I've been doing a lot of simplifying in my life recently, and I've noticed the trend carrying over to the work I do with online communities. For example, I was recently reviewing a community site, which had the standard nav structure many out-of-the-box communities have. There were seven top level nav items with twelve items under the community area of the nav alone - arguably the most important area. It looked something like this:
Notice the number of items under just that one category - 17 choices facing the user. Imagine being a new user of that community, or even a veteran user - that's a lot of choices, and visually that big black block with two rows of white text is just not that user-friendly.
With this particular community, when you look at the structure of their site, they essentially have three places they want users to go: committees, chapters and a single open forum for all their members. Looking at their analytics, the open forum is where 95 percent of their traffic comes from, so it's fair to ask, "Is there really any need for so much complexity?"
Here is an example of how a much simpler approach would serve the community member well. It's so much cleaner and simpler, focusing on the core areas of the site and removing much of the sub-navigation:
The result is nine main nav items with just two options under the open forum, committees and chapter items. Much cleaner, much easier for users to see, at a glance, what the community offers.
So in this spirit of simplicity, I encourage you to take a look at your online community and its nav structure. Is it so confusing that it keeps users from participating just by virtue of there being too many choices?
If you have a community website which you think could be less complex or more intuitive, send me the url and I'll give it a quick review for you (as long as you don't mind me sharing the before and after in this blog - all comments will be professional and constructive of course).