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All About Online Discussion Forums

Vangie Beal
Last Updated May 24, 2021 8:01 am

When using an online forum, remember they can be accessed by anyone from anywhere, and there may be language barriers to consider when posting.

Forums are an online discussion areas where you can post and read messages from other users with similar interests, usually in an organized thread layout. Many Web sites today also build communities around their site by offering discussion forums where users can post messages, reply and discuss specific topics or simply introduce themselves to other forum members. These online communication spaces are frequently called online forums, discussion forums or just forums.

Community Moderators

The forum itself is an application that “holds” discussions and user-generated content that is contributed by the community of forum members. Most forums will have moderators, sometimes called mods for short, who are users that have access to remove unrelated posts, rude comments, spam messages posted to the forum or even remove unruly users themselves. They can lock threads from further discussion and generally oversee that the forum runs smoothly for all participants.

Things to Consider Before Joining

When using an online forum, it’s important to remember that public forums can be accessed by anyone from anywhere in the world, and as such there may be some language barriers to consider when posting and replying to messages. Also, a forum will be centered around a specific topic (e.g., small businesses, online games, a hobby such as collecting, sports, and so on).

Also, be sure that when you register for and use a forum you’re joining one where you have an interested in the designated topic. If you want to discuss your new AMD gaming rig, don’t join an “All About Intel” forum, for example. You can also spend some time reading older forum posts to get an idea of the types of discussions that take place and to see how active a forum is before joining.

Typical Forum Layouts

Using the discussion forums hosted on PracticallyNetworked.com as an example, you can see how the discussion board is laid out. The main page of the forum displays important information, such a FAQ which will explain what the forum is for and what type of posts are and are not allowed, as well as a the link to register for an account. Many forums will allow you to read the messages, but won’t allow you to reply or post your own until you have registered.

The main page also lists the different forums available. In the first screenshot below you will see forum discussion areas for General Discussions, Sharing, Wireless Networks, Alternative Networks and so on. This helps users find the forum discussion most related to what they want to read about.

Selecting Wireless Networks takes you to the list of threads that have been posted to this forum. In the second screenshot below, you can see the thread title, when the last post was made to this thread, how many forum users have replied to a particular thread and also how many have viewed the thread. The “New Thread” button lets registered members start a new thread in the forum. Be sure to search to ensure your topic or question has not already been covered before starting a new thread.

Netiquette: Good Forum Etiquette

An important term that you should be aware of and know about is “netiquette“. This term is a contraction of Internet etiquette, and it’s really the etiquette guidelines for posting messages to online services. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions (i.e., avoiding flames), but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. In most cases, netiquette is enforced by the forum administrator. One of the biggest issues facing those unfamiliar with using online forums is that they may not even be aware of what constitutes netiquette. To get you started with using online forums here are some tips to get you started and keep you from being banned on forums;

  • Do Stay On Topic. Many people use forums for knowledge gathering as well as social interactions. Forum posts and threads can be read by hundreds or thousands of users, and as such it’s important to read the topic of a particular discussion and keep your posts related to that topic. If you are looking for general chat and comments, look in the forums for an off-topic discussion area.
  • Don’t Be A Troll. A “troll” is a person who breaks netiquette on a regular basis by posted inflammatory messages (called a flame) when responding to other users in the forums. Trolls are also users who will find older flame-filled threads on a forum and reply to them just to get users worked up again.
  • Do Turn That Caps Lock Key Off. When you type a post in all capital letters you are going to annoy other forum users. Capital letters are viewed as shouting when communicating online, and its considered rude to do.
  • Don’t Double Post. When using Internet forums it annoys other users when you post the same message more than once, in more than on discussion thread. If you make a post and no one replies, then leave it at that. Reposting the same message or slightly edited versions of the same message will not earn you any respect from other forum users, and in fact it may earn you warnings from the moderator.
  • Do Search Before Posting. Before posting a question or asking for help on a particular topic, do use the forum search option to make sure this question has not already been asked and answered by other users. Even if your question does not appear in the thread list, it may still be available as an archived topic in the forum.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

This article was originally published on April 18, 2008