Monday, May 30, 2016 A breath of fresh air!

For a long time now SE23 (Forest Hill and Honor Oak) have had a forum, friendships have occasionally been made, an many a debate had. Mainly about politics and Perry Vale, nothing much more over recent years.

Then along came , a fresh approach to a community forum, very up to date and fresh, but most importantly, a complete new ethos.
From it's conception, the plan was clear, free speech, opinions welcomed, and somewhere you can feel comfortable with the people around you. It is all very well saying how you want a forum to run, but another thing actually making that happen.

Of course it is very early days yet, but already from engaging with members both online and in person (a very unfamiliar feeling for me) it is clear that the forum feels like an extension of any venue we may choose to meet in. We had a group meeting in a local bar a week or so back. Everyone got along, respected others rights to get a chance to speak, and listened. When the meeting was over the discussion continued in the forum, and it felt exactly the same. That in itself is a huge achievement.

I have been lucky enough to be offered a role in helping the forum find its voice, and help with things relating to its structure, growth and popularity, for which I am very grateful for. To be honest I find myself alone and at a lose end quite often, so this has given me a bit of a purpose, and something to get my teeth stuck into for a change. Seeing ideas grow is fantastic, and watching the community all clambering on board is really rewarding,

Able to discuss all sorts of topics, it is lovely to connect with people over common interests and hobbies. Something I don't think was possible really on the original forum, so certainly a positive factor for .I am pretty sure I am not the only one really starting to come out of my shell on the forum now. Seeing people exploring the boundaries of what is allowed, and watching friendly casual topics grow rapidly. Even just things as simple as what everyone is doing for their weekend. The community seems to flock to such topics and openly share what they are doing.

The foundations of the site are still setting, but already you can see the structure that will grow on top of them will be mighty. The structural design is not yet set in stone, and to be honest I see it as being an organic structure, able to change as the demands on it do. Closely watched by its creator and another admin, tweaks are made on categories as the interests evolve. Of course there will be core topics which remain forever, but lesser used ones would be absorbed, and any demand for a new one will be considered.

The interface for the site is a thing of beauty, modern, clean and fresh, with the added bonus of a lovely mobile version too, which is proving to be a favourite. Nice that it offers a service to people on the move, killing a bit of time for the morning commute etc. I imagine some interesting stories will pop up from the station and trains over time.
Notifications are very simply enabled and disabled, meaning you can easily watch a topic for replies, and at the press of a button drop out of the notifications, or tailor them to your own requirements. If there is one thing in an abundance on the forum, it is user control and preferences.

Speaking of user control, another very fresh approach is the user level tier system. Each level giving members the ability to do more with their accounts, allowing trusted and frequent members to carry out moderation when called for. Allowing the community to share the responsibility of keeping the forum ticking over gives a great sense of involvement and belonging, ensuring people feel their contributions count for something, and that they are far more than just a username.

Trust levels of users start from the very beginning, with users able to have their account verified. This means meeting someone in person, Pauline at Sugar Mountain, Chris the owner, or by being confirmed by an already verified member. Once verified, the forum opens up a little more for you. However the main reasoning for verifying members is to give other users a level of security that this is an actual human being , and not just a sockpuppet account being used to stir up trouble. Something that a lot of forums seem to have issues with on various levels, to the point where it becomes childish and malicious.

So far has seen huge growth, a few hiccups with enthusiastic advertising of the site, and some interesting encounters with people with ill intent towards its existence and growth. Thankfully, the community which has already grown within the forum, are having none of it, and each slip up, turns into a positive thanks to open discussion of what just happened, and where WE go from there. I say WE, as the contributions of ideas and suggestions highlights how a simple idea can change a community.

The forum and the community around it have so much potential it is unreal. Having lived in this area for 35 years now, I would never have expected it to have pulled together in such a positive way, but it really has, and I am sure it will continue to do so. Bringing people from all walks of life closer together, starting discussion, answering queries, and welcoming each and every new member in the exact same way.

Times are changing, the community is changing, and finally SE23 has a safe, friendly and open place to let peoples voices be heard. Congratulations to the owner for his commitment to the community , and for having such a thick skin to defend against the negativity.  Here's to SE23, a growing community, and one which is finally communicating within.

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