GoutPal’s Getting Personal

Personal Learning photo

Last year I started moving Gout Pal Interactive gout forum to a new platform. The old platform was not user friendly enough. Also, I wanted to grow the forum within GoutPal brand. So, the hyphenated form was no longer suitable.

At the time, though I was driven by improving user services, my focus was on technical elements. Now, my emphasis on all improvements to GoutPal is to make it personal. I introduced this in GoutPal Visitor Experience Optimization. Now, I need to make sure that every GoutPal page is aimed at a specific group of gout sufferers.

More than that, I need to ensure that visitors understand their personal choices. Visitors must know:

  1. What their choices are for every gout topic.
  2. Where to get help to make choices if they need clarification. This might be better explanation of the specific aspect of gout. Or, it might be better understanding of how the choice applies to their particular gout situation.
  3. How to record their choices in their personal gout profile.
  4. What to do next to continue improving their gout management and/or control.

I should measure my success, somehow. My main aim is increasing the total number of gout sufferers visiting my forum and related services. I also aim to increase the percentage of engaged visitors. When I started this gout forum reorganization, I started a project plan. Other changes in my website community network meant I could not complete project planning online. Here is my original start:

Purpose review
To move and improve current gout support services to GoutPal.net, ensuring continuity of service, and growing total audience.

Planning Review
*Rewards for Network Reorganization*
Improve engagement of visitors by increasing active members as a percentage of total visitors. Better management of audience growth should improve total visitors.

Current engaged users (GPP > .4) is 34
Total users August 2015 was 25k, down from 26k July. Maximum was 30k May 2012.

*Objectives for Network Reorganization*
Move all services by end 2015, then phase most popular content during 2016. Total monthly users across both site should be 26k in 2015, and average 30k for 2016 (i.e. sum of monthly totals should be 360k, requiring increase of around 750 per month)
Goal for active users is 50 by end 2015, and increase of 4 per month.

*Strategies for Network Reorganization*
Improve routines for indexing popular topics
Improve routines for feedback into guidelines
Improve explaining what personal facts are necessary in the context of each guideline.
Identify best parts of existing forums and copy these.
Encourage more ideas and voting
Introduce Personal Projects
Improve helpdesk response and integrate CRM

One weakness of that is, I didn’t really think too hard about the best way to measure engaged users. In that note, I used the forerunner of ┼Žallars (GPP) being over 0.40 as significant. A better measure might be number of users who gained any ┼Žallars in the month. Long-term, that will only work with better admin procedures. But, it should give better numbers for now.

However measured, it’s bad news so far. Total users of the old forum have dropped to 21K for August 2016. Total users for the new gout forum was only 1k, giving a total of 22k. Active users for August was 36.

I believe this is a clear indication of lack of clear procedures for new members. There will always be some technical issues that need to be clarified. But, the main problem now is that there is no clear explanation of user choices anywhere. This does not require copious notes and explanations. It requires a clear strategy for helping gout sufferers.

I have the foundation, with GoutPal Gout Groups. Now, everything needs to encourage users to become engaged. Therefore, I’ll start with some standard terms. Then I can apply these consistently, with links to more explanation for new visitors.

GoutPal’s Getting Personal

Once gout sufferers have decided which GoutPal Gout Group they belong to, they need to start recording personal gout facts. Standard practice is to rely on their doctor. In which case, gout facts will be recorded in their medical history.

Anonymous gout sufferers are my biggest audience. Therefore, I need to guide them if they cannot totally rely on their doctor. In fact, if they want to learn about gout alongside their doctor’s advice, they always need personal notes. These are for:

  • Gout facts that are not in their medical records.
  • Personal preferences about choices they wish to make.
  • Questions that are important to them.

In the gout forum, I provide a resource to enable them to store these notes. I’m calling it a Personal Gout Diary. Anonymous users can keep their notes wherever they like. I can provide document or spreadsheet examples in Google Docs. These will form the basis of Personal Gout Diaries within the forum.

GoutPal member’s diaries will be maintained by themselves, or managed by their mentor. That’s a choice to make it easy for people who do not want to learn WordPress or bbPress editing. With good template examples, the job can be delegated to forum moderators (i.e. it’s a tech support job).

With a Personal Gout Diary, gout sufferers have a way to record their responses to Gout Management Plans and/or Gout Control Therapies. And so, I can now give clear choices to gout sufferers about how they want to control their gout.

Anything but the standard option of relying on their doctor requires a learning process. Some learning procedures are about understanding gout and planning how to control it. Other learning procedures are about doing tasks that control gout symptoms. All of them will take place in the Gout Learning Forum. Some will be mentored, and all will be structured. Unstructured help remains in the General Gout Discussion forum, for ad hoc questions.

Personal Learning photo

How will you learn about gout?

In conclusion, it is now urgent to get personal guidance fully integrated into all GoutPal pages. With these learning routines, visitor choices are clear from the outset. These choices must be built into the new format of every learning page. The next step section should be written for anonymous visitors. Then, there can be a final sentence offering personal help. Part of the mentoring process will be to tell structured learners exactly how to respond to all elements of every lesson. Therefore pages will be fit for all visitors.

For this to work, visitors need to be aware of:

  1. Gout Group.
  2. Gout Mentor.
  3. Learning Mode (class/stream?).

All pages will identify group at the beginning. Regular visitors will be aware of their mentor and learning style options. Pages need a clever intro to make those options clear to new visitors without adding needless distraction to regular learners. Except, it need not be an intro. At the beginning, new visitors can learn the specific topic facts without worrying about the learning process. That way, links to explanations in the “Next Steps” section need to be crystal clear. As visitors become more engaged, they will become aware of their particular learning process – the Gout Mentor link will explain mentoring choices and learning modes.


Note, this page is my view of how I intend to implement personal learning for GoutPal. As such, it is less structured than some parts of the GoutPal story. I use this type of post to collect my thoughts as I’m planning forthcoming changes. Only time will tell how much of the above I manage to implement.

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