What's your opinion on a forum update?

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Cimrandir
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What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Cimrandir »

Well, here we are sixteen days away from what is the most likely going to be the biggest Tolkien-related media event for the foreseeable future. I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed an uptick in new members (hello everyone! I'm very glad you are here!) and while I don't claim to know the future, it is my guess that that number will rise even more in the coming weeks and months as folks return to Middle-earth. To that end, there's been a few of us (Eofor, Manveruon, and myself to name but a handful) talking about how best to welcome the new hobbyists to the fold. I like to think this forum with it's wealth of knowledge and experience has much to offer and is (in discussion at least) a little more "in-depth" so to speak than say Facebook or other social media. In particular, we've been discussing how best to update the Kit Guide that Manveruon, Udwin, and Taurinor released some years ago. Nothing too new of course, just streamlining and expanding what's already written. More on that to come.

Further, there has also been discussion (by myself for one) of possible ways to also update the forum itself. Facebook is dandy as a gateway but the forum is the real meat-and-potatoes to me and personally, I think there's some steps we could take to make things a little more accessible to new-comers. To be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with the forum itself! I said it before both in public and in private and I'll say it again - this forum is my favorite corner on the internet, bar none and what makes it my favorite is the people here. This is just some idle thoughts I've had on how to streamline some of the organization here. Change for the sake of change isn't my favorite but in the face of possibly a deluge of newcomers, I think it stands to reason a quick dusting and beating of the rugs might be in order.

Now I don't want to go upsetting the apple-cart so I wanted to ask folks here how they felt about the current organization and layout of the forum. Before I present the list of ideas, what do you think about the idea of a small update?
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Taylor Steiner
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Taylor Steiner »

I think an update would be great if we could more easily upload pics? That would streamline things considerably.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Cimrandir »

An increase in the maximum size for attachments at least would be much appreciated to be sure.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Tom_Ranger »

I agree. The hoops we had to jump through to post our pic for avatar is extreme, yet when we post pictures otherwise they can be gigantic with as much detail as we like. Seems a bit strange.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Cimrandir »

Those would be photos using Imgur instead of the native hosting here on the forum. Two different issues. Imgur is supremely simple to use so I’d look into that if you want to post in threads but you’re right as far as the profile photos go since we can’t use Imgur there. Fairly straightforward with profiles though as the limit is 100x100. Just set the photo to those dimensions and you should be good to go. I’m just wary of Imgur after living through the shutdown of Photobucket and Imageshack and prefer the attachment system.
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Peter Remling
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Peter Remling »

I've been using Imgur for years. It's pretty simple. I keep my originals on my computer, download to Imgur and then do the Direct Link to the forum. I have the originals on my computer for the same reason Cimrandir mentions. I lost access to a lot of pics when Photobucket pulled their BS. The main reason I've used Imgur to post is that the Forum gets charged by the amount of bandwidth it uses so using Imgur decreases the amount of bandwidth Jack pays for. It may not be a lot but every little bit helps.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Cimrandir »

Ahh, that is excellent to know Peter! Thank you for the explanation. I have very little knowledge of computer-y things and that makes sense. I would hate to put any further strain on Jack after he already does so much.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Iodo »

I agree that some sort of update might be good...
...but I can't really think of anything the forum really needs, the layout is good, the navigation is good, everything just works fine as it is, I'm no expert on web design so if anyone with more experience things something needs changing I'm all for it :P

a little off topic tho: why does the Prancing Pony board look different to the rest of the forum, that's puzzled me for a while?
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Elleth »

I think changes are up to Jack, and like Iodo can't think of much I'd want to change... hrm. though I suppose the welcome threads and books could maybe use some updating for whatever new techniques we've discovered, vendors that have appeared or gone out of business, etc. For that matter, the wiki probably needs far more work than the forum does, if the aim is to provide a good reference for newcomers.

- Prancing Pony presumably looks different b/c it has a missing or broken stylesheet reference.

- Personally I prefer local uploads for archival reasons - the Photobucket incident still stings. :( I know we've offered in the past to raise funds for Jack to reimburse his hosting costs, and the offer's still open, especially if the accumulated uploads over the last half decade - or new traffic - have made it more of a burden.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Eofor »

I've seen some of Cimrandirs proposed changes and they aren't radical or aimed at changing the face or function of the forums but could better be described as tidying and consolidation.

As to the starting experience for newcomers, is there a consensus on the best way forward? We seem to be putting our eggs into multiple omelettes between the wiki and a handbook.
Where would our efforts best be focused.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Greg »

I think ultimately the avatar and image upload restrictions can[.I] be changed, but they may tax bandwidth in a way that is cost-prohibitive. I don't know; that's all in Jack's hands. I'd rather not see avatar sizes change; many old B Code forums had enormous avatars that made reading a thread difficult, but the image upload I understand as being complicated.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Cimrandir »

I’ll post up a list of proposed changes here in a little while when I’m not on my phone but yes, I don’t think profile pictures need to change. 100x100 is easy enough. And as far as attachments go, if it was clearly stated the maximum size (500x500 or whatever it actually is), I think that would go a long way to helping. I just use a online cropper to adjust the sizes of my photos and if I knew the dimensions first, it would save me the time fiddling with it multiple times. Otherwise, I don’t ultimately think much needs to change with that personally.

And yes, the offer is always open to crowdfunding maintenance costs. I would be more than happy to chip in a few bucks a month to keep this place up and running.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Iodo »

Greg wrote: Thu Aug 18, 2022 10:44 am I think ultimately the avatar and image upload restrictions can be changed, but they may tax bandwidth in a way that is cost-prohibitive. I don't know; that's all in Jack's hands. I'd rather not see avatar sizes change; many old B Code forums had enormous avatars that made reading a thread difficult, but the image upload I understand as being complicated.

I agree, I think the limit on here is 100x100px [EDIT: It's actually 80x80], and when you consider that one or two forums still limit avatars to 50x50, but reddit allows 256x256 (but there page source on the threads still scale it down so they don't appear at that size anywhere other than on a users home page) we're about average on avatar image size so I don't think it's to small, and I don't think it needs changing

However a lot of forums have a built in image scale system so all you need to do is upload an image with the correct aspect ratio (ie. 1:1) and the forum code will do the rest. A system like that might not be possible and I personally don't really see it as needed, but I guess if it was possible and not to difficult to set up it might be worth having, just to make starting up an account that bit smoother for new folks?
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Cimrandir »

In no particular order of importance, here is my beginning thoughts on streamlining the forum. To be absolutely clear right up front, let me stress that these are all my personal opinions and ideas. I will happily adhere to whatever the group decides. This is not me complaining at all! Just wanting to help this forum in whatever small way that I can.


1. I would like to consolidate the welcome threads to a singular sub-forum. I’ve noticed that the welcome threads tend to be posted all over the place. To that end, I think the Prancing Pony sub-forum would be the perfect place to host the welcome threads if we move the birthday threads. It’s already in the name. What better place to sidle up to the bar and introduce yourself than at the pub? I would say bump the Pony up closer to the top and make it clear that this is the place for newcomers to announce themselves.

2. In that same vein, while I love the notion of the birthday threads, I think they are clogging up the Prancing Pony forum. Keeping them around permanently maybe isn't the best idea when you see somebody's birthday thread and then just scroll down a little and see the one from the year before haha. A different phpBB forum I frequent has a dedicated birthday sub-forum that auto-deletes birthday threads every two weeks or month? Probably don’t need to go that far but maybe three months? Six? Honestly, even if we made a dedicated birthday-wishes forum that would help. This is my only "addition" suggestion instead of a streamlining.

3. Regarding the "Getting Started" forum, I think if we move the various threads around, we could use it as a staging ground for the Kit Guide. First I would lock the sub-forum in general so that things don't get accidently posted there while we are working on things. But my idea is to utilize the sub-forum by breaking down the individual major kit items into their own threads (tunic, water-carriers, shoes, etc.):
- Have the first post detailing what Tolkien wrote about + the utmost basics so even the most inexperienced cosplayer can join in with the fun.
- Second post would be a list of materials and why you would want to choose wool over linen or vice-versa or why chrome-tan isn't really that great, etc.
- Third would be more detailed with historical backgrounds and then patterns + maybe a discussion of cultural identification (how to make a tunic look like one from Rohan versus how to make it look like it's from Bree, etc).
- Fourth would be a display of individual's MERF/MERS kit that relates to the topic + links to forum discussions in the past that really delve into the subject.
- And then the last post would be a collection of links to where you could buy materials or a list of reputable craftsmen if they didn't want to go that far.
- Then lock the thread so there's no replies and pin it to the top. Do this for most of the major items and then a catch-all thread for the smaller bits.
- Add in a couple threads of "How to sew", "What do we do and why do we do what we do?", "How to survive your first night in the woods", "Basic meals for the trail", "Building a persona" etc. etc. etc. and we're golden!

The thought behind using threads is for easily linking to specifics so if someone is looking for what kind of trousers they need, we can link them directly to a discussion on just that. Of course, with a bit of editing, we can combine all the basic information in the threads into a overall Kit Guide.

"Now wait!" you say. "This is what the Wiki is for!"

"True enough" I respond. Yeah, that's the only real snag to this idea. My only defense is that when folks google "Middle-earth Rangers" the forum is the first thing that pops up. And frankly, most of the time they just come directly to the forum and start posting without even knowing that we have a Wiki, much less reading it. Having something directly on the forum might (might?) help newcomers get oriented a little faster.

As I typing this up, I've noticed that the link to the Wiki at the top of the forum has disappeared. That might also help.

Anyway, just a couple of thoughts.


4. I think there’s probably some general sub-forum updating that could be done:
- On the subject of Getting Started, I think combining the "How To's" and "Getting Started' would be nice. There's some good info there by Pete and Siani that gets overlooked being way down there at the bottom.
- Combining the "MER Websites Talk" and "General Forum Stuff". Pretty much the same thing, no?
- Moving all the previous welcome threads to the Pony.
- Moving all the recent Birthday threads to the Birthday forum and deleting older ones.
- Moving the MERF Random Adventure Pictures thread to the "Outings" forum. Would love to see more posts in that forum. (I'm working on that myself.)
- Maybe moving the MERS forum up slightly higher for more attention as there's some great discussions with the newsletter threads.
- Shift the "Review" forum down to the Trading Post with the "For Sale" and "Services" forums.

There is maybe a few other minor changes I would suggest but that's the gist of it. Any suggestions or feedback is entirely welcome.

Also, I had had the thought that since they are not the most active that it might be prudent to recombine the Elves, Hobbits, and Dwarves back into a single "Non-Human" forum but I reread the "Northman subforum?" thread and it seems folks still like them separate so unless folks have changed their minds since 2019, I think we can disregard this one.

5. On the subject of removing things, I think the list of moderators and admins could be trimmed. There’s quite a few of the admins that haven’t logged in and posted in ages. Again going back to my lack of computer knowledge but I wonder if it’s not a security risk having inactive administrators. To me, it seems dangerous and a backdoor for bad folks to get in and start messing with stuff. But I admit I may be over-reacting to that idea.

Just in general I don't know if we need so many admins (we're a pretty quiet and polite bunch) and if we do need them, maybe replace them with more active members. If we do get an influx of new members and this place becomes more active, this might be needed anyway.

[EDIT] I think it might also be nice to have a small inclusivity statement welcoming all to the hobby. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's noticed an uptick in various .. . opinions with the advent of the Amazon series. Maybe I'm looking for trouble where there isn't any but I think it would be nice to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it. A short statement that Middle-earth is technically not medieval and thus subject to any number of interpretations (Cheddar Man hobbits, anyone?) would further reinforce the point from a Tolkienian perspective.
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Re: What's your opinion on a forum update?

Post by Peter Remling »

In my opinion, formed, over several forums and many years, many newcomers don't look for Beginner Subforums. I feel our Welcome Subforum "Getting Started" is exactly where it should be at the top. It's the first thing you see and the first thing newcomers will look at.
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