For example, Facebook's chat box among your friends etc. As a direct result of the drop in popularity in IRC the developers of the third party Java-based browser clients we've used has reduced and finally ceased. First our jPilot applet ceased development, and then the pjIRC client (which we're using now) ceased development. This means the devs no longer bought the necessary security certificates for their products, which left their product still able to be used but constantly giving out security warnings, which people had to ignore to connect to the chat with.
This situation was scaring new chatters away from Oland chat. I'm 110% positive of that fact. And so, with the update of the board to v3.2. by Invision, as well as an update to their IPchat product, we've taken the step of announcing the closure of our IRC chat room, and the launch of our new IPchat room! There's a on the board already which covers what this means for all our chatters, be they Java/jPilot/pjIRC or mIRC users, so I wont go into all that again here other than saying the changeover date is September 14th, and from that date there is one way, and one way only to access the chat room, and that will be via the new Chat tab on the message boards menu.
IPchat is powered by Ajax, which powers the Facebook chat plugins. It's incredibly fast loading, and smaller in download size. Most users wont notice it loading Im sure. And whilst it doesn't have all the features of IRC such as Stats pages and Pooh the bot, it has all the important stuff like ops, private messaging, ignore and so on. We had a test of the IPchat about 6 months ago I think it was, and it was very successful, and the feedback from that convinced me that it would help more new blood into the chat, and enable more people to enjoy reap the benefits of that.
The Main Site
The main site continues to play the part of being most peoples first impression of Ostomyland. With that in mind, I felt the site's look needed to look more professional and less bloggy - which is a hard task when i) we're not professional in any way shape or form, and ii) the site is powered by WordPress, the world's best known blogging software.
In July the new look launched, and I'm pretty pleased with it. I'd still like to be able to ditch the over-all blog feel of the site one day, but in the meantime I am very happy with the simplicity of Wordpress for authors/articles writers. If I had the money I would invest in having a professional webmaster write a new look for the site to give it that AAA look and feel, along with a simple CMS entry submission system so Kathy and co can continue to submit articles without needing any HTML or coding knowledge (the #1 plus in WordPress' book, if you ask me!)
Content wise, we've been delighted to welcome some more ostomy related companies to our Manufacturer's section, including Trio Healthcare who's products particularly impressed me personally after trying their samples.
The biggest bug-bear that I have with the main site at the moment is that it's on a separate server to the forums, and more importantly doesnt have the forums built in to it. I've been looking at lots of "portal" add ons for the board which would allow me to integrate the main-site content on to "pages" within the board's package, but sadly either the software was utterly confusing to use, or just didnt do the job well enough and so look terrible. I'll keep looking.
The Ostomyland Wiki
The wiki had a large over-haul just before the launch of the last SOTC post, and since then it's pretty much sat there and done it's job. Because I've been working on other sections of the community I've not had the chance to do any major content additions in it, but it's on the cards as theres still so many pages we could write.
On the software side of things I'd really like to change the Wikkia software to something else more industry-standard such as Media Wiki. Whilst I love the simplicity of Wikkia, and it's overall look and feel, I find it very frustrating that it has no in-built spam prevention measures such as Captcha random-letter-entry confirmation for comments and registrations. Over the last two months especially, the wiki has been victim to a lot of automatic spam-bot spamming, where a bot has managed to register an account and leave comments behind. After trying the only two "captcha" plugins community-authored for Wikkia and seeing that they didnt work, we've been left with no option but to disable user registrations and lock all pages to comments. That does kind of defeat the object of a Wiki, but considering that so far not one person aside from Kathy or myself have joined in with the Wiki's creation process, it's no major loss to the wiki or the site as a whole.
Wikkia does have a v2 update planned for release late this year, or early 2012, so I'll give that a try then and see how things goes. Spam-prevention measures are promised for v2 so I can but hope the dev's deliver on that promise.
All that aside, Im still pleased with the Wiki project. I believe we're still the only Ostomy wiki on the net, but I've not looked lately so I may be incorrect thinking that. But whether thats the case or not I'm still pleased with the 250+ pages of ostomy and bowel related content we have on there, and it makes a nice little side salad to the community forums/website main meal and serves its purpose well.
Ostomyland @ Conferences/Events
Late last year, we got our first ever table at an industry event. As mentioned earlier in this post, thanks to Julie B. and the CA we were part of their industry open day, and it gaves us a great opportunity to raise the community's awareness of our website and brand. Despite the fact we've been online 13 years now, there's many people who do not know of us, and what we do.
Considering our table had to be designed, sourced, created and delivered in a little over a week, I could not have been more pleased with the look we achieved.
Our new GM Sarah was at the event as was Kathy, and they got a taste for it (or maybe for the free sweeties... who can tell?!) So keep an eye out in the near future for more announcements about events we'll be attending as this is part of the Oland project that we really want to investigate further, and hopefully it will help the community grow further still.
In the Works for Ostomyland
Once the chat's relaunch is out of the way, the immediate "to do" planner will be clear again. However, that doesn't mean we havent got plans for the future. Most of them I've already discussed in this post, such as the conference attendance plans. However, one plan I've not really discussed yet, and is very high up the list of things I would like to do for the site, is the desire to have some form of standard contact procedure for people to ask us for tech or account help, especially now that there's more management staff who will be working on this side of things.
The initial idea is a sort of "ticket" service. If anyone has ever contacted a software company for tech support then if you weren't directed to a forum to post, then chances are you created a ticket. The benefits of a ticket is that all level appropriate staff are alerted to the tickets creation. So lets say User A sends a ticket asking for help with tech support on the site, then his ticket would be sent to me and Kathy. If User B were to send a request for accounts help, then the ticket would be sent to me, Kathy and Sarah, allowing any one of us to step in and answer the queries. I'm thinking that this would give everyone a single, prominent/dedicated place to go for help. The ticket system would not be for ostomy support though. As that is peer-to-peer all that would still need to go through the board to the community members, as more than likely we (the staff) would see a huge increase in the amount of queries we had to deal with personally, and chances are we might not have the personal experience required to help that say, another member might have.
So that's one thing I'm keen to try and implement in a way to improve the user's experience of Ostomyland should they ever require tech support on the site, or account support, or need to ask how to do something on the board.
Another project I need to work on is actually nothing to do with front of house stuff, but is instead an updated FAQ section for forum mods and admins on how to do what on the board from the staff standpoint. ie edit posts, move posts, or thread, and rename threads, warn spammers, and so on. A lot of this has changed since v3.2 was installed so all their files need updating too. That will likely take priority over the ticket system project.
Then theres just the main site content to freshen up, and the wiki to write a major update for, and the new chat room to promote around the net again and..... well, you get the picture. We've already done so much, but there's just as much still to be done... if not, more!
Main Site Stats
Oland been online: 4512 days
Current Hits: 6,731,484
Current Average Hits (01/Sept/11 to 08/Sept/11): 4054 per day
Unique Visitors to Site (Avg per day – same timeframe): 1508
Main Site's Top 10 Country of Visitors Percentage Stats (for Aug 2011):
Current # of Board Members: 3308 (8th Sept 2011) – Previous SOTC entries total: 2530 (Jun 2010)
New Members since last SoP Blog: 778 (on 8th Sept over 15mths) – Previous SOTC entries total: 375 (8 months)
Total Posts: 74724 – Previous SOTC entry total: 67816
No. Of Posts since last SoP Blog: 6908 – Previous total 5880
Most board members online in one day: 74 – 01 August 2010
Most board members online at once: 125 – 23 May 2011 (Awesome!)
Green = Broken/Increased since last SoP Blog
Red = No Change/Increase since last SoP Blog