What exactly is an online Forum?
From time to time clients make a request to have an online Forum or Message Board associated with their website. Often, the client will have a good grasp of the prerequisites; they are already familiar with Forum software, posting etiquette and have a good understanding of how much time they will need to invest to ensure that their online community is a success.
However, sometimes clients are new to the concept of running a community forum, they have never participated, visited or maintained one. This short article (or shortlist of questions) is intended to help this particular group.
First off, what exactly is an online Forum? Well, Wikipedia puts it like this …
An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are at least temporarily archived. Also, depending on the access level of a user and/or the forum set-up, a posted message might need to be approved by a moderator before it becomes visible.
Forums have their own language; e.g. A single conversation is called a 'thread'. A forum is hierarchical or tree-like in structure: forum - sub forum - topic - thread – reply etc.
So with this definition in mind, here are a few important questions to ask yourself…
- Who is your target audience, who will benefit from using the Forum?
- Have you got the time/resources within your company/organisation to regularly moderate/administer the forum?
- Have you thought about the issue of liability, Forum Spam and Forum Trolls?
- Forums can be rather complex beasts; some larger Forums have many ‘bells and whistles’. Will your organisation or company have the time to learn how to use and configure the software?
- Are you thinking about offering an open community Forum? For example, a Forum where anyone can join and start posting immediately or are you thinking about a closed Forum, where users need to sign up and wait for approval before being allowed to post?
- Do you want the Forum completely sealed off from the casual visitor, i.e. a Forum where all threads are hidden from the public?
- Will you allow Forum members to upload images? If this is yes - have you got enough bandwidth or hosting space?
- Have you thought about creating Forum rules? You will probably need to write a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) explaining the Forum principles to new members.
- Will you want your Forum styled to reflect your website?
- What happens if the Forum is rarely used or looks abandoned, what message will this send out to your website visitors?
As you can see there are a number of potential issues to consider. However, if planned properly a Forum can offer a great deal of value to you, your customers and your website community.
Open source (free to use) Forum software
Here is a good example of how to write some forum rules.
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