Interview: Brian Claridge, IGN-VNBoards programmer and administrator
IGN.com is one of the 500 most visited websites on the web (source: Alexa) and features the largest online forums. While it is mainly dedicated to video games, with news, downloads, tips and cheats for about any game on any platform, users can also find various news and reviews about movies, music, or more generally entertainment.
Lead programmer and administrator of the message boards, Brian Claridge has kindly accepted to answer our questions.
A few details about the boards before we get to the interview:
Hardware and software configuration
Web Servers: 5 Dual P4 2.8ghz web servers w/ 1gig RAM
SQL Servers: 1 Dual P3 or P4 server for each system (vault/ign/theforce.net)
Software: ASP 3.0 running on IIS 5.
DatabaseB: SQL Server 2000
Creation date of the board
Development started in July of 1999. The first system, “ChickClick Boards” was launched a few months later, followed by Vault boards and then IGN/TheForce.net.
Number of members in the staff
2 people for development, a Web Developer (me) and a DBA for the SQL Server.
The number of moderators varies greatly. Most of our moderators are unpaid community members. They get added/removed weekly. If I was to guess, I would say we have about 30 - 50 moderators on each system.
Could you briefly introduce yourself and your background before being involved in IGN ?
My name is Brian Claridge and I am a Senior Software Engineer for IGN/GameSpy. Before IGN, I worked for a public utility in Arizona as a web developer. After that, I worked for SkyMall.com in their e-commerce division.
What does your work for IGN consist in ?
I primarily maintain the message board software. I get assigned to other projects, but nothing in scale to message boards.
What other online communities are you a member of and what do you appreciate in them ?
Honestly, between work and family, I really only have time to post on the IGN boards. I used to spend some time on the Anandtech forums, buying/selling old computer parts.
If you could change one thing about your work at IGN (past or present), what would it be ?
I wish a 100% of my time was devoted to improving the code and feature set.
"After all, you have to give users something to talk about"
About IGN / VNBoards.
When did the forums start to become busy, and how far do you think they contributed to the overall IGN success ?
That’s tough to answer. I think they’ve gradually grown in popularity over the last 4 years, but Vault boards were almost instantly popular. The MMORPG community really embraced the Vault network of sites and the community just naturally flocked to the boards. Board traffic accounts for about 30% of IGN’s overall traffic and helps drive subscriptions. I’d say boards are a critical piece of the overall property.
What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of your message boards ?
It’s simplicity. The layout and design of the system has not changed much in 4 years. Users have had a chance to grow accustomed to their home. Our moderators do a great job of being fair (most of the time ;) ) and since 99% of them are active participants in the subject area, they understand the users pretty well.
Of course, having great sites and content to back the boards, is always a major factor for success. After all, you have to give users something to talk about.