Full Review by phio_chan
You can access Chilled Echoes to see for yourself what it looks like, by clicking here.
First Impressions & Appearance – (14 out of 20)
Kickoff! The first category I will explore is the overall impression made from the appearance of the forum. My visit for this review was actually not the first, so probably a 'first impression' is not very accurate. Either way, there will still be things to check out.
Chilled Echoes. I like the name, it is a unique one and I was not able to guess right away what the forum was about. To build curiosity is one good sign as it sparks interest. Visiting as a guest, I saw the default theme 'Cygnus'. A dark theme is a feast to my eyes, somehow, so I was comfortable browsing around. The left side bar is a nice layout element, with straight, to-the-point navigation links. Quickly glancing below I saw that the forum was a compact one, not too small but not too big either, with lovely activity and statistics. There are forum events and competitions! And a list of various themes to use! Those elements, in my opinion, are lovely start-up details. Those definitely gave a sweet first impression, and especially for those who feel comfortable in general discussion niche, the forum is one inviting place, in my opinion.
Moving on to the appearance, let's take a deeper look into themes you have offered.
- Starting with your default theme, 'Cygnus'. As I mentioned, dark theme is easy on my eyes so I have no problem with it. Good color contrast, especially because colors highlight the text better in dark background. What I feel can be improved from this theme are the banner and the side bar. The banner is a good one, although I would vote for a different font style and stronger color combination to make it stands out more. What do you think of script font type? And if possible, an image to represent the forum can be put there too to give stronger feeling of identity for the forum. What do you think of tag line? I like the line you used in your signature on forums together with Chilled Echoes' banner. I think it would be sweet to have it on the forum too. As for the side bar, as you scroll down it feels too empty. I think if you make the side bar fixated to show the current menu and only the index body which scrolls, it would be perfect.
- You mentioned 'Tranquil Echoes' as your special theme, so it comes second. In my opinion, it is well done, but I still prefer 'Cygnus' over this one. I missed the decorative header of icons and texts to represent the navigation links, the header is not as empty as this one, and the color combinations are more interesting with 'Cygnus' than with this one.
- I notice you offer various base color scheme in other themes. That is a great job to try to match what members may like. My overall impression of the themes is generally the same; they are not too customized in terms of banner, icons, and colors. 'chilledBlue' and 'IFSZ Revisited' are the prime examples of that. 'Lucemia' has a fresh pink, but I personally cannot use such theme for too long as it feels too bright for my eyes. 'St. Paddy' has the best attempt of all. The description text of the banner is somewhat hard to read (I could tell right away it is 'Luck of the Irish', but 'u' seemed like 'a' sometimes). The color contrast with group colors work best with this theme. I also notice this theme is the default theme for 'St. Patrick's Festival' section. Unique touch to perk up the event, which is cool. Also, in regards to these other themes, try to make some time to check around all elements. In 'chilledBlue', for example, the footer is messed up with Planet Nexus' footer and the private message and reputation buttons still have default ZetaBoards' button. Minor details to complete the overall atmosphere!
In general, I feel that you have done quite well with your themes. My favorite would be 'Cygnus' and 'St.Paddy' because they have more integrated elements than what standard ZetaBoards themes usually have. They can still be improved, though, mainly involving more decorative elements such as text style, colors, and images to make them more outstanding.
Site Layout – (14 out of 20)
Chilled Echoes' layout is straightforward. Short but compact. The sub-forums are made accordingly to the interest of the community, as I observe it, which is a good sign to do. I am especially fond of the event section. It is nice to see a general discussion forum dedicating such space for a fun activity for the community. All sections are also filled with decent activity and content in general; some may be less active than others but still showing life. There does not seem to be a need in expanding or merging categories/forums at the moment, except thinking further about a forum about sports falling under a section about movies. I am not too familiar with sports being considered an entertainment, and with its activity it can probably stand alone as its own section. Another possible idea is to 'promote' a sub-forum to a stand-alone forum when it has the chance to grow with exposure. 'Critical Thinkers' is my vote for now, since decent discussions seem to be on-going and hopefully exposure can make it grow even more.
My next concern is about the naming of the sections. Quite minor, but I notice the inconsistency with the names. The forum name is 'Chilled Echoes'. The first forum is 'chilledBulletin' , but then you have 'chilled events' and 'Chilled Echoes Extravaganza'. There is inconsistency in the way 'chilled' is used here. I like the idea of integrating the forum's name to the sections' name, but to have them all in one format would be better.
Last one is about the side bar in 'Cygnus' theme. Nice side bar set there, though it needs more content added there or else it would be too boring especially when I scroll down because the bottom part of the bar is empty. You can explore the active topics or staff list more, or advertise events of the community. With a sole link of 'Promotion Bash', the intention of the link was not clear at all; it is one possibility to put some teaser there to ignite more interest.
Statistics and Activity – (18 out of 20)
Now let us review the numbers a little bit. At the time I was reviewing the forum, it had 13,100 posts with 96 members. Roughly dividing the numbers it means an average of 136 posts per member! That is a great achievement, congratulations. Going through the member list, there are only a few registered users who have not posted yet. That is too bad, but every forum to its own lurkers. At least it shows that you have been doing a good job to keep mostly interested in engaging in the community after registration. Content is spread out quite well in all the sections. I will touch up what content I think you can offer more at the next section. There is a decent overall activity from regular members and staff members. Currently you have two administrators and one moderator. With a forum as big as Chilled Echoes, usually at least two moderators are put in charge to help provide better management. I know there are not too many sections to handle, and if both administrators can help moderation post it would not be a problem.
Content – (13 out of 20)
Now we are going to talk about content! Being the hardest section to write about, I hope I can offer ideas helpful for you. In my opinion, Chilled Echoes has quite a standard content on-going. Being a general discussion forum, the content is basically 'general'. It is eternally gifted with abundance of topics to talk about, but the exact problem usually lies there. People often get confused about what to actually talk about when they have such a huge selection. Eventually they resort to common ones. I feel that this is what I see happened in Chilled Echoes. It does not necessarily mean bad; it shows that there are audience at the forum, and they are interested at the forum, as they regularly post around and respond to the threads. The types of discussion involved, however, are mainly generic ones. 'Favorite' threads or 'current verb-ing' threads are the prime example of what I talked about. Not much discussion could be pushed on in those kind of threads. I feel that some pushes can be attempted. What do you think about starting discussions about specific musicians at the music section? Or talk about what the members think about magic (the 'real' or 'fantasy' magic both works)? Or explore more about members' cooking ability, maybe they have some wonderful recipes and tricks to share. Or mistakes they did in the past and how they learned to let it go or mended it. More sensitive topics can probably be locked from guests to see for privacy, but there are always more to explore. I also feel that it is okay for staff members to help bump old, potential threads with new thoughts or input. Who knows if discussions will bloom again. General discussion forums will have to explore their members to get everyone together and in return form a stronger link and more enjoyable stay. Definitely not an easy task. However, I see that potential from Chilled Echoes because I see dedicated staff members and some core active members which can be the start point of this inspiration.
Second point I am planning to ponder a bit more is the second category. I am personally a fan of such element in a forum; events help to bring some more fun to the community and bring the members together. I like the events you have provided so far. Some are simple, another one is more complicated but still not too troublesome. I am mostly confused with 'Chilled Echoes Extravaganza'. Probably because it is more like a contest, a race, dedicating one whole section to it was rather confusing because there is not too many things to be done. A one composed thread under 'chilled events' would probably be better. Related to events and contests, such forums usually offer a spot in the index page to showcase the winners and advertise the event more grandly. I feel that this would be a great additional point to the forum as incentives for more people to participate. It also shows the great talents of the community which may be source of interest from visitors to turn into members. The header has big area to explore, and with 'Cygnus' you even have the side bar. They can be used to advertise content of the forum! Instead of just 'Active Topics' navigation link, a box of recent posts, threads, or most popular discussions with links to those threads right away would be more beneficial. I am not too sure about the design limitations of ZetaBoards, though, so I hope these ideas can be beneficial.
Spelling/Grammar & Professionalism – (16 out of 20)
Finishing up the review with an exploration to the professional side of the forum. From the forum names, organization, descriptions, and posts, Chilled Echoes has a good overall professionalism. I appreciate the effort taken to try to give unique names to the sections, which is a nice attempt to be different from other forums. With grammar, there are only several not-too-huge mistakes. For example, usage of capital letters in forum descriptions and hiccups like this in 'Sports Bar & Grill' description, with bold parts as the mistakes:
Are you avid sports addict? Willing to stick out the weather in the outdoors to watch your favorite team drive home the win? Or maybe you're not a die-hard addict, but you have some knowledge of the sports? Whether you play the sport, or an fan this is your type of place.
The 'Board Rules' thread also says "This means that you won't do any of the following: ... (2) Refraining from making any comment that would be deemed racist or sexist. (3) Refraining from trolling or spamming." With 'following', it would sound better to go straight to the things you want to refrain. The correction would be '...(2) Making racist or sexist comment..." That goes straight to the point without unnecessary words.
Total Score - (75 out of 100)
I enjoyed my time reviewing Chilled Echoes. The community has a fresh and friendly atmosphere to it, and I could see how it feels like home to several members. That is a wonderful feeling to achieve for a general discussion forum. The challenge is going to be harder from now on with the activity and other possible content to add. When in doubt, asking the community members can sometimes help. The more brains to think, the better! It also helps to bring everyone together. Do not hesitate to touch them all and build the forum together. Good luck!
Active member base with regular posting
Overall great professionalism from the management
Themes are not so well-organized
Forum layout can still be made more tidy
Lack of further discussions instead of generic ones