As a fairly inactive member, I hope I'm not out of line for starting a discussion about this.
To start with, I want to recognize and appreciate the following:
- blackbox4windows will never be a huge community (and it doesn't need to be!)
- the people who run and contribute to this community do so out of love
- the effort spent in creating and maintaining this site is very evident
- the platform upon which this site is designed may not be the easiest to tinker with
- it may not be the desire of the site runners to have another boxshots.org, and they like the current setup just fine
I myself have been using blackbox on Windows since around 1998. I will continue using it until I have no choice. I love the shell and how easy it is to customize and style around, and how it is so very, very unlike other "innovative" user interfaces that we have no choice but to adopt, year after year. I've contributed a handful of styles to boxshots.org, and look up to some of the greats that have either stayed with this great shell or have moved on.
In short, I love the shell, I miss what the community was, recognize that the universe has moved on, and fully embrace that we're roughly the equivalent of a WordPerfect fan club--and that's still kinda neat. And I personally want to thank everyone who is keeping it alive.
That said, I feel as though this site can be more welcome to new users, better show off the capabilities of this shell, and better show off the current work of stylers, tinkerers, and those who have taken up the gauntlet and continue to push the shell forward.
I'm going to add more to this in the future, but to start with, I want to bluntly address what's immediately obvious when I visit this site: there are entirely too many choices, and not enough of them are "interesting" to myself or, I imagine, new users. ("Interesting" being of immediate interest, or related to a reason why someone would come to the site.)
Let me put it this way: this community has around 1000 users, who post an average of 0.02 times a day. And on the front page, there are over twenty individual forums to choose from. That's too many, especially for a shell that's most appealing to minimalists. Some observations:
- We have a forum called "Welcome!" with one post in it.
- The most active and important thread on the forum, on bbzero development, is in a protected forum that users must register to view.
- One of the most pertinent questions one might have, "What is Blackbox?", is the seventh forum down, well below the fold.
- The first post in that forum is "AutoHotKey." The last post in that forum is "What Blackbox Is and Why You Should Use It."
How to Fix It:
Collapse much of the less active, less "interesting" topics and forums into subforums. It is very tempting when creating a forum to make dozens of categories, but I feel that this spreads discussion out far too thin. It is better to have a cluttered, but vibrant list of discussions, than a broad and spacious desert.
- Delete the Welcome forum, and move the post as a pinned post where it is most useful.
- Think about what new and returning users are most interested in and make sure that stuff is very quickly and easily available to them, as close to the top as possible.
- For new users, this is access to the safest/easiest builds, VERY brief "What Is" type information, and pictures of the shell in action, as well as a snapshot of the hottest discussions. And probably off topic chat. Don't make them register to get any of this.
- For returning users, this is most likely newest styles, conversations about the latest builds. And probably off topic chat.
- Everything else is still important, just not as important. It can live below the fold or in subforums. The above stuff should be no more than one click, and no scrolls, away.
- Rename "Community News" into "Off Topic" or similar discussion and move it to the bottom.
- Take every forum that hasn't had posting activity in a month and move/archive its content. Again, this is the principle of concentrating content and conversation into smaller areas to better facilitate discussion.
If it isn't clear, I want to make it so: I offer this criticism humbly, and with a real love for the community and the shell. Heck, I took an hour to write this, I wouldn't have if it wasn't important to me.