Online discussion forums, also known as World Wide Web forums, bulletin boards, or message boards, emerged in the mid-1990s and allowed Internet surfers to post and respond to messages on the Web. Since that time, discussion forums have become increasingly popular. They cover a wide variety of topics ranging from sports, health, and business, to current events, finance, and entertainment.
The idea for Web-based discussion forums stemmed from newsgroups that used the Usenet system. Developed in 1979, Usenet operated as a bulletin board system and was supported by UNIX machines. As technology advanced, discussion forums were developed to operate on the Web, rather than on a UNIX-based system. Along with newsgroups, discussion forums also were similar to Internet chat. Both discussion forum and chat technologies allowed Web surfers to communicate online. Discussion forums used asynchronous communication, however, which differed from chat in that it allowed its users to post and respond to messages from any computer at any time, rather than requiring all chatters to be logged on simultaneously.
Over time, discussion forums become increasingly user friendly. Forums typically arranged messages by thread—topic, date, and time—and allowed users to respond to a certain message or create a new message, or thread, of their own. In order to become part of a forum, many sites required Web surfers to register for a user ID and password. These forums also typically had a set of rules that discouraged malicious or inappropriate language and reserved the right to block any users that abused the forum. Certain discussion forums also had moderators, who viewed messages before they were posted in order to ensure they met the site's standards.
Discussion forums have been used by a wide variety of organizations, including businesses and educational institutions. For example, many college professors began utilizing these forums as a teaching tool in the late 1990s. Students were encouraged to use specific forums set up by the college or professor to discuss class topics. The largest group of discussion forum users, however, was made up of individuals seeking information. Countless discussion forums emerged for these users in the mid-1990s.
In 1996, Forum One Communications Corp., a consulting firm for online communities, began publishing its Online Community Index, a compiled list of thousands of Web forums. Available on the company's Web site, the index divided forums into topics such as entertainment or gardening and listed the recommended discussion forums for those topics. By 2001, more than 300,000 Web forums were listed by the index. Search engine Yahoo! also operated discussion forums on a wide variety of topics, allowing its users to post and respond to messages. In addition, many traditional businesses integrated discussion forums into their sites. For example, BusinessWeek Online's Web site included a forum section that enabled users to discuss investment issues, magazine topics, technology trends, and career issues.
As discussion forums continued to become increasingly popular, not only were Web surfers given the option of participating in an existing forum, they also were given the ability to create new forums of their own. For example, ezboard Inc. allowed its members to design a unique forum on the topic of their choice. The company, dedicated to promoting online forums to foster communication and commerce, had secured 10.9 million users across the globe and was rated as one of the top 100 Web sites by Internet traffic measurement firm netScore in April 2001. As the number of Internet users is predicted to continue rising, discussion forums likely will remain a popular avenue for Internet communication.
"About the Online Community Index." Alexandria, VA: Forum One Communications Corp., 2001. Available www.forumone.com.
Cashel, Jim. "Top Ten Trends for Online Communities." Online Community Report. July 2001. Available from www.onlinecommunityreport.com.
SEE ALSO: Community Model; Virtual Communities