Caleb Murdock wrote:
When you say that people have asked for an off-topic "lounge", do you mean a section of the forum devoted to topics other than photography and cameras? If so, why not just call it "Off-topic"? None of your other section names are in any way unusual, so why give this section an unusual name?
Be prepared, however, for there to be heated arguments in the off-topic section. Photography is a topic that doesn't generate much controversy. But once you open an off-topic section, you can expect there to be lots of disagreements over religion, politics, etc. -- you name it. And as members develop likes and dislikes for other members, some of the rancor may spill into the other sections of the forum. This has been my experience.
Off-topic sections in forums tend to make people feel more "at home" because they know that they can discuss anything and everything on their favorite forum. The result is that more traffic is generated to the forum as more people become regulars. But I personally question whether the heavy traffic of regulars who come to discuss anything and everything is necessarily good for a forum which is devoted to a particular topic.
As a graduate of other forums where people ended up fighting a lot, I just felt that I should offer my opinion. Perhaps, however, Brits are more mature and civilized than Americans are -- although I'm sure that plenty of Americans frequent this forum.
P.S. I edited this note to say that I hope it doesn't sound too negative (it probably does), but I've had some bad experiences on forums. The more that a forum stays "on topic", the better.
It's sad, but I can relate to Caleb's concern. The keyword is respect I think. There's nothing wrong with off-topic, as long as there's respect. The fact of the matter is that now only people with an interest in photography sign up and ask what they want to ask (or post), just like I did. And here you instantly feel that people want to help you and guide you.
I'm currently also active on an automotive forum, and there's an off-topic as well. However, this "chit-chat" part is only accesible to people who have "earned their stripes":
* a number of posts
*good conduct on the section of the forum that's accesible to all
At first this part did not exist, and the forum grew and grew. More people joined and most of them weren't talking about cars but a whole lot of other stuff. So the moderators shut down this topic and created a whole new section that wasn't accesible (or visible) to others. Here you have an kind of "elite only" thing going on, but it seems to work. There's no off-topic in the general sections, and the chit-chat area is there for off topic (but not for everyone...).
I do have to add that the forum I'm talking about has thousands of regular users, which isn't the case here (yet).
I'm not voting for one system or another, I'm just sharing my experiences. In any case: cameralabs.com for me is a great place to talk about photography, ask questions and share experiences. I also love reading other people's posts, reviews,... I guess what I'm trying to say is that I hope the respect and kind of kindness the forum has right now never disappears.