Internet forum

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Gaia Online, the largest English language forum-based community as of April 2005 — powered by phpBB.

An Internet forum is a web application which provides for discussion, often in conjunction with online communities. Older forums date back to around 1996, following the newsgroups and bulletin board systems which were widespread in the 1980s and 1990s. Popular discussion topics include technology, computer games, and politics, but forums are available for any number of different topics.

Internet forums are also commonly referred to as web forums, message boards, discussion boards, discussion groups, or simply, forums.


The culture of Internet forums

Internet forums are prevalent in several developed countries. In terms of countable posts, Japan is far in the lead with over two million posts per day on their largest forum, 2ch. The United States does not have any one large forum, but instead several hundred thousand smaller forums, the largest of which are Gaia Online, IGN and GameFAQs. China, the Netherlands, and France are also home to hundreds of independent forums. Some countries such as Finland and Sweden do not have many prevalent forums despite having open and easily available Internet access. As of yet no study has been done on the prevalence of forums in countries around the world.

Small forums are often based around a single subject. Usually there is an "off-topic" forum where users can post any items they find interesting (in Japanese, neta) or play "forum games". Larger Internet forums are in general more subject to public conflicts between users and forums, leetspeak, and private jokes. Depending on the level of moderation there may also be conflicts between users and administrators.

Software features

The barebones definition of a forum is the ability for people to start threads and reply to other people's threads. However, most forum software provides considerably more than this.

Most forum software allows more than one forum to be created. These forums are containers for threads started by the community. Depending on the permissions of community members as defined by the board's administrator, they can post replies to existing threads and start new threads as they wish.

Forum software can be broadly divided between those which allow visitors to post anonymously, and those which attribute posts to a registered username.

For username-based software, visitors register using a username and a password, and possibly an email address for validation purposes. In these types of forums, the members are often able to customise both how their posts display to others (for example avatars, user profiles and signatures) and how the board appears to them (such as different themes). Username-based software may provide for anonymity by allowing visitors to post without registration.

Anonymous forums may offer full anonymity or pseudonymity, but no registration. In order to provide the same set of features as registration-based forums, anonymous forums especially in Asia use a system of tripcodes, derived by encrypting a plaintext password put in the name field. Although blog comment pages are not Internet forums, they often use the anonymous system for the sake of simplicity.

A forum administrator typically has the ability to edit, delete, move or otherwise modify any thread on the forum. These moderator privileges are often able to be delegated to other forum members. The reasons for having these abilities are often to allow peace to be maintained and the rules to be enforced. The ways in which the moderation system works depends on the board software—for example, they can be directly appointed by the board administrator or chosen by a automated process combined with meta-moderation (moderation of the moderators). Many other systems exist and the board administrator is free to choose rules for their own forums.

Threads in a forum are either flat (posts are listed in chronological order), threaded (each post is made in reply to a parent post). Sometimes, community members have a choice on how to display threads.

Forum software packages are widely available on the Internet, and are written in a variety of programming languages, such as PHP, Perl, Java and ASP. The configuration and records of posts can be stored in text files or in a database. Each package offers a different variety of features, from the most basic providing text-only postings to more advanced packages offering multimedia support and formatting code (usually known as BBCode). Many packages can be integrated easily into an existing website to allow visitors to post comments on articles.

Comparison with other web applications

One significant difference between forums and electronic mailing lists is that mailing lists automatically deliver new messages to the subscriber, while forums require the member to visit the website, and check for new posts. Due to the possibility of members missing replies to threads they are interested in, many modern forums offer an "email notification" feature, where an email is automatically sent to all users who have chosen to be notified of new replies, informing them that a new post has been made.

The main difference between newsgroups and forums is that additional software is usually required to participate in newsgroups, a newsreader. Visiting and participating in forums normally requires no additional software beyond the web browser.

Forums, unlike wikis, do not allow people to edit other's messages. Some users, however, may be given this ability in order to moderate content (for example, if spam is posted to the forum).

Unlike weblogs, forums typically allow anyone to start a new discussion (known as a thread), or reply to an existing thread. The range of topics discussed on forums is typically wider—as a website running forum software may have more than one forum, each dedicated to a different topic. While many weblogs allow visitors to post comments in reply, the number of people who can create entries is normally very limited, and the range of viewpoints and beliefs on a weblog are also limited.

Forums differ from chatrooms and instant messaging because they usually deal with one topic and personal exchanges are typically discouraged. Participants in Internet forums should realize that what they have to say will be public knowledge for years to come. For example, Google's Groups (formerly DejaNews) is an archive of Usenet articles dating back to 1981. Forum archives are sometimes the best way to find an answer to very obscure questions, such as how to fix a particular computer problem.

See also

External links

es:Foro (internet) eo:Retforumo fr:Site Forum it:Forum he:פורום (אינטרנט) lb:Internetforum nl:Internetforum ja:電子掲示板 pl:Forum dyskusyjne ru:Веб-форум zh:网络论坛


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