11 March 2013

Web site review - The British Medals Forum

The British Medals Forum has been mentioned many times in posts on this blog and the blog roll contains a link to the site. It is also the site others are most referred to if they are interested in expanding there knowledge, interested in medals awarded to Commonwealth countries or posting requests about stolen medals. Having endorsed the British Medals Forum for many years it is now timely to review the site so that others might consider joining.
The British Medals Forum is commonly referred to as the BMF by members. It is a tightly run forum that is focused on medals, honours and awards that are issued by Commonwealth countries. It is the peak research forum on this subject on the web. 
The BMF uses the phpBB forum package as its operating format. This package is easy to use and navigate around. The BMF use of this format offers the ability to browse by dedicated topic group or pre-selected groupings, for example ‘New Posts’ which is on a 24 hour refresh cycle. The look of the site is utilitarian but this is more to do with the phpBB format than the BMF content. One criticism expressed by members is that the search function often does not deliver expected results. Once again, this can be attributed to the phpBB format and the search operation that is inherent in this package.
It is obvious that the site has a very niche focus on medals. It is a free site which only requires an interested member to sign up to access it. There is no advertising which is a credit to the site operators so there is very little distraction on the site. There is an annual voluntary sponsorship drive which provides the opportunity for members to contribute financially to the running costs of the site and further push away the need for advertising.
The BMF has very clear set of rules which are strictly enforced by the moderators. Topics that stray outside the forum theme are quickly locked and deleted. Topics that have run their course in the discussion about medals are also locked if the conversation strays, however, are left online if the earlier discussions are of benefit to member education. The forum is moderated by a group of very knowledgeable, hand selected enthusiasts. The moderators are spread around the world so that they can bring their intimate knowledge of there own countries medal system to the forum. This also allows for 24 hour moderation and close to instantaneous action if the site is hit by spam or disagreement occurs.
The combination of clear rules and decisive moderation allows the BMF to stay completely focused on its primary objective which is the discussion and knowledge sharing of issues related to Commonwealth medals. This ensures relevance that pertains to the topic. As it is a forum, the different members have different writing skills and provide different levels of contribution. The forum has close to 3000 member, some of whom contributed rarely, if at all, and others who are very active. An average day will see over 250 posts being made.
As the site name suggests this one is based in the UK. This is a minor disadvantage to international users. The ‘New Posts’ refresh time means that international posts often fall outside the reading list for the majority of members when they are most likely to access the forum. To ensure maximum exposure an international member needs to time contributions for shortly after the refresh time. This can be inconvenient and run the risk of gaps in the discussion given time differences. A second minor disadvantage is the name. When referring others to this BMF, the question is often asked why join since it is the British Medal Forum not the Australian Medal Forum. However, once a new member visits they soon see that other Commonwealth countries are well represented and the title is irrelevant. These are two very minor criticisms as it is hard find much at fault with the BMF.
The strength of the BMF is the friendliness of the members and their willingness to share the immeasurable knowledge that they have. New members are made to feel part of the group and questions are answered with speed and politeness. If not, the moderators are quick to act. This adds to the quality of the posts and the research that is shared by members. It must be pointed out that the subject of medals is the start point of many discussions which often lead to previously unknown information about a soldier, his unit, his home town, his family or any number of side topics. As long as there is a link back to the original medal discussion the topics are free ranging.  
The British Medals Forum is a no frills website. However, the quality and depth of the research on the BMF belies this no frills approach. The utilitarian aspect ensures no annoying advertising or spam which adds to the enjoyment of members who are not distracted and can immerse in their hobby.
For anyone with even a passing interest in medals awarded to Commonwealth countries this is a highly recommended website.

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