Introducing Private Communities in Zoho Discussions

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For over an year, Zoho Discussions has been helping businesses and non-profit organizations create and foster communities that involve and empower its members and help crowd-source decision making.

One of the design goals of Zoho Discussions was to reduce the amount of technical expertise administrators needed to setup and maintain an user community. But one of the things we’ve heard loud and clear is that many of our customers did not find the initial setup process as easy as they’d like it to be. The main reason was that Zoho Discussions setup management had so many options and controls that it took some time to get used to.

We also realized that our customer base was broadly split into two main segments – those who wanted to setup a private community (for improving employee engagement, supporting private beta launches etc) and those who wanted to set up a public customer support community.

Based on the feedback and customer profile segmentation, we have improved our sign-up and community-creation process focusing on streamlining two key scenarios: private communities and public customer support. When you sign-up for Zoho Discussions, we make it easier for you to quickly get started with one of those two options, and we quietly set on the background a number of parameters you previously had to deal with yourself manually.

This segmentation runs deeper into Zoho Discussions than just settings changes. For instance, you can get a fully powered PRIVATE community for Free – as opposed to paying hundreds of dollars a month for “enterprise plans” of other similar products.

We have also introduced a new getting-started walk-through guide that takes you through the most common settings.

Currently, we also offer a free, no-commitment consultation and implementation support. If you want to explore the feasibility of rolling out Zoho Discussions for your business / project, do get in touch with us.

Improved community membership management with Zoho Discussions: Introducing Subscriptions

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One of the challenges of running an online community is who you invite or let in to participate.


While some communities are “open”, some other communities, as a result of their nature, tend to be a bit more vigilant about who can come in and read/post. 

Zoho Discussions has for long supported membership and provides fine-grained control over who can access and participate in a conversation, but today we are building on that and making it a bit easier.

We built a nifty feature that simplifies life for community admins:

membership requests



Membership requests allow visitors to apply for memberships that the community admin would then evaluate and grant. If adopted for your community, this subscription feature in Zoho Discussions will help you know your users better and also help reduce spam. This is also ideal for open communities where you would like to know your users better before you allow them in to participate. This feature also integrates well with the existing moderation options, by 

enabling you to provide subscribers a higher level of access to specific areas of your community. For example: you could allow everyone to come and read the posts, but then only allow posting to people who have been screened. Or you could allow read/post grants in certain forums, but access to other forums to only the users you choose.

So how do you go about setting one up? All you need to do is toggle a switch in your Portal settings. (you can read this in detail



Once you do that, users visiting your community will see a prompt in the portal specific login page (which you can


too). If your portal is open for guest access, a guest will see a prominent widget prompting for subscription.

You can view all subscription requests in the moderation panel and approve them one by one or in a single shot. 

Now you can make your user community spam free and more engaging! We invite you to try 

Zoho Discussions

today and let us know how we can help at

Bulk Question Import into Question Banks – Zoho Challenge

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It has been more than a month since we wrote about any thing new in Zoho Challenge. However, our friends and fans out there have made sure that it was not quiet on the media front. In the past 6 weeks, Zoho Challenge was covered in several blogs, newspapers and was also mentioned in

BBC’s WebScape
program and just yesterday at

Teacher Boot Camp
.  Not only that, in the period, the volume of users using Zoho Challenge has almost tripled – of course without any strain on the

service’s availability
Consistent with serious usage, we have received lot of feedback and feature requests from our users. We have been continuously adding power to Zoho Challenge and the precious feedback we received from users like you have helped us refine and fine tune the product significantly. Over the next few weeks, we will unveil each of these features and enhancements done to Zoho Challenge.
To begin with, we have answered the oft repeated query – “How do I import questions into question banks“? Zoho Challenge now supports a “bulk question import” feature. Using this feature, you can now import CSV or MS Excel (xls) files containing your questions directly into the question bank of your choice.

You can upload about 1,000 questions at a time. This feature is available in all our

paid plans
. Stay tuned to this space for more announcements.

Beyond Web Analytics: Tools to Improve Customer Support Efficiency

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You cannot improve what you cannot measure! In this day where inbound traffic is everything for a website, webmasters can’t live without Web Analytics tools. They give you hard data about how your website was accessed, the usage patterns, user interests and trends and so on.

However, they cannot tell you semantic data about your application. For instance, Google Analytics cannot tell you the efficiency of your support reps, or the rate of participation of your customer community. It cannot tell you whether your users really “found” the answers to most of their questions or they just kept shooting in the dark till they got frustrated. It cannot tell you if ideas are languishing without votes or questions without answers. You will need special tools for that.

Zoho Discussions now has an

integrated statistics and analytics panel

that gives you just that ability. Here is a quick screenshot of how the stats dashboard looks like:


You can now use the unique user participation trend graphs to find out how many users are effectively engaging. Such stats let you figure out the effectiveness of the knowledge base that you have accumulated in your customer support community. How? Well, if the number of users visiting the site does not drop down (measurable using this dashboard or also from WebAnalytics tools), but the participation levels have gone down, then possibly users are finding their queries answered – just the nirvana you want to achieve through your support community. Of course, this analysis is not complete without measuring the participation or closure rate on topics raised. That brings us to the next graph

The stats dashboard also gives you snapshot graphs that show the effectiveness of your customer support community. Higher response rates indicate satisfied customers – since most of their queries are answered and issues solved. You can use this data to drive improvement campaigns centered around increasing customer satisfaction.

Sometimes just knowing generic participation is not enough. Zoho Discussions packs a powerful

topic type segregation

feature that helps your users classify their queries / opinions into discussions or questions or ideas or problems. If you are running a customer support community area, it is very important that you are answering all user queries and problems on a daily basis. Ideas on the other hand need more thought, analysis before a response is made. The statistics dashboard can help you differentiate response periods for each topic type. The figure on the right side shows that user Questions need attention from your customer support representatives.


Zoho Discussions

for your customer support community today. Improve your customer satisfaction!

Integrated Single Sign On for your Customer Support Community : Tailoring Zoho Discussions Part II

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In Part 1 of this series of blog posts, we talked about visual customization and branding features of Zoho Discussions. However, branding does not stop with visual customization alone. Most businesses collect user data (email, name, demographic info etc) and use it to provide better support, introduce features, conduct campaigns and also to offer a member area.

End users expect to use their profile information right in all areas of the website – including user communities. Most online community services encourage their customers to transit to “Open ID” (or Google, Yahoo, FB, Twitter based) authentication. This approach definitely has its merits since the end user has to manage one less profile and password. But, this approach presents 2 problems:

  1. Businesses need to change their existing model and develop and deploy code updates to their existing system
  2. Existing users (most businesses already have an registration requiring forum / community) will have to forget their current profile and migrate over.

These drawbacks have been a driving force for most businesses to fall back to deployable open source solutions as opposed to online-hosted solutions.

But it need not be this way! It is possible to implement single sign on a hosted community solution, thus liberating yourself from maintenance and scalability issues, without giving up on the flexibility and ease of use.

Zoho Discussions has always supported enterprise techniques like LDAP sync, SAML based authentication. We have recently added a highly simplified, yet secure, REST API based Single Sign On technique. Coupled with visual customization options, SSO integration provides a unified “one-brand” experience for your end users. This allows your end users to seamlessly navigate between your website and your community (hosted by Zoho Discussions) and use any login scheme that you currently have or choose to upgrade to.

And the best part is, implementing this technique for your community can be done without any significant programming (Learn more). You can roll out this feature – including code changes and testing in a matter of days.

And before you ask, yes we do offer migration of your existing forum content from sources like phpBB, Google Groups mail archives, EML, CSV and more. Contact us for more details.

Sign up to Zoho Discussions today and get an interactive customer support community, sans the headache of customizing and maintaining one.

New in Zoho Challenge: Comprehension Questions

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Today, we are announcing a feature that will be very useful for both our academic and business users alike – Zoho Challenge now has support for comprehension questions. In Zoho Challenge, a comprehension question is one that first presents a paragraph, a passage, a graph/image or maybe a combination of them, and then makes a series of follow-questions about that introduction. Typically, these questions measure how good the test-taker is at comprehending what is being discussed in the introductory part, how well he can extrapolate based on information presented, or, for example, his abilities to analyze and arrive to conclusions based on some information being presented.

So now you can get that psychometric test for your [potential] employees or you can you include graphic interpretation questions – that test a candidate’s ability to answer questions that involve more comprehension or broader skills than normal, single questions. Here is a video that illustrates the workflow. You can also refer to the online help documents

Some users in the academic space have been using form-generators to solve the online testing/quick problem, but that’s not the best way to go around it. And with Zoho Challenge’s Free plan, it has never been so easy to get started! Comprehension questions now make the experience even better. Several passionate educators have been in touch with us via email or blog posts and have been offering incredible feedback – and we will be releasing another round of community-driven features shortly.

What better way to experience this feature than to take a test? Below is a comprehension passage based test that is embedded right into this blog.