An online forum where analytical scientists find expert answers and connect with like-minded peers.
Chromatography Forum (CF) was established in 1999 (shortly after the launch of Google) by Tom Jupille as part of LC Resources Inc. As Jupille describes, it’s a forum where users and experts can come together and communicate. And unlike many early online forums, this one has stood the test of time. Originally launched to gain exposure for LC Resources, the forum now has close to 50,000 members and houses more than 150,000 posts.
CF has played a significant role in the development of the analytical chemistry field since its inception, providing a platform for users to discuss their problems and share knowledge. The forum provides a wealth of information and resources for the analytical chemistry community and is still diligently moderated by Jupille himself. Its growth and continued success was enhanced following its purchase by Separation Science in 2012, a move that opened up significant global user channels.
Jupille reveals that in the forum’s early days, there was a real paucity of resources for chromatography. “The St. Louis Chromatography Discussion Group had an online forum, and one of the American Laboratory editors ran a listserv mailing list discussing chromatography issues. Both stopped being maintained within a couple of years, so we were the only site left standing.”
The forum’s early audience was mainly chromatographers (and some mass spectrometrists) whose professional interest was in separation techniques. However, Jupille notes that over time, that has shifted to today’s audience, which has a higher proportion of chromatography and mass spectrometry users, people whose professional interest is in something else (pharmaceutical chemistry, environment, biopharma, or other fields) and for whom separation technique is simply a tool.
He acknowledges that this parallels the evolution of instrumentation. “In the past, a fair amount of expertise was required to use a chromatograph or mass spectrometer.” Today, Jupille explains, the instruments are largely appliances. “The user has to follow the “recipe” but doesn’t really have to understand how the oven works.” Jupille also notes that while early forum content focused almost entirely on liquid chromatography, over the years, gas chromatography and mass spectrometry have become increasingly prevalent.
However, some of the most important aspects have remained the same. “One thing that has not changed is the level of civility in our user base,” acknowledges Jupille. “I can count the number of “flame wars” on the fingers of one hand and the number of people I’ve had to ban on the other.”
That said, CF has faced hurdles, in particular, the arms race with spammers. To address this issue, Jupille and his team set up a registration quiz, which has helped. Another challenge has involved resisting the temptation to subdivide the forum too much. “It’s a case of balance between having enough subforums to let users find topics of interest while maintaining a critical mass,” says Jupille.
So what is it about CF that keeps users subscribing and coming back for more? Jupille shares that several factors contributed to the forum’s survival, including his own continued interest in the project, the recruitment of an “advisory board” (a group of Jupille’s friends) to post answers to queries, and strategic partnerships with prominent industry figures and organizations. “For users, you can discuss your problems anonymously and get advice from experienced chromatographers,” explains Jupille. “For us old-timers, well, many people provided help and expertise to help fix my dumb mistakes when I was starting out. The least I can do is provide the same to the newbies!”
Want to have your questions answered or join the advisory board? Visit www.chromforum.org today.
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