All this information was organized in categories, and sub-categories, and in some cases, sub-sub-categories. The depth of categorization made it impossible to follow all the information that was flowing through the site, and users frequently posted in the wrong place. We recently underwent a restructuring of this information in an attempt to make all categorization only one level deep and streamline the viewer's experience. In this article, I will share with you some ideas I learned from this process that were not immediately evident to me.
Originally, we had one main "Programming" forum for general programming discussion with several sub-forums which were meant to be used only for discussion of issues specific to each language, like compiling or editor problems. It didn't work out that way, and the community was fragmenting along programming language. Each group tended to participate in only the sub-forum of their language of choice, and I found myself answering the same questions repeatedly, for different languages. I don't know if this was related, but there was also a lot of territorialism among the various factions, with many arguments over which language should "win". Arguments occurred over which languages warranted their own forums. I also felt like the forum had grown beyond my ability to absorb, and had stopped reading the programming forums some time ago.
With the arrival of the tagging feature in our community software, I felt it was time to merge all the programming forums into one, using tags as a 'light' way to sub-categorize posts. I chose to leave the Lua "Script" forum separate for two reasons:
- If we do an "indie" script-only version of Leadwerks3D in the future I want separate permissions for that forum.
- To protect beginners from intimidating low-level programming discussions. Which isn't to say anyone using Lua is a beginner, but beginners tend to prefer script.
Although there was initial protest against this plan, I went ahead and closed the programming sub-forums for new discussion, without losing them just yet. I also made the Lua sub-forum a top-level forum and renamed it to "Script". My job is not about promoting other technology's brand names, and the user doesn't care much about the underlying technology, so I felt this was more appropriate than "Lua".
Other Forum Categories
We also had forum categories for sound, materials, modeling, and shaders. All of these sub-forums were merged into a single forum called "3D Artwork". Calling game sounds "3D artwork" may not be terribly accurate, but I'll get to that later.
Gallery and Videos
At the same time, I was working to simplify the entire contents of the Leadwerks website. Previously, we had gallery images and videos divided up by product. The gallery had four sections for Leadwerks Engine, 3D World Studio, our upcoming game development software Leadwerks3D, and a fourth category for miscellaneous pictures and photos. The videos section was also divided into three categories, by product.
I decided to merge all videos into a single category, and replaced the gallery with a custom implementation that simply displays all images in chronological order, with no attempt to categorize them.
The Leadwerks Asset Store too was broken up into many sub-categories. The code section was subdivided by programming language, and we had similar issues as we experienced with the programming forums. Although Java was not an officially supported language, there was a lot of material available for the language, so a sub-category was created for it. I felt odd having all these "brand names" scattered across the Leadwerks website.
We moved everything into a single "Code" category, using tags to specify what language a file was for.
Additionally, I implemented a community portal page which shows all recent forum posts, images, videos, status updates, blog entries, and asset store files. Items are displayed in chronological order, with no sub-categories.
The new face of the Leadwerks community.
The reorganization of the programming forums was the most drastic change, and I think the community has generally agreed the change was for the better. I am once again active in the programming forums, and it's easy to keep up with current discussions. I made the final change and merged all posts from the programming sub-forums into the main programming forum, then deleted the sub-forums.
The site overall is much easier to follow, especially the videos and gallery images. A chronological stream of recent items trumps sub-categorization, any day. Because there are fewer sub-sections to check on, it's much easier for me to keep up with the flow of content. Although I don't have any statistics to back this up, I feel like the community is more active now than before the change.
I have learned that slightly inaccurate and specific titles are better than encompassing but vague titles. For example, I removed the "Sound" forum and moved all posts into the "3D Artwork" forum. Is it accurate to include posts talking about video game sound and music in a forum that is mostly devoted to discussion of 3DS Max and Photoshop? Probably not exactly. Would it be better to call the forum "Game Assets"? You might be inclined to go with this suggestion, if you are an analytical type, but consider the following:
iTunes is Apple's online music store. It was originally built as a program to purchase and sync music for iOS devices. Movies were added to the program's features, and the title "iTunes" was no longer exactly accurate. Would it have been better for Apple to rename the application to "iMedia" like "Windows Media Player"? It would be more accurate, but no one would have any idea what it did. When apps were added to iOS, iTunes gained the ability to manage applications as well. Should the program be renamed to "iContent"? It's a more accurate description, but it's so vague it loses meaning.
The name "iTunes" is catchy, and it describes the main point of the program, even if it doesn't encompass all functionality of the program. This is a weird idea to me, because as a programmer, my inclination is always use a broader and broader term until I reach one that encompasses all characteristics of the thing it describes. However, I am certain that a catchy title that describes the main point of the thing it describes is superior. With this idea in mind, it makes perfect sense to include game sounds and music in a forum about 3D game artwork. It is exciting to me to learn something that is illogical but self-evident.
When you categorize things, choose fewer categories with descriptions that encompass most of what they contain. Never get too analytical about the categorization and naming of things. Instead, just go with what feels more natural and catchy, even if your nomenclature is slightly inaccurate.
We still have one big contradiction of this idea on our site, the use of the term "Asset Store". Leadwerks3D actually uses a class called "Asset" as a base class for textures, materials, shaders, and other objects, but about 40% of total files, and 100% of paid files in the store are 3D models. Additionally, the term "Asset" still isn't broad enough, because code files and games are not an extension of the Asset class. It would not be out of the question to rename the Leadwerks Asset Store to the "Leadwerks Model Store". The analytical (and much worse) extreme would be to call it the "Leadwerks Digital Goods Store".
Keep your titles short and catchy, and don't try to broaden them to encompass every aspect of the thing that they describe.