Clown Triggerfish, Balistoides conspicillum.If you're new to online discussion forums or just new to Reef2Reef, this article is for you. Much of the information that I'm going to give you, here, is already published on the forum. However, it's not all in one place, and if you're not very fluent in forum usage, the information is not always the easiest to find.
Photo is from the Reef2Reef archives, courtesy of @Darryl, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.
Forums are fun. And the R2R forum is especially fun. It's tightly moderated, and people are warm and friendly. We welcome any and all questions. "Lurking"--or reading but not signing up and participating--is fine, but you'll get much more out of the forum if you jump in and join us.
So, here are some general hints on how to get the most out of our forum.
1. Sign up. If you haven't already, be sure to sign up. It's easy to do and free. Reading existing threads is useful, but being able to ask specific questions and getting a flurry of answers will advance your reef knowledge considerably more.
2. Pick a catchy name. This is not a requirement. But just like on Twitter, if you have a catchy name, it's much easier to remember and for others to find you and talk to you. For example, Stonefish8 is more memorable than Xy63b9ejdks. You don't have to use your real name, but give your forum name some thought. Some people use the same forum name in several different forums. The forum software will let you know if a name is already being used by someone else.
3. Customize your avatar. The avatar is the little image that goes above your name every time you post on the forum. Our software will offer you a choice of stock avatars, and if you choose none at all, there's still something there. However, adding an avatar personalizes your online persona. There are plenty of websites that will allow you to create an avatar for free. You can create a cartoon character or use one of your own images or create something totally different or unusual. You don't have to use an image of yourself; you can use an image of one of your fish or your dog or almost anything.
4. Participate. Have some fun. Participate in conversations. Ask questions or respond to questions. The more you participate, the more little banners you will acquire under your name. Below, in Image 1, you'll see my cartoon avatar on the left, which I made using a free avatar website, and all the banners under my name.
You don't have to be on the forum 24/7 to have fun with it. We recently did a Secret Santa thing that was a hoot. There are lots of contests and giveaways that you won't know about unless you participate. There's even a "Lounge" forum for talking about off-topic things like your hobbies or recipes or weather.
There is always a significant percentage of individuals signed up on a forum who do not participate. But believe it or not, some people make friends that they meet in real life. You get to feel like being part of a community or a family. I'm registered on several online discussions forums, and I've been a moderator on three of them. Reef2Reef is the warmest online group I've ever come across. When people introduce themselves in the Meet & Greet subforum, other forum members are knocking each other down to say hello and welcome the new member.
See Figure 2 below. On the left are new forum members introducing themselves. On the right are all the people who have jumped in to say "Welcome!" That's a lot of hellos. No need to be shy here.
5. Fill out your profile. We all have a profile page, and people visit your profile page. So, give them something to look at. Filling out your profile makes you appear more serious. You don't have to give away a lot of personal information or your real name and address. The more you flesh out your profile page, the more transparent and human you appear to others and the more others will be inclined to engage with you. Figure 3 is my profile page.
6. Follow people. In the screenshot above, you'll see on the left that I follow seven people. If you follow someone, every time that person posts something you get notified on the top right of your screen (Figure 5). So, if there are individuals who you find particularly interesting or entertaining, then follow them. You'll find the option to follow someone if you click on someone's name and a new window opens up. See Figure 4 below. It's also possible to search for threads by this person, but following is faster and easier. On the right you can see that I'm following him because I have the choice to "unfollow". If I wasn't following him, I would see the choice to "follow" instead.
7. Start a Build Thread. This is when you start a "thread" or a discussion about the tank you're setting up. You post photos and talk at length about what you're doing and why. Others will chime in on your thread and make comments and ask questions. Build threads are great fun to read, and the more you participate in the build threads of others, the more people will look at your own thread.
8. Be specific when asking questions. If you have a specific problem, then be specific in your question. For example, if your question is about your water parameters, then include in your post what all of your parameters and tank size and tank's age are. If you're asking about a sick fish, include your water parameters, size and age of tank, how long the fish has been in there, how long he/she has been sick, and include a photo as well. Otherwise, the first few answers to your question will be asking for this information. People need basic information to give you a good answer.
9. Ask open-ended questions. If you want to just get to know the forum members, ask an open-ended question that doesn't have a clear yes or no answer to start a long discussion. For example, instead of asking, "Do you quarantine your fish?" Ask instead, "What's your philosophy about quarantining fish?"
10. Use private messaging. On this forum, private messages are called "conversations." Figure 5, below, shows on the top right (see arrow) where your notifications or "alerts" are. If you get a message or an alert, you'll see a number above either "Inbox" or "Alerts." On the left (see arrow), those are my conversations. I've covered who I'm having the conversation with.
Private messaging is good if...well...you want to speak privately. Maybe you want to ask a question that you don't think interests others. Or maybe some guy is talking on the forum about the frayed fins of his Kalookimooki fish (I'm making this up), but you want to ask him about the lighting fixture you saw in his photo. Then rather than "hijack" his thread and start talking about a different topic, send the guy a private message. Or maybe you notice someone is from your hometown. Send that person a private message if you'd like to meet up.
11. Be pleasant and diplomatic. Even if you're answering a question from someone who is doing everything wrong, you can still be diplomatic. Reef2Reef has zero tolerance for mean-spirited posts and a low tolerance for drama. People are here to learn from forum members, so, help others to learn. You may not call someone a poo-poo face and say that a few cards are missing from his or her deck. It doesn't cost anything to be nice.
And, please note that Reef2Reef has a strict no-profanity and no-vulgarity rule in order for the forum to be totally family-friendly. Your seven-year-old can read the forum freely, and you won't have to worry.
There is some recent research that online discussion forums can make you feel good and feel a part of something bigger. And that those good feelings carry on into your life outside of the forum. Discussion forums can be a source of support. You don't have to be an expert on saltwater reef aquariums to be part of Reef2Reef. So, join us. Right now.
Author Profile: Cynthia White
Cynthia received her BA in English from NYU. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. Now she is a writer and editor on staff at R2R, where her forum nickname is Seawitch.
For 15 years, she kept a dozen freshwater tanks, bred cichlids--Cyphotilapia frontosa--and sold them to pet stores in Calgary. Finally, after years of study, she has come to saltwater side. She lives in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband and three special-needs dogs, a five-minute walk from the Georgia Strait, the Pacific Ocean between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, where the water temperature ranges from about eight degrees C (46F) in the winter to 15 degrees C (60F) in the summer. Bring your dry suit. And some hot coffee.