Forums pre-date blogs, microblogging services, social networks and other social mediums as we know them. I remember the first forums I joined in the mid 1990’s, which were about mobile phones. The bulletin boards are still up today. I’m not as active, but I got to meet some new friends (face to face) from those forums.
If you aren’t strict with the software or method of content distribution, I can even say forums pre-date the Internet as we know it. For my part, I was active in bulletin board services of old–where you manually login to an online service by dialling in to the host computer, and with interfaces that command-line junkies would surely appreciate.
These days, I still visit my favorite forums, with topics including cars, notebook computers, social media, and the like. I especially like how passionate some forum members can be about the topic. Here are a few reasons why I think forums will last the test of time.
Forums are usually about topics that like-minded individuals love to talk about. Be it mobile phones, netbooks, social media, marketing, or just about anything, people will flock together. And it’s not just about sharing the same passions that makes a community. It’s also about genuinely extending a helping hand to those in need. I’ve experienced a few times when I had real-world troubles, and posted my problem on the forum, and just a few minutes later responses came trickling in. Some members would even be willing to physically assist you when in need!
Forums usually stand the test of time because of the rich archive of content they have. And forums are not personality-driven like blogs are. Forums are not friends-driven like social networks are. As long as the topic is still interesting, there will always be people who will carry the torch. Even if founding members, moderators or even the owner tire out, other people will be willing to continue managing the community.
Forums usually have social structures. There are the managers or moderators. There are the “senior” members. There are the newbies. Forums have rules, and everyone is encouraged to contribute positively. Sometimes, it’s not just the metrics that give a member credence and seniority. At times, it’s the quality of your contributions to the community. And bad eggs are usually weeded out. Even if a recalcitrant user can just come back using different aliases and IP addresses, forum members usually police each other, making sure that everyone is acting good.
Most blogs have about 40% return readership or so. Most would have 80% of its audience coming from the search engines, and many of these are just one-time readers (looking for some information, perhaps). Forums, on the other hand, are often checked by its members for new posts. And members often stay online for hours at a time, just to be part of the active discussions. Sure, this can be bad for monetizing through pay-per-click campaigns, but it can be a good way to earn from brand advertising.
For more than a decade, perhaps it’s the software that has changed form and functionality. In some cases, “bulletin boards” have also taken the guise of usenet groups and even e-groups. But the concept of online forums has remained the same. And as long as there are people who share an interest in any particular topic (and there’s someone willing to manage and maintain the forum), then these will go on and on. Do you think other social mediums will stand the test of time in a similar way?