Essential Elements Of Community Platforms
Don't compare community platforms by the features they do/don't have.
Compare community platforms by the features that are essential to you and how well they execute on those features.
The number of essential features is very limited.
- Discussion area. Members need a place in which they can interact. This will usually be a forum-based.
- Notifications. Members need to be notified when people have responded to their posts. This keeps members coming back. It sustains activity.
- Analytics. You need to be able to properly track what's going on. You need to know what's going on beneath the surface.
- Member profiles. Members need to create and use a consistent identity within the community. These profiles don't have to be overlook
Looking at this, you can partly see why forum-only communities are thriving. They offer nothing but the essential features. They're far more successful than any feature-backed platform.
But this neglects a more important point, depth of features.
Within each element, there are a range of subtle, but essential, options. Does the discussion area of the platform you're considering enable exporting of data, and integration with FB/Twitter? Can you embed the latest discussions elsewhere? Does it support different access levels, category creation, sufficient admin features, and customization of design?
Is it clear if there are any new posts when someone visits? Does it show both total posts or just the total number of new posts since the last visit?
Perhaps even deeper, how much space does every discussion take on the page? Are discussions spaced out in a way that only show 5 discussions on a page? Or does it show 25?
The mistake many people make here is they compare platforms by breadth of features they rarely need and are unlikely to use as opposed to the depth of essential features.
If you're in the process of choosing a platform, look to at the depth and subtle variation between the key features, not the breadth of features.