Originally Posted by jmwking
OK, it got longer than I expected, but you asked:
You have quite a vibrant community here. I don't think it needs too much work - more evolution than revolution.
The first questions I'd ask are: What percentage of threads are started by new users (or users with fewer than 10 posts)? How many members return after those first posts? What percentage of hits are from unregistered users? I suspect the board has a very high percentage of very temporary members or researchers. The design should cater to them, not the folks who'll be here regardless, and can navigate without giving it a moment's thought (or can after a brief adjustment to any changes).
A quick look at the roster seems to show that of almost 550,000 registered users, about 400,000 have never posted; 20,000 users have 10 posts; 2,000 users have 100 posts; and 200 users have 1000 posts. OK, and a dozen members (presumably with carpel tunnel) have 10,000+ posts.
From a tech perspective, I generally like vBulletin (I use vB for my board), and your mobile skin addition was welcome - especially with read thread marking consistent between the styles and browsers. Allowing the user to choose styles would be nice, rather than having the system choose for you. No accounting for taste. I have a couple visually impaired members using the mobile style on their computers - much larger and easier for them to read. Any change to the look and feel will, of course, be disruptive to the experienced members, but they will adapt to the new norm.
Looking at content, I personally find there are too many stickied threads, and all over the place. No more than two or three stickied threads per board would be my goal, and only sticky them on the first page. Do we really need a stickied poll on blackberry loyalty or devices supporting OS 5? Perhaps a read-only board with proven useful stickies (not quite an FAQ), well edited for consistent layout and language, with a welcoming title, placed at or near the top of the forum list for new users to easily find. Alas, as far as I can tell most people won't read stickies, though, but would rather post the same question for the umpteenth time.
I'm torn between too many boards and keeping topics apart. Some boards haven't been posted to in weeks or months - are they really needed? Is a board dedicated "to the upcoming BlackBerry Operating System 6.0" still needed? Blackberry on Non-RIM hardware? And the "general" and "help" boards have way too much overlap and no clear differentiation. Many topics get put into them that should rightfully be in one of the more narrowly focused boards. If there's going to be a fine sifting of board topics, the messages should be reflected in them. Much more aggressively moving threads would keep the other boards more active, too.
From a community management perspective, an effort to tone down the snark and accusatory tone from some of the more experienced members might be helpful. Obviously the board is not here to help support stolen devices, crack software, or abet spying. Those issues do come up routinely, and get tiresome to address over and over- but they could be handled with a bit more tact. Perhaps a top sticky on the primary board (currently "general") with posting guidelines to remind people what the BBF is about, and what constitutes appropriate topics. And while it's funny for the regulars, there really shouldn't be an opportunity to kick back with popcorn.