The Evolution of Communication…or How to Build a Message Board with Limited Money, Time, and Technical Ability

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IAEI.org was launched in January 2002 as the online companion to the association’s new publishing and education emphasis, and a key to expanding IAEI’s mission globally. The site initially launched to provide general information about the association, trendsetting and technically superior educational products, and to give wider exposure to the excellent articles in IAEI News.

The second evolutionary phase of this website was the creation of the Global Forum bulletin board in April 2002. This code question bulletin board was created to allow the user to view questions and answers from the grass roots of the organization—the members themselves. In searching for the best bulletin board program for IAEI, many considerations went into choosing a software program; such as registration, legal protection, where to put (“host”) the board, organization of the board, and how much money we wanted to spend in creating an online service.

Registration

The basic question answered by registration is who is responsible for the messages posted. Some services assume full responsibility and protect themselves in non-negotiable terms, while others require the website to assume that responsibility. The process of registration generally reflects this situation. IAEI examined a number of message board hosts and selected Ezboard because it met our criteria for legal protection and costs. When you sign up to be a member of the IAEI.org message board, you must go through a multiple-step registration process. Because of the increased legal ramifications of hosting a board on their remote server, Ezboard’s terms and conditions are non-negotiable and necessary in order to post online. IAEI has no legal grounds for changing these conditions and cannot change the conditions to fit our particular board.

Some message boards that are often hosted on the same server as the website have a one-stop registration process. However, even locally based bulletin boards have admin-defined user agreements to protect the owners of the message board. While one-stop registration allows for quick posting time, the server (company) providing the message board is 100 percent responsible for any breakdowns on the server, and is liable for all content that is posted.

If IAEI used this type of server and an individual, either unintentionally or purposefully, posts illegal or harmful information to the IAEI.org message board, IAEI is fully responsible for said content and is responsible for all legal fees. Also, if someone posts fraudulent information about a company or product on the message board, IAEI is legally responsible for finding and pursuing the responsible individuals and can be held liable for any damages incurred from the post. Somehow IAEI did not feel that membership dues should be spent in such a manner. Thanks to its strict end-user agreement, Ezboard has a legal team that specializes in this type of Internet fraud and incurs all legal cost in pursuing these individuals.

Another benefit to Ezboard is that, unlike other online community solutions, Ezboard communities are not “islands” and users can use the same identity across all Ezboard communities. The user can move from the IAEI.org board to another board without having to re-register. This ease of access is another reason why the terms of use for this board are so strict.

The special features that the board provides, combined with the legal ramifications of having such a technical board, requires that posting members must be registered and logged in. This restriction also prevents hoaxers from posting information such as pornography, Spam, and bogus technical information. Since the IP address and email address of posted members are captured upon registration, the company can pursue these individuals if any such posting occurs. This provides IAEI members with the best security possible.

Hosting

Ezboard offers a low-cost remote hosting provider similar to the one that hosts IAEI.org. Their remote, high-speed server is built so as to not slow IAEI.org down. Many bulletin board providers provide this type of option, but the costs associated with it often skyrocket as bulletin boards can take up a lot of space and sap the bandwidth from a server. A medium-sized bulletin board with pictures, such as code violations, posted to it can significantly increase costs because hosting providers charge fees if the bandwidth goes over a certain amount.

24/7 maintenance is another nightmare associated with hosting a board on a locally based server. If something goes wrong in the middle of the night, or during a vacation period, the board has to wait until someone from the IAEI.org hosting server gets there to handle it. This creates a problem with the domain as well, because if the message board goes down, so does the entire IAEI.org web site. For example, if someone accidentally posted a corrupted file, it could take out the link to all data entry functions (such as new user registration and member renewal).

Using a locally hosted bulletin board (one hosted on the same server as the host site) would also demand additional server space to meet the requirements, especially those where the user is allowed to post pictures. To solve this issue, IAEI.org would need to purchase an additional 100 MB of server space, which would cost a minimum $250 extra a month, not taking into consideration the extra bandwidth that we would have to pay for in the end. Hosting the message board on a remote server allows us the functionality of paying only the yearly registration fee for pre-selected space and service.

The Money Tree

Free message boards often lack the functionality of the more popular message boards, and they frequently come with bandwidth and space restrictions. The owner is also often restricted as to the layout of the site and how he can organize topics. When you look at these issues and want a fully interactive message board, you have to begin to look at the boards that cost a nominal fee.

At first glance, locally hosted message boards appear to be cheaper than remote hosts. However, once you take into account the extra space, bandwidth, and maintenance that you have to work with, it can wind up costing more money in the long run.

According to current prices posted on one popular locally based message board, a standard license is $199, with an annual renewal membership fee of $99. A new install fee is attached for $175, and you may have to pay a fee of $599 for transferring servers if you have to transfer from hosting service A to hosting service B. You can get the service ($199) free with using their web hosting, which would require transferring IAEI.org to a different service or paying an additional fee for creating two web hosting services—theirs and our current IP. This popular service allows you to run both the message board and the site from one domain, but you must pay for additional bandwidth and space usage. All told, we could be looking at approximately $1,000 upfront costs.

The board chosen by IAEI has a nominal yearly fee of $30.00 for six months, or $60.00 for year. This is the gold membership that includes completely online access with no software to install, complete maintenance, and advanced customization. Because the service is hosted on the remote server, IAEI incurs no additional fees related to maintenance and downtime.

Organization

Among the early message boards on the web, circa mid-1990s, posts (threads) were often grouped together in one forum. Eventually, you would have to wade through pages of posts, which might have 20 legitimate posts on the topic, and 60 posts talking about unrelated items such as home life, sports, or what we like to refer to today as Spam.

In the latter part of the decade, programmers began installing categories into the software packages, which allowed for a number of forums to be grouped together and given a name. Initially, these categories were slow in taking off, but many businesses began utilizing forum categories to allow for greater logical structure.

IAEI has created categories on the message board based on the structure of the National Electrical Code combined with the industry-standard forums.

The first category, announcements, contains a forum that allows for the moderator to post important IAEI notices to the members—from snow-days to important voting announcements, only moderators can post in this category.

The second category, general discussion, is a “get to know you” forum. Posts on general topics, media issues, article suggestions, and outside links can be posted to these forums. By dividing these initial messages into separate forums, it allows you to find your message quickly and easily.

The code issues category is based on the organization of the National Electrical Code. The first forum is based on general technical questions, which may not be related to any specific code. The other forums, however, are based on the major chapters of the NEC, from wiring and protection to understanding the tables within the Code. Since IAEI members are so familiar with the nine chapters of the Code, it was felt that using that same organization would facilitate any member posting or finding areas of particular interest more efficiently.

Posting

The IAEI.org bulletin board provides a similar posting method to that of most message boards. Upon entering the IAEI.org website, click on the link for comprehensive forum under the subhead “Web Services.” Once the forum loads, you need to determine if you do not already have an Ezboard account. By clicking on “register an account,” you go to a page that allows you to choose between a global account or a local account. With a global account, you can post on any Ezboard, have the same identity across all of the boards (in case you want to join the Ezboard on fishing, for example), and get a private message account. A local account allows for you to post only on the IAEI.org message board. You can choose either account to post.

After you have signed up, it will take you back to the IAEI.org message board. To post a message, choose the forum that you wish to post your question in. Let’s say that you wish to post a message about a problem regarding licensing in your state, and it is a question that does not fall under any particular NEC chapter. Click on the forum entitled “Technical Questions (Not Necessarily Code).” After reviewing previous messages in this category to make sure that your question has not already been asked, you would then click on the button “New Topic” at the top of the page to create your new message. Type in your information, and select “Add Post.”

If you would like to respond to one of the messages already posted inside the forum, click on the message that you would like to respond to, and read the existing thread. After you have read that thread, click on the “Add Reply” button located at the top of the page. Type in your message, and then click “Add Reply” at the bottom of the message box. The original message is under this box for your reviewing convenience.

Looking to the Future

A well-integrated message board can increase interactivity between members and provide a forum for customer conversations about the electrical industry. IAEI’s goal is to provide a sense of community and increase communication between members, inspectors, and authorities having jurisdiction.

Feedback from members regarding communication tools, such as this message board, is vital in helping us improve our customer relations. Communicate your ideas about how you feel this bulletin board can be improved by contacting webmaster@iaei.org.