Rose's Study Blog

September 12, 2009

Online forums FOC09

Filed under: Uncategorized — rosannew @ 4:08 pm

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g294331-i883-Fiji.html

I chose TripAdvisor as it is my favourite site for finding out the details of different accommodation in places that I am intending to visit. I have never used the forums before this though.

This is a very active forum. 6695 topicsfor the Sth Pacific alone which on a first visit is quite daunting. I chose the Fiji forum just so I could get my head around one forum. There are so many forums in this site because there are so many possible destinations. The users must be travellers, hotel owners are officially banned. The users post a topic regarding their travel plans and reply to each other. There are volunteer Fiji destination experts who keep an eye on the postings and reply if a post has not been tended to.

At first glance, you might there there isn’t much of a community here as travel plans come and go and there is no reason for people to stay using the forums. However, when you dig deeper, there is quite a strong community here. People use the forums before and after their travels, and planning a trip can take quite a while. There are also users who volunteer as experts on the forums and are the closest the site gets to facilitators (that I could see).

I interviewed one of these volunteers and asked her why she would volunteer her time on this forum. She said that she was a regular contributor to the forum anyway and spends 6 months of every year in Fiji so she really has good local knowledge of the island. She likes being an official volunteer because it gives her opinions more weight and she can reply to a topic that she thinks is off beam with another point of view. (Some users tend to have favourite gripes about places that they never let go of). As far as feeling part of an online community, she feels very much a part of one, as people are regular contributors to the forums and she is familiar with a lot of the personalities on site. There is also a good social network attached to the forum including private emails, a travel version of facebook, and twitter so she has her group of friends within the forum.

How to improve the forums was a harder question. We both agreed that the amount and size of the forums was definitely a draw back. We decided that more volunteers like her, could help facilitate the site better but you couldn’t pay someone to do this role as it is moving away from the nature of the site being by users, for users. More control over the amount of forums she felt would be good so a stronger moderation role could work here.

In conclusion, this is not a highly facilitated site mainly because of the type of site that it is. The facilitation that occurs is by the users rather than by an actual staff members who act as moderators. To facilitate it by a non user source would interfere with the intent of the forum. Some reduction in the amount of topics posted could improve the forum but it is really hard to see how you could do this without interfering with the nature of the forum.

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