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What are the pros and cons of a discussion forum main page
that works like so:

  1. At the top of the page there's a list of forums and sub forums.

  2. Below the list of forums, there's a list of forum threads. It lists the most recent threads from all selected forums, i.e. each forum which has its checkbox checked — see image below.

  3. Initially, all checkboxes are selected. So by default the page lists the most recent threads for all forums and sub forums.

Here's a mockup:


Mockup of forum main page


Personally, I think:

Pros:

  • You can view the most recent discussions for any combination of forums, without having to visit each individual forum.

  • If [which forums are selected] can be specified in the URL (e.g. in the hash fragment), then people can link to their own favorite selection of forums. And then, in a single page view, find the most recent threads that are of interest to them.

Cons:

  • A new interface that people have to learn.

  • Somewhat more work to make this work well with SEO.

What other pros and cons are there?

((And would you prefer this forum front page, over traditional front pages where you click and navigate to the sub forums of interest to you?))

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The idea of allowing users to customize their front page sounds great. I think the problem in your suggestion is that you split selection from content. The way you suggest it, you a) still show all users all options before they get to the content and b) list the content in a different position from the options, which feels counter-intuitive. And c) it is hard to distinguish what listed content comes from which forum, so if users would, based on the topic, want to read more from that forum, they have no clue where to go - or you have to repeat the forum name again.

How about incorporating your idea into the more traditional view of forum (and subforum) listings. Instead of just listing all forums, give the users the option to expand and see more topics from that forum. This way they can easily expand and see if they really want more content from that forum. It is easy to change back and forth their preference, and the forum-topic-relationship is visually clear.

Implement it with a option to opt out from these expanded views being stored as the users defaults, which also helps to explain the whole logic. Additionally, you could give users a choice on how many topics to expand or feature on the front page.

My below mock-up shows the idea, only for the main forums, but you could implement this for subforums also. Note that forum 1 and forum 4 should have a arrow upwards to collapse them, but I couldn't find one in the mock-up tool.

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

Obviously, this mock-up is just an rough idea. You would have to address how to navigate to a forum without expanding, what items are supposed to get shown, how do you browse to topics, how to implement subforums, etc.

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You raised really interesting problems! This mockup seems easier to understand than the one in the question. –  KajMagnus Jan 13 '13 at 15:53
    
If one prefers to view forums and subforums as some kind of tags, rather than a tree of forums/subforums, then it wouldn't make sense to list the threads in between the forums/subforums. — I came up with another somewhat crazy mockup, here. –  KajMagnus Jan 13 '13 at 15:54
    
@KajMagnus Great if my suggestions kicked off some ideas. Always a good thing, if people don't just wait for the perfect answer but develope thoughts based on the feedback. –  kontur Jan 13 '13 at 15:59
    
Here is actually a forum that works like you suggested, except for categories not being collapsible (everything is mostly static html): support.zendesk.com/home (the blue links below each forum title are forum topics) –  KajMagnus Jan 30 '13 at 19:26
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No, i wouldn´t prefer this kind of front page because the checkboxes waste place on the site and makes its difficult to get an overview.

But i love the function to select forums.

Maybe it could be a solution to show or hide the selecion with a sliding panel.

My interests wouldn´t be changed every 5 minutes. So it should be enough, when i select the forum and then hide the selection till i want to change this later.

Rgds Eric

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Hmm, the checkboxes don't have to be actual checkboxes. The forum titles could instead be functioning like toggeable buttons. When you click them they could be highlighted. But then it might be harder for people to understand how things work. However! They'll have to click some forum sooner or later. And then they'll notice what happens: That forum alone gets highlighted or un-highlighted. And then they will understand. (Young people anyway :-)) –  KajMagnus Jan 13 '13 at 10:27
    
Do the checkboxses really waste that much space? I was thinking about the "Threads: 18,770; Posts: 114,911" columns that forum main pages usually include — I think they waste space :-) And the "Last comment by Nnnn on YYYY-MM-DD" also waste some space I think. –  KajMagnus Jan 13 '13 at 10:29
    
Remembering the selection in a cookie is a very good idea indeed :-) –  KajMagnus Jan 13 '13 at 10:29
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@kontur notes in his answer some interesting issues with my original proposal. Here's another suggestion, perhaps a little bit crazy, that might avoid the problem he mentioned. (And introduces new problems :-) This answer won't work well on mobile phones?)

It works like so: To the right, there's a list of forums. Click one to toggle it selected. To the left, topics are listed, for the forums you've selected. Arrows indicate to which forum each forum thread belongs. If threads are sorted by forum, arrows won't overlap.

It addresses @kontur's issues like so:
The forum selection list is still split from the contents list. But now, a) contents is shown before options, and b) I think it'd be fairly easy to understand how the contents list is related to the forum list. And c) the arrows show what listed content comes from which forum (in case the user wants to read more from that forum).


Forum threads listed to the left, and forums to the right. Arrows indicate which threads belong to which forum.


Now you might wonder why I think I prefer to list all forum threads in one single list. It's because this makes the forum categories feel more like nested tags, rather than a category tree. And since they're tags, it'd be possible to make it possible to insert a forum thread into more than one forum. And I think that sometimes a thread really belongs in more than one forum. (Hmm I wonder if this is really a good idea.)

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