MyFC’s broken windows – repairing broken functionality on a social networking site

The key to the success of MyFootballClub was always going to be control and direction of information, and I have constantly tried to promote this idea on the MyFC website and on this blog.

Many of the problems of engagement and retention that are causing panic for the Operator, Board and Club (not to mention the remaining members who really want this venture to work) come back to this issue – that our activities and information flow are not coordinated by the website.

Coming back to a previous post, All of this, for me, relates to Activity Theory, the idea that we can look at what is happening across our organisation in terms of:

  • Participants – members, board, web team, club management
  • The community, which all these are part of (and sub-communities)
  • The rules that describe how these people take part in the community
  • The divisions of labour – who does what
  • The tools we use to achieve our goal

Groups – bad implementation

The MyFC Operator implemented the Group functionality in July 2008, partly as an attempt to get away from repetitive or cliquey threads in the main forums.  Unfortunately, like other aspects of the website, it wasn’t put in place with proper consideration of how it would benefit the Society, how they relate to the Soapbox and Society forums, Proposals, Votes etc.

Coming back to Activity Theory, there was no clear link between the Groups (a “tool”) and Subjects, Community and Divisions of Labour. There were no clear rules about how they should be used to achieve the Objects of the Society.

It’s no wonder then that the same debates that we’ve been having over the last year continue as ever on the forums with no resolution (and not just the controversial Pick The Team issue).  It’s no wonder that conversations persist concurrently in one or more Groups, Society and Soapbox, as well as having been assigned to Board members for action.

Getting Groups working

Here’s some suggestions for getting groups working. These could be written down as explicit guidelines but we can always just start working this way. Other elements need minor changes to the site by the Operator’s Web Team, who are paid by the Society to maintain and develop the website.

1) Cull Duplicate groups.
E.g. There are 5 groups with PTT in the title, one called “Pick the team f’christsakes” and one called “Selector Solutions”

  • Solution: We make a rule that someone who creates a duplicate group is pointed in the direction of the existing group. If there is an argument for a similar group to be set up, e.g. “Pro PTT / Anti PTT”, then this shall be made when creating a group, for the Forum Team to approve.

2)Encourage more ownership and participation in the groups
Some of these have very few members, and only on has seen any activity in the last month. Despite this, there are similar threads on the Society, Football and Soapbox forums.

  • Solution: Allow group moderators to send “Newsletters” to their membership, with obvious guidelines so that spamming is discouraged.
  • Solution: Allow more than one forum moderator so that the group can remain active
  • Solution: Allow moderators to create quick polls

3)Move emphasis from the Forums to the Groups.
There are many repetitive threads on the forums that never really resolve any of the issues they are supposed to.

  • Solution: Forum Team to direct Forum threads (where appropriate) to a relevant group. e.g.
  • Solution: Encourage Groups to summarise a debate or proposal from their group in the Society / Soapbox forum. Or just what they’ve been talking about recently.

4) Cull inactive groups
There are dozens of groups that have few members in, and no activity.

  • Solution: Archive groups with less than 8 members
  • Solution: Archive groups with no activity for 6 weeks

5) Make special website sections for Society wide interests

There are some groups that should would better serve the Society by being part of a well formed section on the site, rather than being buried within a group thread.  There are two main areas that come to mind:

Upcoming matches:
Make this a distinct section which shows the recent and upcoming games, latest updates to each match etc.

Each upcoming match has it’s own page, with match previews, Jaiku rota, Questions for Liam, fitness, away travel information, who’s attending, match representatives and a place for banter.

Previous matches show previews, photos, Liam’s feedback etc. Each of these elements are available in various unlinked places throughout the site, whereas to have them in one location would tidy things up and put them all in context.

Make this a distinct page, more like a group blog than the same, dull article system.  Use it to show recent board articles, meeting agendas and minutes, proposals, but also calls for action from the members, whether it be physical help like handing out leaflets, or expert advice from qualified members.

And of course use tags and categories to link common threads together.

6) Broken Windows
There is far too much name-calling, inappropriate or irrelevant comments that slow down the flow of a conversation and make considered debate impossible.  For too long we as a Society have not discouraged it, and the Forum Team have allowed this to continue unabated.  In fact the Operator’s Web Team themselves have been guilty on occasion, which hasn’t helped matters.

This is Broken Windows – in social behaviour this is the idea that a single broken window left unrepaired will lead to further vandalism. On a website site it’s the idea that you would write things on a forum post that you would not say to that person in a pub.  We call it “trolling” and there are various ways to deal with it.

At the least, before you hit return, read out what you’ve just typed aloud to the person next to you. If they punch you in the face then perhaps you should consider rewriting it.

A solution for web forums - thanks to Randall Munroe of

After all, we all have the same goal, don’t we?

The continued success of the MyFootball Club Society and Ebbsfleet United.


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About loidon

Technical support in an IT-centric academic department. Jack of all trades, master of none. Able to bluff on most subjects!

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