Manufacturer Discussion Forums - Good And Bad Ones

I am a regular on both the Genetec and Axis user forums and those hit both end of the spectrum types of forums.

Genetec is slower moving, with fewer members and discussion, but really good, problem solving information. To get to the Genetec forum you need to have a partner login.

Axis forums are completely open to the public, tend to be busier but there is a load of responses that rarely get to the core of solving real problems; and the good problem solving posts just get buried under 1000s of posts about streaming X model camera to VLC over the Internet.

Has anyone had experience with other manufacturers forums (good/bad/indifferent)?

Good discussion topic.

What's the Axis forum URL? I don't think I've ever been to it.

Here's the Milestone forum. There seems to be a fair number of posts and timely responses. is the link to the Axis one

Yeah that Milestone one looks helpful.

Are these sorts of things popular/useful? I've debated doing something like this for VideoIQ for several years, but always felt that single-purpose "fractured" forums like that would tend to languish, unless you have the kinds of volumes that Axis has.

I think it depends a lot on the level of actual manufacturer involvement. If there's an active OFFICIAL presence, they'll tend to gain some traction as the word-of-mouth will bring a lot of people in. I've seen a few hardware and software developers (none related to CCTV) do really well offering it as a real support channel. They then get the benefit of knowledgeable users helping each other, as well as a ready crop of willing beta testers that they know are well able to discuss and share their findings (I wonder how many "closed betas" suffer from participants who can't be bothered to write down their results).

Sometimes, for more high-volume consumer products, you'll see a manufacturer-provided forum do well with little or no official participation just through the sheer number of customer "experts" who participate on their own time, but those tend to be brands that, like Axis, have the sheer volume of users behind them.


I would echo and add the idea that only if you had buy-in and support from your support engineering staff and larger partners to actually join in the conversation with useful, quality knowledge would it be worth it at low volume of traffic. Genetec's forums have internal support/dev/product managers stepping in constantly, as well as engineers from IBM, TYCO, large regional partners (myself and one Ethan Ace used to bless us with his presence), and a good number of end user/customers as well. Comparitively to Axis or even IPVM on a lot of days the volume might not be there, but it's definitely a way for people out in the field to feel like they're being felt all the way back at HQ, and that their complaints aren't hitting a buffer halfway there in the form of a manufacturer's rep (who has typically been the only real time gateway to the manufacturering arm of the company)

Just wanted to add here, BTW... I've been doing this "forum" thing for a LONG time - since before most people had even heard of this "internet" thing. In the early 90s I helped build and co-sysop'd one of the biggest and best-know music-oriented BBS systems of the day (we had people actually dialing in from around the world). When the system outgrew the Atari 520ST it originally ran on and we wanted to go multiline, we moved to a PC (massive 386SX!) running Maximus BBS on a new thing called OS/2 2.0.

In seeking out support for both Max and OS/2, I came across and then became involved with IBM's own support BBS. Their system was running the same software, and while not an "official" support channel, had been started and was run by an actual IBM employee who managed their OS/2 support department in the Vancouver office, and was highly active in the local OS/2 community. Fortunately, IBM Canada recognized this as a valuable tool and they quickly grew the system to having local nodes in all their Canadian offices (meaning people in those areas could get online support with a local call), using FTN (Fido Technology Network) to link all their message bases and file repositories. I don't think IBM USA had anything even remotely similar at the time.

When IBM released OS/2 Warp 3 to much fanfare and actual MARKETING *gasp* (remember the famous "Nuns" TV spot??), the BBS network became a very popular resource for a lot of newbies, in part because IBM Canada actually listed the BBS numbers in the Warp documentation(!!), showing that even then, an "official" support forum COULD work, and work well.

Of course, like my examples above, the IBM BBS was "staffed" mainly by a number of us "advanced users" who offered help on our own time (by way of thanks, we'd often get swag from IBM, even some free software now and then), although there were a couple of IBM staffers who were on regularly as well, including one guy who was a genius in his own right - the main part of his day job with IBM was touring to their various development offices and giving seminars on debugging OS/2 software. Dude could look at any crash screen (picture the Windows BSOD) and tell you instantly where a crash occurred and why. *shaking head*

Funny thing about it was, since installing a new OS is not quite the same thing as installing a word processor, IBM's support phone lines were being slammed, to the point that (as the story was told to us) IBM Toronto went out to a couple temp agencies, asked for people with "computer experience" (usually meaning they had training in MS Office or Lotus), gave them a couple hours' quick training on Warp, an hour or so on PROFS (IBM's massive internal support database that contained information on *EVERY IBM PRODUCT* since about the 60s), and then threw them on the phone... which almost immediately made the situation worse.

At that point, someone in the Vancouver office pointed out that they already had a bunch of self-taught OS/2 experts on their BBS... so they called us up, and asked, "How would you like to do what you do for free now on the BBS, but do it on the phone, and we'll pay you $25/hr?". Took a half dozen of us about three weeks to clear up the backlog of callbacks, many of which had already been touched once (and badly muddled) by those other original temps :).

Anyway, that's getting a little off the subject... point is, yeah, the manufacturer forum is not a new concept; it's been done since the dialup-BBS days, and done very successfully by one of the biggest names in technology (sorry, Microsoft).

I checked the Axis one and it's not terribly impressive (as Sean alludes). On the other hand, Axis is continuously praised for its phone support so if you can get an answer on the phone right away, that's likely better than posting on a forum and waiting.

Btw, I think the Mobotix / MxInstaller community/forum is pretty good as manufacturer offerings go. You would think one of the Avigilon fanbois would step up and create an equivalent site for them.

Brian, regarding starting one's own manufacturer forum, I don't see it making sense unless you wanted to cut back phone / email support. Ubiquiti is the perfect example here - a manufacturer forum with hundreds of thousands of posts and essentially no phone nor email support.

To Matt's example above, phone support may cost modestly more but is more effective in properly resolving calls.

Phone support was... if not more effective, then at least far, FAR more common back then (this was the early 90s, remember). We directed a number of callers to the IBM BBS to download necessary files, but few of them would ever have found it on their own.

These days, I'd venture that a substantial if not majority portion of customers will hit a company's website first, if for no other reason than to find the support phone numbers... but the online presence is still the first place a lot of people will think to go.

Of course, this will necessarily be more true in technology-oriented industries like ours, than in non-technical areas like, say, knitting needles. Then again, if you need tech support for your knitting needles, you're in serious trouble.

In general, I think forums are better for trend / big picture issues that do not have a set answer and can benefit from lots of thoughts (e.g., what future features should we add, how does this product compare to that). By contrast, if I can't get an Axis camera PTZ controls working with Genetec, that's a very specific technical question better to ask through traditional support.

Sean -

Good feedback/perspective, thanks. I can guarantee the support buy-in, since that's my department :) And in general I would say that our engineers are truly interested in trying to make the user experience optimal. I have to kick this idea around some more, but I might try it on a controlled basis.

Matt - I knew I liked you for a reason :) Back in about 1992 I was an "OS/2 Ambassador" while working at IBM...

Did you rock the pink/coral/salmon shirt, Brian? :)

I did...