My Depression Connection's Website Redesign
When I created Wing of Madness in 1995, the word “community” had rarely been applied to the Internet. A few years later it was used ad nauseum, but in 1995 it didn't cross my mind that my website users might want to communicate with each other. Comes from being an introvert, I guess.
About three years later I found myself swamped with daily emails from people asking me questions about depression and its treatment, or people just looking to unburden themselves to someone else. At some point in the summer of 1998 I said to myself, “Aha! Why don't I create a message board and let these people talk to each other? That way I won't spend as much time on emails.” It turned out that the time I needed to spend managing the message board was at least double or triple the time I had spent on emails, but I was blissfully ignorant of this at that point.
So I collected the emails of people who were interested in being notified when the board opened up, and when I had 200 emails I launched my message board. A short time later, less than two months, I added a chat room. This was requested by people who preferred to communicate in real time. I'm not a big chatter, so I was somewhat bemused when the chat room became so busy that I had to add two more rooms.
In subsequent years I added other features such as blog hosting so that people could have online journal in which to write their thoughts about depression. The message board was the core and draw of the community. At its high points there were between 400-500 posts made per day.
As I said earlier, “community” became a hot buzzword in the late 1990s. Every website wanted a message board. I was the webmaster for a small crafts company whose owner insisted that they needed a message board. I was skeptical that the need was there, but went ahead and installed one. However, it never really took off. The same scenario played out on the Internet over and over on sites that didn't have the audience to make the message board succeed.
There is one group of people, however, who will always utilize message boards and chat fully, and that is people who are seeking information and support about/for a medical condition, either physical or emotional.
One of the first things I did after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis was to search out an online community. I found a particularly vibrant one and posted questions about medication, symptoms that I had that puzzled my doctor (several people responded to my post saying they had experienced it too) and came away feeling that there was another source of information aside from my doctor and the bookstore.
So I am obviously a big believer in community enhancing tools on health websites. When I first came to HealthCentral, the only real community aspect of it was the message boards.
I was absolutely thrilled when I saw the redesigned site. First of all, bright colors - I love the bright colors much more than the subtle earth tones the site was composed of in its previous incarnation. But the changes in the redesign weren't purely cosmetic. Several new features make it easy for members to connect to each other and to the community as a whole.
The tool that in my mind has the biggest impact on the site is the SharePost feature. You can choose to read other members' SharePosts, write your own, or both. After registering as a member on the site, you essentially have your own journal in which to share your feelings about depression (or another health issue.) Best of all, you can create your SharePost, save it as a draft and edit it over and over (and over) until you're finally ready to send it out in the world. (Yes, this is how I do mine.)
What's really wonderful in terms of connecting is that you can get feedback; other members can post comments on your SharePost, offering advice or support.
You can easily find SharePosts written by other members that interest you by searching either by the writer's role (Living with It, Our Expert, Friend/Family, Recovered From, etc.) or what type of SharePost they're writing (Journal Entry, Advice, Inspiration, Question, etc.).
The ability to send another member a private message has been added. On my forum this has always been an extremely popular feature. It allows you to communicate with another member quickly and easily without having to go through email.
And maybe it's because I have mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and like to have things well organized, but I love the "My Home" feature, which gives you everything at your fingertips that relates to you personally - your Private Messages, SharePosts, Profile, Email notifications and Subscriptions in one nice, neat package.
So, take yourself on a tour around our new and improved home. I think you'll agree with me that it's now an even better place to connect with other people and share experiences and feelings.