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Forums & messageboards in general
Member Name: jennikitten
Forums & messageboards in general
Advantages: Get help and information for free
Disadvantages: Cliques, cost
When I first started going on the Internet in 2001, I was about 14 and a member of a popular website called Girland, which had forums/message boards, and that was how I was first introduced to them. I also used to go on the Neopets forums, and indeed a lot of my time was spent chatting and finding things out.
When I was around 16, I installed and built up my own forum which had about 3000 members. It was a lot of work to maintain, and also ended up being quite expensive, so unfortunately I had to let it go when I started university. Most of the topics were about web design and other general chat, and it was nice to interact more with the visitors to my site and find out more about them as it helped me to build my content up and direct it properly.
These days that kind of community is still strong if you know where to look for it - unfortunately it's very cliqued and that's the fundamental problem with forums really. Forums that are massive, like thestudentroom.co.uk or the ones at moneysavingexpert.com can also make you feel lost very easily, which ruins the community aspect quite a bit, and also means more arguments start.
Most forums have a big set of rules to follow, and these can cause conflict as well but are often necessary to keep discussions on track and help people behave themselves! There are a few types of popular forum software: phpBB, VBulletin and XMB. I've used all these and I find that VBulletin offers a lot more in the way of functionality and it's easier to make it look more original as well.
These days the only forums I really spend time on are ones related to work, so ones for Apple products and news. I find these amusing because they are the most argumentative forums I've ever been a member of, and I think this is mainly because they have high male membership rates!
I also find forums very useful places to ask questions. I work with a lot of different kinds of web software, mainly as a hobby, and with specific problems or questions I have there's always a forum out there with people who can give me an answer, and this kind of free information is invaluable. I always try to return the karma by answering another question or helping someone with something somewhere else if I can.
I think forums and message boards are one of the slowest-changing aspects of the Internet because whilst free software and free forum communities have continued to grow and develop, forums aren't too different from how they always have been. There's the potential for lots of features - auctions, online shops, star rating systems etc. - but it hasn't developed in the way that other social networking has. Then again, wall posts on Facebook and MySpace are kind of like mini forums in their own right, as are discussion boards. But in the traditional sense, message boards and forums are a great and easy way to communicate with people for a lot of different reasons. Some people think that it's weird to talk to people you don't know, but forums are a great resource for anyone who has any kind of interest in anything!
Summary: My life would be completely different without them!