Anatomy of a failure
On the roughly one-year anniversary of this apparently WAAAY overly ambitious Web site, I am trying to figure out the reason for the parts that are really not working well at all. Specifically: The Network "problem solving forum" has turned out to be anything but, because almost no activity takes place on this bulletin board.
The ICCFA Network used to be hosted on Yahoo Groups and there was a solid bloc of 25 people who regularly posted questions and answers. Twenty-five out of a total member base of probably 10,000 people is, we must admit, a lesser proportion, and Yahoo was a pain for me to deal with; so it seemed logical that getting everyone onto a locally managed Web site in larger numbers would result in a better Network. And ostensibly it seemed to be poised to succeed because we got a lot of folks to sign on. Right now The Network has over 250 members.
But hardly anyone ever participates, and when someone posts a question there are few responses - and nary a "discussion" takes place.
Now, if you peruse the gamut of online forums in this industry, you will see they constitute a pretty depressing array of social venues. The typical bulletin board has few messages, many being very old, and one or two people providing the majority of interactions (with at least one of the two working for the organization hosting the forum). Our experience with The Network is not singular.
Yet outside our industry online forums can be extremely active places for discussion and problem solving. I personally frequent several that have thousands of participants, where any question is likely to receive a huge number of responses. In theory, the concept can work. So far no one I know of has cracked the code on making it work in our industry.
Therefore I just sent out a call to the 250+ members of The Network to tell me why they don't use it, and I asked them to be completely honest. What is the point of failing if you can't learn from the experience? I have some ideas about why we have failed so far, including the technical aspects of this Web site and the possibility we are providing a solution in search of a problem - think "social networking" technology in our industry as a hammer in search of a nail. But I could well be wrong, and since I am the guy who set this up that is probably a safe bet.
I have received a whole lot of responses just in the half hour since I sent out the request for comments, and so far the gist is: Whoa! this will not be a simple fix, and in fact the project now has my head swimming. Well, if you are going to fail, what's the point of being one foot underwater when you could be 20 fathoms - and indeed this failure now has the mark of "epic" all over it.
I will be sure to let everyone know if I find a way back to the surface.
UPDATE - Feb. 9, 2010: Thanks to everyone who has e-mailed feedback so far. We will be dramatically reconfiguring the interactive elements of this site. Stay tuned.