Display Much Information in a Small Space

So I’ve got this popular Volvo web site with about 11,000 registered users. Super. The heart of it is the Volvo Forum, a roiling, boiling mass of Volvo owners trading information, advice and tears at the rate of 75-100 posts per day. The problem is that from the Home page, it doesn’t look so roiling-boiling. Fix: show the activity on the Home page. Get it out in front of people.

Ok, not a hard task. The phpBB forum (outstanding, free software by the way) is on interior pages, and is run entirely by the site’s database. All I needed to do was query a table in the database for the ten or 15 or whatever number of latest posts and voila, the roiling-boiling is then shown to the browsing hoi polloi.

But a) I wanted it up near the top to lure users deeper into my site and b) I didn’t want it to take up much space.

Ingredient #1

After scouting around for some possibilities I found Latest Posts, a script that pulls latest posts from a phpBB forum and displays them in a scrolling marquis.

Not bad. So I used it at the bottom of the Home page.

Ingredient #2

But for the top, I wanted something even more dynamic, and even smaller. Plus I wanted to stress the immediacy of the information, to show that the forum is very active.

So I combined that with something called JQuery, and …

Ingredient #3

… a JQuery plugin called Cycle, acting on the same data I pull from the database. This fades each of the posts’ titles in and out every 2 seconds, over and over. Users can see the latest just by looking at one box for 20 seconds, and the box doesn’t take up much room.

Ingredient #4

Ok now we’re cookin. But only one more thing: relative dates. No, I’m not talking about what goes on in the Deep South, I’m talking about changing the timestamp on the posts from something like “Jan. 6th 4:15pm” to “4 minutes ago”. This lets me use the high traffic of my forum to show casual surfers that yes, this forum is very busy and you’re likely to get an answer here.

The result?

It works. My forum registrations are up 35% December vs. November. See the page.

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