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Nathan: 2010-05-12 05:04:51 pm
Nathan: 2010-05-12 03:04:53 pm
Nathan: 2010-05-12 03:04:32 pm
45 posts
Web forums are a great way to interact, converse, build community, promote products and ideas, and generate content and relationships online. Even though forums have existed since before the web, there are many people who still do not use forums, who do not know about them, or who think that web forums are more limited than they are. This five part series offers a basic introduction to web forums by answering seven basic but important questions; addresses one of the negative aspects of forums--haters--and how to keep a healthy forum; discusses the basics of running a forum; is frank about common pests and problems which often infest forums; and finally provides five useful reminders about forums.

Part I: Eight Important Questions for Forum Newbies

    [li]What is a forum?Forums are online discussion sites where people can gather and exchange ideas about topics which interest them.[li]Where did forums come from?Back before the web, there were bulletin boards where people had to dial in using modems to post content. Online forums were born out of bulletin boards and their sense of community and cooperation.[li]Aren't forums outdated? Why should I bother with them?It really depends on what you want to do. If you are looking for a community of users or fans or people with similar interests, forums are great places because a community already exists that you can join.If you are interested in starting your own community or group, consider just what your goal is. If you want to be the center of the show, then you probably ought to go with a blog or vlog--those formats help keep the primary author/creator at the center. However, if you are more interested in developing a community of people who all share an interest with you, then a forum is probably right for you.[li]How hard is it to learn how to use a forum?Forums are like most web applications and software. At first, they feel awkward or different. Also, like Open Office and MS Word, there are numerous similarities between the various forum software packages. However, each forum is unique. As a forum user, it's really a matter of visiting a variety of forums, checking them out, and learning what a lot of the common functions and interfaces are like. After an hour or two, probably less, you'll figure out what they have in common.For more sophisticated use, it's really a matter of experimenting. Obviously, the longer you use them, the easier they get. However, the initial learning curve isn't very steep, and soon you'll master the basic functions.[li]Why would I want to use a forum instead of a mailing list?It really depends on how busy your mailing lists are, how much email you like in your inbox, and how current you want to stay on topics. With most email lists, unless you opt for digest or archives, your email box will get regular updates throughout the day. If you're on a lot of lists, messages will pile up. If you don't need any more lists filling your inbox, a forum is great: you go there and read and interact when you want and have the time to do so. You're in control of when you give the forum time and attention.For example, I'm on a number of marketing email lists. Much of the content and products are time-sensitive, and I like to know what is happening through the day. However, I don't like reading through a lot of marketing forums because I don't like the hating that happens in some and I'm more interested in email copy than forum copy. However, I am a member of a forum about budgies, and I only go there every couple weeks. I love budgies, but I don't really want or need to read daily emails about budgies. I already know how much I like them. So, if I feel like getting my budgie on, I go to the forum and read, look at pictures of budgies, and participate for twenty minutes or four hours. With a forum, you choose when to go and interact--it's like going to coffee shop or bar to visit. No one makes you go there. With email lists, it's like all these people have your cell number and can call you whenever they please. That said, few people I know have the discipline to only check their email once or twice daily, and those emails can be distracting. Forums are a great way to retain but limit interaction with groups and people you like without having them in your mental space all of the time.[li]What if I have nothing to say?Then don't say anything. Read (or even subscribe) to threads and soak in the knowledge of the community. No one's going to stop you. You may one day find that you do have something to say.[li]How do I become an expert on a forum?One of the easiest ways to become an expert is to actually be one. This means that you not only talk about what you know, but you are able to communicate those points to other people. If you don't know what you are talking about, then you should probably let someone else answer the question. Giving false or wrong information doesn't help anyone, and it may seriously lower how other people think of you. However, when you do give good information, that raises your relative position.Know what you're talking about, and present it in a useful way. People almost always appreciate that.[li]What are some examples of forums?
      [li]Space.com runs a forum for outer space enthusiasts.[li]Nintendo uses a forum for tech support with their products.[li]Doom9's Forum is where all the latest discussion on DVD, Bluray, and other digital video formats takes place.[li]The Garden Oaks neighborhood in Houston has a forum.[li]Even the US government now runs forums.

Part II of this series addresses one of the least desirable parts of forums: haters.
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