Full Review by phio_chan
You can access PokéSun to see for yourself what it looks like, by clicking here.
First Impressions & Appearance – (15 out of 20)
PokéSun, per its name, is a very reflective name. It clearly shows that the website is about the popular Pokémon series and its related content. With such expectation, my first impression upon visiting the link is a good one, as it matches the idea of the website very well. What stands out the most is the appearance/theme of the forum, which looks stunningly bright in orange color. My eyes are not too adaptive towards brighter color, but the orange is not that blinding that I think it is not a problem. However, to some other eyes this can very much be different and may result in the visitor coming back to visit more as he likes it or leaves it because the colors hurt the eyes. In quick glance, though, the forum looks active and cover many things to talk about which results in a good first impression.
Talking about the appearance of the forum, it has a unique sense to it. Starting from the background of the pages, the combination of lines and Pokémon logo works well. For variation, you can try to search for chibi (Japanese term, meaning small/cute) version of Pokémon or the characters, as transparent as the current shapes without making the background standing out too much. Next, the header has an interesting design. It sure is different with the shapes and images put in the header. One complaint I have about the header is about the banner. It looks great and reflective of the word "sun", but it somehow does not truly blend with the background and overall feeling of the theme. Perhaps because the banner is using a realistic background image (of a nature) while adding imaginary, fake images on top of it. That is one point to ponder. Second suggestion for the banner is to relocate that sun-like image after the text "PokéSun". The image hinders the view of the sunset in the background and gives a strange feeling to the banner. It also looks different from the same image to the top right of the header. Another possible suggestion is to come up with combination of images of Pokémon instead of the characters, swapping it with the category/forum icons from Pokémon to characters, to give a refreshed atmosphere.
Looking in deeper the category/forum icons, topic icons, buttons, and rank images are all customized to match the theme. There seems to be an error with the sub-forum arrangement, though, as seen in the screenshot, which does not happen anywhere else but at this sub-forum:
Moving on, it is slightly disappointing to see the topic/reply buttons (I mean those buttons to make new threads or new replies). It seems like they are CSS buttons, or buttons which are mainly text instead of images. While it helps to make loading faster, given how heavily modified the other elements of the forum is, to have CSS buttons only is rather too simple. There are definitely many icons, characters, Pokémon, and items from the series which can be used to decorate the buttons. The same applies to the buttons below every post which is related to a member's profile information. They also seem to be CSS buttons. In this case I figure it is still acceptable to use CSS buttons, although if they can be made as customized buttons like everything else, it would definitely hit the ground better.
The footer is also nicely done. Simple, straight to the point, with no unnecessary additional information and space. User group legend is debatable as from one point of view it helps visitors and members to identify who is who and who to contact when they need help, but from another point of view they can just probably figure those out from reading the posts/threads.
From User Control Panel I see that the forum has many skins/themes to offer for members in various color (schemes). Those are well-done in terms of color variation because the collection adapts both bright and dark schemes for members to enjoy. The structure of the themes are not much different, though, reflected by the version number. The first edition seems to be the one with more customizations compared to second edition, but they both are still not as good as the current default one. One customization like adding small images of the Pokémon near the user control panel link (box containing link to register or log in when viewed as a guest) is a good one. At least it can avoid repetition from using the same image in the banner.
Site Layout – (17 out of 20)
Talking about layout of the forum, the first point to highlight comes from the navigation menu bar near the header. There is a menu to "Portal" there. Usually portals are put as the first page to visit after clicking on a link to a website, as portals are aimed to give visitors the most important information related to the latest happenings at the forum. Therefore, the function of portal page becomes questionable if it is not marked as the default first page for every time the link to the forum is clicked. Next is the "Rules" link. After clicking the link, it turns out that the content is not only the rules of the forum, but also important information and FAQ regarding the forum. The name can be updated to "Rules & FAQ" for better reflection of the content. The other menu are appropriate, with visitors not able to see them due to permissions.
For the organization of the forum sections itself, I think the team has done a great job. I appreciate the attempt to bring out the best of the community by dedicating one category to forum activities related to the idea of the forum. It is also great to see one category dedicated to the video games. I would like to suggest the expansion to the manga and anime version of the game. At least from my case, that is how I knew the series from the first time. It is also quite popular with various sequels/versions of the anime, which can potentially turn into rich discussion if promoted appropriately.
Statistics and Activity – (15 out of 20)
PokéSun, at the moment of review, has a total of 74,918 posts and 636 members being 2 years old. To divide it roughly, it means around 118 posts per member. That is a lovely number, so to say. It shows dedication and hard work from the community leaders and members. Looking at the forum index page too, almost all sections are updated to the latest date with activity, which adds more to a great first impression of the forum. The numbers seem to be divided equally between forum members, including staff members. I am aware that the owner/main administrator had recently changed though so this new administrator is yet to have huge post count. There are almost 200 accounts with no posts, spam bots included, and some more with very low post counts. The forum has some kind of a group of active members core; those who post and visit daily to keep the forum alive. Some of them are among the top posters of the forum, although many others are not. It would be great if those members can be re-invited to make the group stronger and improve on overall activity.
When visiting some of the active threads, there does not seem to be too many active threads over the month of May at least, especially in general discussion area except "The Hangout Area". However, the posts made are in good quality in terms of length and relation to the idea of the thread. I also do not see a lot of participation from the administrators inside those threads. This can be a point to improve on, because administrators need to interact with members as well.
The number of staff team members to help seem to be enough as well. There are two administrators with three (global) moderators (I assume). There are also those who help to manage each of forum activities. That is a good way to divide the workload and it helps to organize things better. For easier way to contact they may be listed under "Forum Team" page, although not mandatory. While the number is okay, what perhaps need further attention is the activity level. I notice some of the team members have not been active in the last 3 days, a few are longer than that. Unless they had specified an absence reason previously, it sure is a good idea to stay in contact with the team members to know if they have difficulties to perform their usual duties at the forum.
Content – (15 out of 20)
I think I will divide this section into two parts, according to the organization of PokéSun. First is about special forum activities, the latter is about general/other content of the forum.
I appreciate forums which have special activities, like PokéSun. Especially because the niche is very specific, and in this case the forum also acts as a fan forum, discussions are usually very focused and there may not always be new things to talk about. Therefore, special forum activities become rather important to keep members interested while waiting for new information to come. From four sections dedicated to forum activities, only one is inactive compared to the rest, which is about creating personal Pokémon. I image this kind of work may be troublesome and takes a lot of time, but perhaps more incentive can be give to those who manage to create one. For example, rights to participate in the role-playing stories or competitions using their own personal Pokémon, or to receive badge or points to be able to reach VIP level, or a simple acknowledge method of giving special user name color and title for a certain period of time (like "Member of the Month") activity. Those can probably boost the interest of participating people, since there is no update since 2013. Other than that other activities seem to do just fine. I am not too sure about why the Battling is closed until 2014, but there must be a reason behind. For the time being discussions about how to improve the system and early sign-up session can commence.
For the other content, the general impression I have is that there are already many threads with topics to discuss available, but not yet completely explored. I have mentioned one possibility in previous section, which is to discuss more about the other installments to the grand Pokémon world. Take for the example the manga and anime series. With them members can explore from artwork to plot, characters to battles, and even to compare them with each other and to games or cards. There can also be reviews or recommendations for newbies to Pokémon world about where to start and further explanations about confusing states of the series. For such perhaps a specific section for reviews and walkthroughs can even be added if necessary. For the off-topic, general discussion area, it mainly needs more attention in terms of new replies and new topics to make people talk more with things to reply to. Especially for threads at "Writer's Desk" which are more about product discussion between authors and readers.
One possible suggestion I have while writing this review is about some sort of encyclopedia or database. With a series as grand as Pokémon, it can be an overall great project for members of the community and help to compile all the information going around instead of trying to find them on other websites. Because it is a grand project, it can involve the whole community and can be used as means to blend everyone well together and deepen the interest in the basic idea of Pokémon and the forum itself!
Spelling/Grammar & Professionalism – (17 out of 20)
I get the feeling of great professionalism while browsing the forum during the review process. The text around the forum are well-organized and easy to understand. There has not been grammatical problems while reading through. I figure the same can be done with forum names and descriptions too. Especially because the forum is very specific in niche and has done great in that area in terms of appearance/theme, doing the same with the forum titles and descriptions may help to invite visitors and members more in to discussing Pokémon and helps to create a more solid atmosphere. For example, "Lilycove Art Museum" is a nice and unique name, but that is the only special forum title among others. Something similar can definitely be done with other sections to spice things up.
Total Score - (79 out of 100)
PokéSun is a very interesting forum. Because I had run a fan forum previously, it is understandable to face difficulties in such specific niche with interested members and things to do. Luckily, Pokémon is a huge universe which can still be explored in days to come with the system and many installments through the series. The forum has been around for 2 years and recently had a change of ownership, which should hopefully give more fuel to the community with new ideas as new information comes by. It sure is not easy, but it is still possible. Get community members in to the projects and contests to make it merry! Good luck with all the plans.
Customized theme and layout, strongly related to the topic/idea of the forum
Great overall professionalism
Possible section expansions and updates to titles/descriptions
Lack of interaction from administrators with the community
Lack of general/whole forum activity