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It is a decision I am facing and that I struggle with: How can I split up the community into different subcommunities like reddit.

Currently users post on the main site. Everyone was fine with that, except it is getting more and more. Also a lot of posts don't survive (we have a reddit like voting that blocks post that have a too high percentage of dislikes) just because they face the wrong part of the audience when posted.

Now as a lot of forums and reddit do with great success I want to introduce topic/interest based subsites. The idea is great and most moderators and power users I asked see the value in this.

The idea seems great but the way to achieve the goal is somewhat unclear. Here are the scenarios I imagined:

  1. Controlled splitting: I create very few subcommunities in the beginning with some topics I know are relevant to a larger audience and the site will benefit from having. Then I monitor what happens, gather feedback and introduce another sidepage where users can give input on which branch to open up next. Pros: The site doesn't get split up too heavily, the topic branches will benefit all as they stay relevant, users get introduced to the idea of more than the main page (also I think reddit did it this way) Cons: Topics will be very unspecific and therefor the content might not get broader, topics are chosen generically and we have to decide what topic is important enough, not too broad but still gives room for the not mainstream posts (like the art one)
  2. Free splitting: Just like reddit has now (quite some users are redditors) we could also allow users to build up their own communities. Pros: A space for everyone, the creativity of the user base will come up with use cases beyond our fantasies, the right topic site will be there as soon as there is an audience around, relevant for a lot of people, technically and from curation side doable. Cons: Might be a too heavy split, users could get lost in the thousand new sites, mainpage activity will go down while at the same time the new sites will have issues having enough posts, hard to decide for the user where to put a post.

Those are the two scenarios I can imagine could both work very well. The end goal would be a reddit like solution to give the users the ability to create their own spaces around topics. The question is how can I introduce it without risking to split the traffic too much?

  • could you define "Splitting the traffic" better? Would you want to get some more server, some sub-forums or even some own communities at different webserver? – CentrixDE Oct 21 '16 at 11:11
  • I want to split the community from one main page into different subcommunities based on topics and interests. The technical side is not the problem but how I can introduce this new aspect to the community without risking to split it up too much. – loiro Oct 21 '16 at 13:06
  • You can split different specific Topics which have a very big amount of questions(maybe over 15-20% of your traffic). I would create a Sticky Post in your case to provide everyone will get notified. I wouldn't personally see this as a negative aspect(from a user perspective). If this didn't answer your question could you please describe what do you understand under splitting? fewer users on the Main-Page, Less Questions, Group-Building? – CentrixDE Oct 21 '16 at 13:15
  • 1
    It answers the question, thank you. – loiro Oct 21 '16 at 15:55
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I don't get your key concern here - and I believe that there is a misconception. It doesn't matter how you will structure your site and subsites, traffic will remain as high as it is now, it could even make a small jump.

Let's look at an example: I am a seasoned user of your community and I really appreciate your (our) community. However, in recent times, I felt like there is no real place for my stuff to post. I felt that there is a small disconnect between my idea of content and the idea of content of other participators. So I asked you to take a investigate a little bit. You did and came to the conclusion that not only I am affected but other users as well. So you came back to me and told me that there (soon) will be a place where other fellow seasoned users and I can gather and talk about all the stuff we like.

So I waited for a while until you technically implemented a solution. One day, it's ready to be unveiled. So you do. I'm very glad that you introduce subcommunities and soon I find myself visiting the subcommunity more often than the main site. The subcommunity is still steadily growing, but eventually it stagnates. So, I come back to the main site and ask about it. Well, I'm told that a community needs time, so basically I'll stick to the main site a little while longer and hope that there is a solution sometime soon.

This is a (temporarily) failed scenario in the view of Community Building, but is it a fail in the view of advertising? No, it's not. Traffic should remain the same as long as your subcommunities are hosted at the internet presence. Earlier I stated that your traffic could even gain some nifty percentages. This is because users, who are desperate to communicate with folks who are like-minded, are more likely to visit your site and subsites more frequently due to the hope to find someone whom the user can community with. And if they don't meet like-minded users in your subcommunity they will return to the main community to express their agony. So, traffic shouldn't pose a big problem. Ads can easily relayed to your subcommunities and in the end your revenue should be around the same. The problem lays somewhere else.

Successful change is something that is slowly turning into tradition. Tradition needs to be valued and time to be established. So if you introduce several new communities at once, you can be sure that there is a disconnect as users don't have enough time to value each community separately. Having this in mind, I recommend to not use the second method. Giving such crucial power to a community that seeks change will turn over quite a few things. However, I also recommend to not use the first method. You might be the community leader but a very good community is built onto the participation principle, meaning that everyone should have a say in matters that change the community in a lasting way.

So instead of taking either way, we will just combine both and restrict the momentum of especially ambitious users (at least temporarily). The users may decide which community is the most needed right now. However, they need to decide on a limited number of them and decide how deeply connected the main community and the new one are (what topics should be discussed where). This way you signalize to ready a path of change - it's not a path of sudden change (which sometimes is needed direly) but one of progressive change.

Right now is a good time to introduce the key concern of your question: it's not traffic but user engagement, activity and happiness. As I said, it's unlikely that you will lose a significant percentage of traffic but you could lose a significant amount of activity and happiness (you couldn't possibly be happy if the thing you desired most is not working out completely fine).

Combining both methods and temporarily restricting ambitious users could be exactly what you look for. This way the community itself can decide what is needed the most right now. After deciding and establishing it, you wait some time and look how it works. If it's working out fine, you can continue and let the community decide on the next matter.

Coming back to another important point, I believe that this one is the part where it could be very difficult to yield a satisfying result. While you want to give everyone a place where he can do what he likes the most, you also don't want to lose engagement on your main community as this one is the one you're (at least right now) representing yourself with to the internet. So it's mandatory to somehow connect your main community and your subcommunities. I think @Andys idea is very appealing, however it might not be enough.

While exchanging content between sites can motivate some users to join several subcommunities, it hardly motivates to return to any site more frequently than your own subcommunity. One way to cultivate your main site is to establish periodical events that are only and exclusively hosted on your main site. For example, you can host the "Community Improvement Event" where users return to your main site and propose idea to improve your community. Another idea is to host real life events that connects your community - and which can only be visited if you are active on the main site. Yet another idea is to take away all active power of the subcommunities (power to change the community actively, as implementing new technical things or redesigning some parts of the community) and place it onto the main site. This way the leaders of your subcommunities and the users are forced to come back to your main site to change their own community. (However, the last approach might be doing more bad than good - nothing is more irritating as a pseudo subcommunity which is a community that not truly is a subculture but rather a slave to the main community.)

The conclusion is to slowly establish changes and see how they work out. The next thing is to connect subcommunities and the main community - and after this is done you can go on and make changes periodically. The community will adapt to your pace and most likely will appreciate that they actively have a say.

  • Just to clarify: It is all about the happiness and satisfaction of the community and every single user. The fear of splitting the traffic was more in the direction of less content, less engagement, less satisfied and happy users. This could lead to a downward spiral. Should have made that clearer. Still your answer stands and provides a great way and one I will try out. – loiro Oct 24 '16 at 14:16
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I don't think the method of splitting is your main issue. You can choose to either do it yourself or have the community split into different subgroups. In either case, though you still want the entire thing to still feel like a community. You want the different subgroups to intermingle, correct?

In that case, I propose you focus on maintaining a feed that is much like your current front page. You need a page like Stack Overflow's Questions page, or Reddit's new page or Twitter's firehose. These pages all do the same thing. They show you everything that is being posted, much like your current environment.

In your case, much like Reddit's, the new posts would still be sorted into their own sub-community. Users can visit that sub-community and see only posts from that group. They can switch to another sub-community and only see posts from that group. Or, they can go back to your firehose, and see everything as it comes in again.

This provides a few benefits when you implement it. First, users that don't like change will be unaffected (assuming your firehose sits at the same URL as your main page). Second, users get to decide if they want to see everything or just a sub-set. The firehose provides a bit of protection against complete isolation of subgroups. In the future, you can provide new features around how communities are shown to both registered and unregistered users.

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It's based on your Community. Both options are really great but they won't work in every community :/

Idea No. 1 is the "Allrounder" which is in every case a good idea. You can control it by yourself and no one can "Spam" Community or can compete with others.

Idea No. 2 would be the "trusty" method to give the community a chance to get their own community. You would need some mods to provide peace in and between the communities to provide a good experience in the whole community.

I can understand your thoughts about splitting the community and it's a good point. As I don't know which software you are using, they would be too many options to provide some good feedback based on your software.(maybe you can edit your question or leave a comment?) BTT: As long as the Community doesn't need to setup tons of accounts to participate in the different communities you don't have to worry about splitting the community too much. Basic Topics could be in a "Main-Forum" which brings the community together to prevent a big split.

  • -Users would use their existing account and privileges in every subforum -Users can only post and vote in subforums where they subscribed (prevent drive by users) Problem is simply that if I chose the maintopics it could mean not giving the room for the real niche content. Giving everyone the possibility to create their own space it could be too much and overwhelming for a) new users, b) occasional users and also existing users as it isn't just a site you open anymore but have to put effort into. – loiro Oct 21 '16 at 14:50
  • Ok do you use a Forum-Software or a reddit-like Software? – CentrixDE Oct 21 '16 at 15:12
  • Reddit like software. Also creation etc of the subforen would be done in a similar way. Difference is that there would be no owner so far but all users can help. – loiro Oct 21 '16 at 15:16
  • Oh ok, I though you are using a complete own Forum Software like IPBoard, WBB or VBulletin. Ok then you could still have a main-forum where are updates and some other community-related stuff are posted – CentrixDE Oct 21 '16 at 15:37
  • That will be the case for sure, difference is that we don't have a hit sorting for the main page or something similar. – loiro Oct 21 '16 at 15:58
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I would first try to investigate if you really need sub-forums. If your traffic is light, and your members aren't complaining about offtopic threads in your forum, you may not need them.

But if you do add them, I would suggest creating them all at once, but encourage members to keep creating content in the original forum(s), and manually moving the threads to their appropriate sub-forum, making sure to leave a redirect link in the original forum.

  • Traffic is almost too fast already (really hard to keep up with the content) but the biggest issue we are trying to solve with that is to give non mainstream content a room to exist and connect with like minded users. Manually moving will be really hard to do as the content is so fast paced. – loiro Nov 29 '16 at 8:36

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