Feel free to tell me off before you leave

Medical Transcription ExchangeI noted almost a year ago that I took over the forums at Productivity Talk. Coincidentally, it's been about that long since I've written a post here, too.

Well, it's been a busy year, and kind of an enlightening one in many respects, but I'm going to talk about enlightenment with respect to the Productivity Talk forums.

PT had been on something of a downhill slide for quite awhile, something I could see when I read through posts on the moderators' private forum. The biggest problem was participation – there wasn't any. There was a general belief that people visited the forum, but there was nothing in place to collect data about visitors. On other forums and in the social networks, PT got good buzz, so there was a general belief that medical transcriptionists knew about the forums and were visiting. But what were they doing while they were there? Because they weren't posting in the PT forums!

The first thing I did was install analytics so I could start gathering statistics about visitors to the site – how many, how long they spent on the site, what pages they visited, etc. And I started digging through the forums and the slowly accumulating analytics to determine why Productivity Talk seemed to be popular with users, but to all appearances was a “dead” forum. As I archived old posts, cleaned up the site setup and added some features, I discovered something. People were visiting PT and spending a fair amount of time there- the analytics confirmed that – but they weren't posting.

As a result, I made some changes. Previously, people could visit the forums, copy information, and download files without registering and logging in. The only thing they couldn't do was post in the forums – so most visitors to the site didn't even bother registering. They were there to take the available information, not to contribute or participate in discussions. I changed settings so people could only view certain forums if they weren't logged in – a taste of PT, as it were. I also changed the settings for the more popular forums, making them available only to people who had participated in discussions on the forums (veterans). New users would need to participate to a certain degree before their membership level was promoted to allow them access to the blocked forums.

I'm not sure if people realize what it takes to run a forum (or any other website). There are hosting fees, annual fees for the forum software maintenance, plus the time it takes to validate users, clean up spam, respond to e-mails and respond to posts on the forum. It's not a lot, and I'm not complaining, but people seem to be unaware that there are costs of both money and time. There are no ads or sponsors at Productivity Talk, and use of the forums is free of charge. I can only conclude that people don't know this or they don't think about it; otherwise, there's no reasonable explanation for the response I've received to some of the changes at PT.

My very, very favorite ones are from people who tell me they've been visiting PT for years and they've never had to register to access the forums before. I call this group the hit-and-run group The forums that are closed except to people who've actively participated in discussions are the ones with the glossaries and downloads. These people have come to PT, copied and downloaded what they want, then left without any participation. They didn't even take the time to register so they could thank the user who provided the information. They're a little miffed that they can no longer access all the forums to get what they want, and they want me to know about it! And even though they have never once posted in the forums in all the years they say they've been visiting PT, they feel the need to tell me they are never going to come back to PT – and it's my (PT's) loss.

Waitaminnit. You've never registered before, never posted once – what is it PT is going to lose if you never come back?

The second group is similar to the first, but it consists of people who are new to Productivity Talk. They're hit-and-run users in the making – or would be, if the forum settings allowed. On finding out that they must participate in discussions before they can access all the forums, they feel the need to inform me that they've survived without Productivity Talk for (insert years of experience as an MT) and they expect they can survive the rest of their career without it. Some of them imply that their absence is Productivity Talk's loss, most come right out and say it.

Waitaminnit. You're not willing to participate in the forums (and obviously didn't read the FAQ) – what is it PT is losing?

I'm not sure what response they might expect from me, but it must make them feel better to get it out.

I'm pretty sure most people don't understand how website owners make money, but they seem to understand that traffic (the number of people who visit) has something to do with it and therefore their visits to the site count. Let me provide some insight. I may get a warm feeling when traffic numbers spike high, but it goes away when I see that none of the visits have converted to participation in the forums. There are no sponsors and no ads, and it's not likely there ever will be, so the amount of traffic is irrelevant.

Let me sum all this up for anyone reading who feels the same about the changes at Productivity Talk and the requirement that users participate in the forums before being given access to the “really good stuff.”

  • You don't pay to use the forums. I don't know about you, but I was taught not to be rude about anything I got for free. I believe the common reference is don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • If you've never posted in the forums and you have no intention of posting in the forums, nobody is going to miss you if you never come back.

But hey – feel free to keep telling me how much you think you'll be missed. I usually get a good laugh out of it before I delete the e-mail.

 

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