Online forums are a centralized bulletin board for specific topics, or for just any topic. Most tend to have a theme of one sort or another. For instance, you may find forums pertaining to collecting of sports memorabilia. Within that forum there are likely specialized forums for instance baseball card collecting, autographed memorabilia, baseballs, bats, and other physical pieces of equipment used or autographed by the players. The forums are there for an open exchange of ideas, advice, and to share stories and experiences. Established forums quickly develop into very tight-knit communities. Often times forum members get together to enjoy the company of their online friends.
Forums evolved from the use of mailing lists and online bulletin boards, In fact, forums resemble the bulletin boards of the early 1990’s. The main difference between the two is that forums tend to have a much easier interface than many of the older bulletin boards. Another similarity to forums is the newsgroups; only newsgroups generally require a separate software application to access and read the messages. Forums, on the other hand require nothing but your Internet browser of choice…
Since forums tend to encourage an open exchange of ideas, they are an excellent source for neophytes to gather information and advice in whatever interests them. One thing to keep in mind while participating in a forum is that the advice or guidance that you get is only as good as the person providing the advice. In other words, verify everything, because most members tend to believe that they are experts in their subject matter. In no way does this mean to discount what you learn in the forums. Just exercise caution before making decisions based on that information.
Another favorite type of forum is for technical support with computers and the various peripherals. In these forums, you may find people that really are high caliber experts in their field. Many of the higher quality forums have rating or feedback systems in place that clearly displays the level of competency of the members that provide advice. Do not rely solely upon the high number of feedback unless some sort of indicator accompanies that number indicating overall quality of the feedback. You may find that you need to review some of the feedback comments to make sure the person provides accurate information.
Another thing to avoid when participating in a forum is spamming the different categories with the same question. In other words, if you have a question about how to install a modem on your computer, post your message in the forum that pertains to installing hardware. Do not post the same message in the forum for computer repairs, password retrieval, BIOS problems, driver updates, etc. Most forums also frown upon posting messages that appear commercial in nature. A new trend is for the forum hosts to have a “classified” section for those types of posts.
You may quickly get into trouble in a forum by ignoring the posted rules and guidelines. Many prohibit displaying personal information directly on the postings. This is probably a good idea for many reasons, the least of which is your personal safety. In addition, it discourages someone from monopolizing an experienced member’s time. It also puts your question on the posting for everyone to see. Just like in any community setting, many members never pose their own questions, preferring instead to see if someone else already asked that question. Before you post your questions, many forums ask you to read the postings to determine if someone else already asked the question that you have. The majority of forums have some type of search function integrated to help you quickly find information based on a few key words or phrases. If you find your information without having to post the question, and that information helps you in some way, be polite and return to the forum to post a “thank you” message as a reply to the original posting. The vast majority of forums are free; the members that help other members do so without compensation, therefore a kind word gives them the assurance that their time is well spent.
Another situation that may alienate the other members is the newbie that joins the forum and begins posting negative comments, or lambasting other members on a personal level about response that they provided. There is no place for ad hominem attacks on the character of other members. To help protect against such personal attacks, and to ensure that members adhere to the policies of the forum, most have some type of moderator oversight. If you fall victim to such a personal attack, human nature is to retaliate with a nasty message about the poster. Keep in mind that no matter what you say to the poster, you will likely not change their point of view. The simplest way to handle a situation such as this is to ignore the message. If you receive a personal threat that you judge as credible, take the necessary precautions to protect yourself, even if this means filing a police report. Turn these types of posts over to the forum moderators. When you turn it in, bear in mind that the moderator will read the posts as they appear on the forum, so if you retaliate, the moderator will see that as well.
While forums tend to imitate other online forms of communication, forums continue to carve their own niche in online communications. The huge variety of forum types nearly guarantees that at least one forum exists for everybody. Finding a forum is as easy as a web search with the topic in which you have interest along with the word ‘forums.’ Then visit the different forums until you find one that fits your needs. Before joining, please review the forum’s policies, user agreements, privacy policies, etc. A little reading now could very swell save you some anguish later.