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JREF Forum Newsletter - 1st December 2007
JREF Forum Newsletter - 1st December 2007
Submitted by Darat
1st December 2007
Post JREF Forum Newsletter - 1st December 2007

JREF Forum Newsletter – 1st December 2007

Last Newsletter of the Year!

Yes it's the last one until 2008, so I thought it would be appropriate to look back over 2007 from the perspective of the Mod Team.

Review of the Year

With this being the last Newsletter of 2007 I thought it would be appropriate to look back over the year from the perspective of the Mod Team.
Looking back over the last twelve months there was a mixture of fantastic successes and disappointments.
One of the biggest successes of the year was the fund raiser that we started at the start of the year. As we put it back in February we started the fundraiser to, "… make the Forum a positive financial contributor to the JREF…" – amazingly the goal we set for the year was reached in just two months. Everyone at the JREF was very appreciative of the generosity of the Forum Membership.

We started the year still experiencing a lot of problems with the server that the Forum was running on, resulting in a lot of downtime and a lot of frustration, especially for Jeff and Terry as they struggled not only with the technical problems but with the service provided by the hosting company. We eventually took the decision to not only move to a new more powerful server but also to a new hosting company.  

This proved to be a good decision because although we still experience some periods where the responsiveness of the Forum is not as speedy as we would like it to be, overall our unplanned downtime has dwindled to almost zero and overall performance has remained good.  Italsolooksas if our decision to over-specify the new server was worthwhile as the growth of the Forum has not taxed it and if the growth continues as it has been doing we should be OK with the server for quite a while yet.

Probably the biggest disappointment this year from the Mod Team's viewpoint was the launch of  "The Repository".We set this up as a result of an idea that is raised time and time again on the Forum –"What about improving the educational and information content of the Forum?" We had hoped that "The Repository",being a section dedicated to articles published by Members, would have attracted the attention of Members wanting to improve the educational and informational content of the Forum. Sadly it has proved to be a failure- so far - but we are not giving up on the idea and over the next couple of months we will be trying some new ideas to encourage great content for that section. (If you are interested in contributing see: more details).  

And while the response to the "The Repository"was disappointing, the response to the "Book Review" section has been pleasing, and Members keep adding book reviews. It's now a great resource if you are looking for a book for yourself or anyone else; there are some great reviews of classic "skepticism" books but also reviews of lesser known works and non-skepticism books (and more reviews are always appreciated).
During the summer we had the biggest change to the Moderating Team since volunteer Moderators were appointed with several very long serving Moderators deciding it was time to step down. This resulted in the recruiting of new Mod Team members. As usual with any new team it took some time for everyone to settle in! And later on in the year we recruited a couple of additional Moderators..

Talking about Moderation leads neatly to probably the biggest ever change on the Forum, the splitting of the Forum into "public" and"member only" sections alongside the introduction of a new Membership Agreement. This came about after the JREF became concerned about how the Forum may have been perceived by the public following complaints from some educators. As usual the Forum Membership were very vocal in making their opinions clear about any proposed changes and we had a rocky couple of months as two solutions were discussed and implemented.The first was an attempt to simply tweak the existing rules to satisfy the JREF concerns. This caused some confusion and was not well received by the Membership. The second solution, and the one we adopted, was the splitting of the Forum and the change to the Membership Agreement. The result being the "public" sections are now moderated more strictly than previously, whilst the "member only" sections remain pretty much as they used to be but with a slight lessening of some of the previous constraints.

Overall this seems to have worked out quite well, but as always there have been teething problems as the Mod Team and Membership have had to adjust to the changes, hopefully the major problems and disruptions are now behind us.

Alongside the split we also made changes to the Forum sections - adding new sections, splitting old ones and even retiring venerable old favorites such as "Flame War";  on the whole the changes have worked out well (see later on in the Newsletter for an update).

Throughout the year we continued to try to improve the "user experience" (I'll put the money in the swear box) for Members and guests by keeping up-to-date with the latest version of vBulletin (the software the Forum uses), and by introducing new features. Some of the new features have proven quite popular and others haven't.

Back in November of 2006 we added the "tag system" and its popularity and usefulness really grew this year, especially with non-Members as it provides them with a way of searching the Forum. And I want to mention the group of volunteers that form the "Tag Team" – it's largely thanks to them this feature is as useful as it is, they deserve a lot of appreciation and thanks for the work they put in. And for every feature that proves to be a popular and useful addition there's one that doesn't quite make the grade and the extended "Zoints profiles" fits this to a tee, so we'll be looking at removing this soon.  

We also had some controversy caused by the addition of a feature that allowed a thread to be "Digged", this eventually led to links to the Forum being banned by Diggs! (See: more details.)

This year also saw the introduction of the final "JREF" style which, as all such changes tend to do, caused some consternation at the time -but I am sure the claims of "red induced madness" were a slightexaggeration... And just a little while ago I was able to keep the promise I had made and we introduced a selection of various different colored styles so hopefully everyone is now happy with the way their Forum looks!

Very pleasingly the Forum has continued to attract new Members and grow throughout the year. Back in November of 2006 we had an active Membership of 2,278 and today it is 3,129. Other statistics also reflect this growth, with the most Members visiting and posting in anyone day peaking at 1,636 and 864 respectively in November and the total number of visitors to the Forum month to month has steadily increased.

So all in all another eventful year!

Forum Sections – the changed, the new and the old.

Following on from the recent changes to the Forum sections and the feedback from Members we are going to keep the "Politics" and "Social Issues" sections as separate sections and we're keeping the new "JREF"section. Unfortunately the "business Skepticism" section has not really developed into a unique and distinctive section but it is still early days so we've decided to leave it in place and review it again in a few months time.
We've also resurrected an old section -  "USA Presidential Election".Back in 2004 we added this as a subsection to the "Politics" section and it was appreciated by Members. We're adding it a little bit earlier than we anticipated but the subject is already generating quite a lot of threads.  (As with last time after the election the threads will be merged back into the general "Politics" section.)

New features on hold…

In the last Newsletter I mentioned several new features that we would be trialling in November and we started this with the "Post Edit Feature" (which proved successful), however Jelsoft the developers of vBulletin have announced that anew version of vBulletin is to be released in the near future (3.7), so our plans altered.

From the information we have so far the new version will incorporate a lot of the features we've already added to the Forum via our own or third party customizations (such as a tag system, member picture gallery and post edit history). It will also add quite a few new features to the Forum – both for the Mod team and Members. With that in mind I'm postponing plans to make any further alterations to the Forum's features until we've more information and can set a timescale for when we are likely to upgrade to the new version. We'll keep you informed as to when we plan to make the upgrade.

What's going on

TAM6 Scholarship Auctions coming to an end!  Kittynh's auctions to raise funds for scholarships to TAM 6 are drawing to a close. There's a few days left for some of the auctions including "THREE HOT SKEPDUDES!" and "Heading for the Light".

And Finally

I know how eagerly everyone looks forward to the next edition of the Newsletter so a quick note to say that the first edition of 2008 may appear a day or two after the 1st of January 2008, exactly how many days depends on the celebrations on New Year's Eve!

That's it for this year!

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