I often get asked where people should go to get a question answered about [anything]. Whether you’re looking for help, to network, or just to enjoy some common company with others online with similar interests, forums are a great place to head to.
You may be wondering, why the hell is Andy writing about forums? Well, I just read a great blog post by Jane Wells of Automattic (the company behind WordPress) titled In Praise of the Forums. In this article she explains why people often get upset when she sends them to WordPress’ support forums, but then goes into detail about why it is a great resource, and often times faster and more helpful than a private support system. I want to go a bit further and say that Forums can be looked at as one of most powerful ways to use the web.
I am definitely biased in the fact that I own and run a Camaro forum (and have run others in the past), so I wanted to get that out of the way first. However, I don’t think that there can be enough emphasis placed on how great of a tool online forums are. There are a few ways to look at what defines an online forum. From the stalwarts like vBulletin, phpBB, and other “bulletin board” software, to something more specific or custom, like Yahoo Answers. I like to think of Yahoo Answers as a forum in the general sense. You have a topic (question), and responses (answers). Other similar sites are found all over the web. Even more custom and niche sites like Forrst (a Designers & Developers community) could be looked at as a forum if you break down the 4 types of posts. Each type of post has a main topic, and then responses from other users.
When it comes down to it, I think most all of the social sites have roots in forum-esque ideas. I’ve heard many people in the past few years stating that the forum is a dead breed, and that everyone has moved onto social media. I agree that social media is great, and has done great things for the internet and people’s lives. What I don’t agree with is the thought that forums are dying. Sure, some forums die, just like some social networks do. I still don’t see a better architecture for getting crowdsourced answers and using the sum of everyones knowledge to help teach yourself something, solve a problem, or help others. So next time you have a question, or want to learn more about a specific topic, take a look at forums and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.