Interview: Fazle Imtiaz, OffTopic.com founder and administrator
Created in 2000, the offtopic forums have since quickly become the temple of general discussion. Anything can be discussed here by the hundreds of members present at any time, would it be news or politics as well as what happenned to a member on that day, sharing altered images or imagining fictive situations. Mostly composed of young males, the community has become strong enough to organize regional or national meetings frequently.
The founder and administrator of the site, Fazle Imtiaz, has kindly accepted to answer our questions.
A few details about the boards before we get to the interview:
Web Server: Dual Opteron 246, 8 Gigs of Ram ,Quantum Atlas IV 10k 36 Gig Raid 1 with Adaptec Ultra 160 Raid Card, Dual Gigabit Ethernet
Database Server: P4 2.8E w/1MB cache, 2 Gigs of Ram, Intel CSA Gigabit Interface ,Quantum Atlas IV 10k 36k Raid 1 with Adaptec Ultra 160 Raid Card
Future Hardware that has already been purchased and will be installed in a month (june 2004):
Cisco 11503 Content Switch with 18 ports, GBIC, Dell Powerconnect 24 Port Gigabit Switch, APC 5000VA
Web Servers - 3 of them: Dell Poweredge 1750, Dual 2.4 Xeon, 2 gigs of Ram, Dual Broadcom Gigabit Interface, LSI Ultra 320 SCSI, Seagate Cheetah 15k Drive.
Gallery/Uploads Server: Dell Poweredge 1750, 2.4 Xeon, 1 gig of Ram, Dual Broadcom Gigabit Interface, LSI Ultra 320 SCSI, Seagate Cheetah 15k Drive.
Database Server: Dell Poweredge 1750, Dual 3.06 Xeons, 4 gigs of Ram, Dual Broadcom Gigabit Interface, LSI Ultra 320 Raid Controller, 2 Fujitsu 15k Drives - Raid 1.
Creation date of the board
June 20, 2000
Number of moderators
69 Moderators, and 8 Super Moderators
The rule #1 of offtopic is not to talk about offtopic, so the #1 question is, will you get a hard time from your members for transgressing this rule ?
The funny thing is, I never made that rule. Somewhere down the line, a few OTers got tired of too many newbies and made up rule #1, and before long it became official, unofficially.
Could you tell us a bit about the context in which the OT forums were created ?
I became a member of honda-acura.net back in 1999 and the owner of that site was looking for a good host. With my technical background and other resources available to me at the time, I offered my help and started hosting honda-acura.net for free. I also started thinking about creating a forum where people could discuss anything, not just strictly cars. I created the Off Topic forum in Honda-Acura.net, with relaxed rules and where people could talk just about anything. While the owner of HA controlled the rest of the site, my dedication was to OT. OT forum had its own thing going on, complete with its own rules and direction. Over time the OT forum started getting larger and larger, so much larger that OT was accounting for 75% of that site's hits. 80% of the site's members stayed at OT and didnt go to any other forums. 75+ % of new members were coming in to HA just to get into OT, as more and more people wanted to get into this forum after hearing from their friends. The owner of HA didnt want to do anything with OT and all that extra traffic it was generating, and asked me to take my forum off of HA. I had much bigger plans for OT anyway, and a lot of other things would be possible if I invested all my time, resources and money on OT only. I separated OT from HA and registered its own domain on June 20 2000.
"OT is constantly improved based on user feedback, members have almost total say on most things"
There are thousands of "off-topic" forums on the web, what do you think makes OffTopic special ?
OT is special? :)
I think the relaxed rules, forum content and the fast pace draw a lot of people in. I get quite a few emails everyday where more than a few people say 'This is just what I was looking for'. Plus I go out of my way to make sure the site as work/school friendly as possible. OT is constantly improved based on user feedback, members have almost total say on most things.
When comparing to other huge forums, you seem to have a particularly dedicated user base, each user showing close to a thousand posts. What drives users to post so much ?
There are no rules in OT besides a few obvious ones. So you can post almost anything you want and the mods will never lock/delete any thread because the content was off topic. This IS off topic. Flood control is set to 2 seconds, most forums have a 5-10 second wait, if not more. And with OT, I dont think you can ever run out of things to post. For example, in a car forum, you can only talk about so many things before the same question pops out over and over again. Not on OT. It takes 1-2 minutes before a 0 reply thread ends up on page 2, OT is a constant cycle.