Category Archives: Online Forums

Online Forum Documentation Project

For a little over a year now, I’ve been a curator.

A keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection.
custodian – keeper – trustee – guardian – conservator

It is an administrative role at a friendly online forum, with posts monthly from between 50 and 60 engaged members from around the world.  Historically several hundred have been members at some point, and it has been going longer than the three years I have been part of the community.

It has a challenge of conveying the rules of a collaborative writing game, everything from how a member conducts themselves in a chatbox to the boundaries of science in the game have been painstakingly discussed over the years, debated, disagreed, resolved and reworked by the members and their curators.

The curator team has changed regularly over time, adapting to a larger group of members, more activity, hundreds of questions and the considerations of making final decisions on some of these discussions.  All in all, it can be a mammoth task, especially when collaboration is entirely done through forum posts, instant messages and the odd Skype call when timezones allow.  Some days it can feel a thankless task, other days it is synonymous with an online pub where topics fall to cooking and discussing the differences in culture and daily life between us.

Last year, shortly after I made the ranks of curator, the team went through a period of ‘redux’ where the forum’s documentation had become sprawling and inaccessible to many, with contradictions and other matters.  The forum had a wiki, but it was generally only for the interested or involved, and the decision was made to keep the core documentation on forum pages, but reduce the number and simplify matters.  But where to start proved tricky, and without being able to be in the same room to draw it out or debate it, it was hard to visualise.

Then stepped up a beautiful piece of software I’d acquired for the Mac – MindNode, a tool to map out thoughts and ideas in a spider-diagram.

We were able to turn this:

Into this:


From there we could revise each piece of documentation in turn, rewrite it, edit it, tweak it, normalise the language and terminology between them so we used consistent names and formatting. Suddenly from a mass of text, here came the visualisation.

The short story being, that visualising things ended up working perfectly for us. What seemed an insurmountable task was now tackled by people who had never met in person, and benefitted many (albeit a hobby pursuit).

It’s a technique I will follow whether with pen and paper, or on here, to map out everything from content for a site, to a plan for a fictional character or environment. Ideas link – they flow from one to the next in logical steps, and from one idea can link many. Using this technique I am able to create far more detailed, reasoned and rounded ideas and executions, in almost any reasoning.