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When participating in a user community, like StackExchange or Reddit (or any other forum/bulletin board), what are the useful essentials that make it a good experience for you?

I'm trying to whittle out the dross to find a clean but effective interface that provides only what is necessary.

I read the responses on this thread about the Art of Community Creation, and I'm working my way through Designing Social Interfaces. In my research for designing an efficient community forum, I've joined about 20 different usergroups for the experience of interacting with them.

For example, I find that the following discussion post has too many options:

enter image description here

And the following example may be too spartan:

enter image description here

I understand that based on the intended use and focus of the forum there may be a need for specific information such as location that may not be used for other kinds of forums.

I'm following the forum social patterns on here, but for a user forum where they will share mainly Q&A discussions with some file sharing of an extremely specific and limited type - is there a list of 'must haves' or 'secondary needs' that I can follow?

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    I personally hate it when a website or app has a bunch of dead space for whatever reason. For a forum, I only really need the time, username and a minimal indication of the user's trustworthiness or experience level. Stack Overflow covers this so well by displaying votes on the posts as well as the posters reputation, and does so in a way that doesn't interfere with reading the thread. In other words, I much prefer your second image. I am afraid your question and my comment are too opinion based, but +1 anyways. – Patrick M Apr 19 '16 at 18:45
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If you think of a scenario where the forum is business critical, then it will hard to consolidate the essentials elements for the forum. If you compare graphic design forum (GDF - a good forum for designers) and stack exchange (SE), the philosophy of both are same — a platform for people to ask their questions and get engage with solutions from others. The only difference between them is their business goal.

In the case of SE, they focus more on the quality of the solutions provided by others. Like, giving more focus to the voting mechanism and an option to select the single best solution out of the responses. So that they can assess the quality of the solution. They also built a good reward system to improve engagement, which most of the forum don't have.

SE are more user-centric and they craft their own interfaces based on the learnings and user behaviour. But still SE and GDF have similar elements and actions like upvote, favourite, user bio, report spam, etc. Only thing matters is the grouping and placement of the elements in SE, which improves the discoverability and usability that you lack in forum templates.

My suggestion is to first identify and list the outcome that you want from the forum. Once you list and understands the outcome, move on to prepare the list of elements and its corresponding actions that required bringing the outcome alive, Like the SE way.

When you start designing don't even think about the features currently available in the forum frameworks or other frameworks, which might limit or constraint your thought. Once you have the understanding of the outcome, then jump into more details, refer existing forums, etc where you may find new ideas and things you missed.

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    This is a great answer. I'm marking it correct. Yesterday, I actually managed to get a decent answer from someone not part of the design process/development team and the answer was astounding. The forum is nominally important. So, without seeing your advice, I managed to do exactly that - narrow in on what exactly the outcome should be, so I could design better. Thanks for your input! – Maigen Thomas Apr 21 '16 at 16:45

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