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Optometry online forums (aka communities, boards, discussioin groups)

on March 19th, 2005 | Filed under Reviews

What is a web bulletin board, and why should optometrists care? Well, the problem lies in the very asking of this question. Doctors, as a whole, are slow adaptors to new technology. Webopedia has a short definition of a web board. They go by many different names: forum, web board, bulletin board, conference board, discussion group, and online community. I like the term forum since it’s short, but I also use bulletin board, but others prefer online community because it captures the environment they want to foster.
For those of us optometrists enlightened enough to join an “online community” or “bulletin board” with other optometrists, there is a surprising variety of choices. I will try to elucidate the features and foibles of these forums. They are in no particular order:

A private (or moderated registration) forum for the optometric community only. Features: lots of knowledgeable, educated posters. Five post minimum for custom avatar. Drawbacks: can only register using your real first and last name (they argue that you can make an anonymous post, but still, where is the fun of having a cool username?) They have one forum viewable by the general public and then 10 forums viewable only by registered users. I argue that this gives the general public the impression that ECPs have something to hide. They don’t offer RSS feeds of new posts because, hey, that would mean Jon and Jane Public could see what we’re writing about them. On the same token, I’m sort of glad that you have to register to view posts because my real name is attached to my rantings, so I don’t want any of my patients to read something I wrote and realize, “Hey, he’s talking about me!”
Your view of that situation depends upon your goals, I guess. It’s a mess. At least you get a custom avatar relatively quick. My quick take of the community: overall good but one of the administrators is snooty and posts waaaaay to often. Seriously, if he’s got that many opinions, he should have a blog instead of monopolizing board space.

This is an open forum sponsored by opticians, but optometrists are welcome. Features: open registration. Can use any user name you want. Biggest advantage: RSS (Really Simple Syndication a.k.a “feeds”) of optiboard posts. This is huge. Now I don’t have to click through their website to read new posts. They just show up in my favorite feed aggregator (like bloglines) and then I can reply to any that interest me. This way you can lurk without having to actually click through the website. Drawbacks: mostly dispensary oriented discussions (which can be good depending on your goals). Biggest drawback is that you have to post a million times before you can get your own custom avatar. This seriously ticks me off. I tried to just post a bunch of bogus messages, but the administrator just deleted them. I had a PM (private message) with him, and he was cool, but the policy is not. An avatar represents you. It’s part of your identity. I think you should be allowed to have a custom avatar from the get-go. My quick take of the community: really friendly people.

I have to admit that I moderate this forum, but I think I can be detached enough to limit my bias. Advantages: open registration with any username (but need any valid e-mail address). Get inside look at IHS optometry. Option to receive and post messages via e-mail. Disadvantages: right now it’s just starting up, so not very many users. (By the way, anyone can join in, not just IHS optometrists. I would encourage any OD2B to login and ask questions about IHS as a potential career option.) Big drawbacks are no avatars at all, and the user interface is confusing because it’s not like most web bulletin boards out there (attention IHS IT people: could we please switch to phpbb? It is practically the standard for community forums.) No RSS. My quick take of the community: so far just banter between 2 or 3 ODs. Needs more members to get it going.

This community is sponsored by an ECP publisher. Pros: custom avatar, custom username. Cons: forums are organized by the different magazines instead of topics, so a topic could overlap from one forum (magazine) to another. Watch out for “forum spam.” No RSS. What’s weird about this forum is that it says there are a ton of topics in a forum, but when you click on it, there’s only a handful. My quick take of the community: navigation and forum organization too confusing to even get a sense of the community spirit.

There is a fine line between group blogs and a forum. I believe this ophthalmology group blog is more like a bulletin board. Anyone can register to post stuff, so I don’t see the difference. They also offer an ophthalmology resident forum. My only complaint is that it gets a little old when every other post is complaining about optometrists doing YAG capsulotomies and stuff. A big plus is that the eyeorbit blog/forum offers an RSS feed. [–EDIT– I had originally inculed the RSS link, but it’s an “rdf” file which iPodder picks up as an enclosure and tries to play in my music player. Is there anyone at eyeorbit.org that would be willing to change the file extention for their feeds to .atom or .php?]

So these are the 5 ECP-related forums that I’ve found. Which should you join? All of them, of course! Actually, web boards can take up a lot of time, so I can see how you may want to limit how many you join. I would join any eye-related forum that offers RSS feeds so that it would take minimal effort to post only to threads I care about instead of endlessly browsing topics every few days. Seniordoc really irks me because of their mandatary real-name-user-name, but Optiboard vexes me because of the mandatory 50 posts before obtaining a custom avatar. (Even though the IHS forum doesn’t have avatars period, it doesn’t bother me as much as Optiboard’s policy because it’s like they’re saying, “Look at this generic avatar! It belongs to a no-good, rotten newbie.”) Visioncareforums is just plain disorganized (which wouldn’t be so bad if they had RSS for new posts). IHS optometry web board is just starting and needs more members to create a sense of community, and it needs to drop its current software and switch to phpbb.

A community forum’s spirit is largely dependant on the users, but the forum organization and the moderators have a large role in creating that spirit. For examples of highly successful forums not related to eye care, see ericdsnider.com or wordpress.org.
Any other forums I should have mentioned?


8 Responses to “Optometry online forums (aka communities, boards, discussioin groups)”

  1. Dave, this is a great rundown. Your blogging is truly a great resource, and I hope people realize and understand the contribution to the community that you’re making.

    They’re not related to optometry, but two great examples of how a forum should run (both in terms of technical features and great people) are the forums at http://www.arstechnica.com and http://channel9.msdn.com. I’ve been a subscriber and poster at Ars for years (almost 3000 posts), and I’ve never encountered a better group of people online. There are so many smart, friendly people. It’s great. Channel 9 is a community project from Microsoft, with the purpose of just starting and having a conversation with developers and users. No marketing, no “slant”, just good Cluetrain-insipired human conversation. Channel 9 isn’t as smooth, feature-wise, as Ars, but the community is great, as well.

    Keep up the blogging, Dave! Ride the Cluetrain! 😎

  2. Bethany says:

    Looks like we need a (teeny tiny) optometry ring 🙂

    Mine’s mostly a knitting blog– with pictures of my son– occasionally interrupted by bits of the trials & tribulations of owning a private practice– but not too much (as my staff reads the knitting blog!)

  3. Bethany says:

    What about Optcom?

  4. I did see that http://www.optcom.com is “Optometry’s Premier Online Community,” but when you click on the link for “Optcom Forums” is comes up a big blank. Since there was nothing there and the main site looks like a bunch of adds, I just discounted it. However, they do have a nice file exchange at http://www.optcom.com/file_exchange/

  5. There are also great patient-oriented forums where doctors are invited as well. See http://messages.kcenter.org/eve for a forum all about keratoconus. Does anyone have links to similar sites?

  6. I just found out there is a forum at Review of Optometry’s site. http://www.revoptom.com/index.asp?show=list
    It’s a very small bulletin board with very few features- okay, almost no features. But I like how I don’t have to go through a registration process.

  7. Although not directly related to optometry http://www.opticiansfriend.com is eye-related as well.

  8. David Langford says:

    Thanks, Mr. Cordova, for letting us know about you site. I highly recommend it. I gave it a plug here.