2 Lessons Learned From Ugly Forum Software

Earlier this week we compared ugly forum software to the way web directories looked in 1996. To recap, web directories (i.e., early search engines) used a top-down system of categories to organize websites. Some forum platforms still use this design.

Looking back on the way Yahoo used to be, we can see why this approach proved to be ineffective: the Web is too vast and changes too quickly be broken into simple categories.

Eighteen years is a long time. Web design principles have evolved during and we are proud to incorporate some of these advancements into Ninja Post. Today, media companies like Yahoo, Twitter, and YouTube recognize the importance of showing trending content to users. We also know that search engines emphasize keyword searches that return results based on relevancy.

The takeaways with regards to forum software design are as follows:

  1. Emphasize trending content on the main page of your forum.
  2. Allow users to quickly and effectively search and filter threads.

The image below illustrates how these concepts are embedded into the Ninja Post community platform.


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Ugly Forum Software Resembles Yahoo In 1996 (LOL!)

When a user lands on the main page of a forum he or she wants to know what’s hot right now. That’s why we are baffled by forum platforms that insist on showing a list of sub-forums instead. This hierarchical, top-down format reminds us of the way “search directories” initially tried to organize the information across the web.

You can see that the forum platform pictured below divides everything into countless sub forums. This is eerily similar to the screen cap from Yahoo that dates back to the mid-1990s.

When the forum/sub forum paradigm is put in this context, it looks ugly. It also looks ineffective compared to modern approaches for organizing large volumes of information. If you agree there is a better way, we’d love to hear from you.

Yahoo – 1996

Forum with sub-forums – 2014

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I Hope This Is Not Your Forum! Three Reasons Why This Forum Might Embarrass You

From time to time, we stumble across forums on prominent sites that are, shall we say, underachieving. When neutral observers are asked to comment on the design and usability of these boards we hear things like “painfully embarrassing,” “not professional,” and “wow… that’s really bad”. These are not my words; they are comments from impartial observers. But we admit: we tend to agree with such assessments and these examples serve as motivation for us to do better!

Let’s take a look at one such example and see if we can explain why it might be embarrassing to some people. The purpose of this analysis is not to insult anyone but to examine ways to improve performance of your forum community. For this reason, the name of this particular company has been obscured to prevent any undue embarrassment.


Here are three reasons why this forum platform might embarrass you:

  1. The participation rate is disastrously low. At the time of this screen shot there are 13 members and 604 guests. Yikes.
    • What we do: We strive for a minimum of 10% of visitors to be registered.
  2. The design leaves something to be desired. The words “aesthetically pleasing” do not exactly spring to mind. This design is a poor reflection on the company’s brand.
    • What we do: Your brand is sacrosanct to us and we will make your forum look awesome.
  3. There is limited support for mobile devices and rich media. In this day and age, allowing users to quickly share photos from their phones is an absolute must.
    • What we do: Rich media support and mobile access are among our specialties.

It drives us bonkers when we see forum communities that accept mediocrity (or even less). We will never claim to be perfect. However, we are committed to achieving excellence and we will never quit in this pursuit.

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