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What Is A Forum

A forum can be referred to as a number of different names including a bulletin board, discussion group or a message board. Regardless of what you call it, these type of sites give its members the ability to post topics (called threads) in an organized manner all based around upon a central theme. A forum encourages its members to read and respond to these posted threads. You can start a forum on basically any topic you can think of and create a community of users around it.

Forum Structure

Forums are organized into an intuitive hierarchy. Most forums have a central theme and then are broken down into particular topics or categories. Each of these categories are then broken down into threads where the forum members actually post and converse.

For example, you may want to launch a sports themed forum. The categories keep be each sport you want your visitors to be able to discuss like basketball, baseball, hockey, football and soccer. Your members would then start threads within each of the categories about relevant topics. It's also common to see "off topic" categories on a forum where your members can discuss topics that are not related to the overall forum theme.

Forum vs Chat

Forums differ from chat rooms in that the conversations are not real-time. Rather users are encouraged to come back and visit often with their posts easily and readily available for future retrieval.  Like chat, forums also usually allow for one on one conversations among members. A forum generally uses messaging very similar to an email format for this communication, which is not real-time.

Forum User Roles

In addition to the members who sign up for your site who regularly participate in conversations, there are a number of other roles that you'll typically see in a forum. The most common roles are:

  • Moderator - The administrator has the permission to approve, delete and move threads as necessary. They ensure that the forum is free from spam and that users are abiding to any rules that have been set forth for the bulletin board. They may also answer any questions that the members have posted. Their job is essentially to ensure that the forum continues to run smoothly from a front end perspective.
  • Administrator - The user who starts the forum and is designated as the user in charge of the technical details of the forum. This includes running backups and the database. The administrator can often times also be a moderator for the forum.
  • Guest - An unregistered visitor to your forum. Guests can typically view the posts, but are unable to join in on the conversation until they sign up for an account.

Popular Forum Terminology

  • Bumping – The thread that last had a member post jumps to the top of a category making it the most visible thread for that moment. It is a common strategy to respond to a thread to "bump it" as a means to specifically have it appear at the top of the category. This is an excellent strategy to prevent a thread from getting buried at the bottom of the category. This is especially true if the thread includes a question that was never answered initially and you would like it to get attention.
  • Sticky – Many forums will pin or "stick" a thread at the top of a category. This gives the post maximum visibility and prevents it from dropping as other threads are posted in the category. Sticky posts are an excellent way to show the most important news. Some forums also offer sticky posts as advertisements, an excellent alternative to more traditional banner ads.

Additional Forum Features

  • Private Threads – This allows only specific forum members to view and/or participate in a thread. This is a popular way to allow forum moderators to speak with one another without being visible to other forum members.
  • User Dashboard – This is where your members can view their latest posts, see the most recent news, view their messages, update their profile and much more.
  • Emoticons – Just as you can send an emoji in a text message, forums can allow you to post emoticons in a post. They allow you to express an emotion in graphical format.
  • Signature – Many forums can be used as a means for promoting a business or website as well as to get a backlink. A signature can show up at the bottom of every post by a user automatically. Users can format their signature within their control panel to showcase a specific link and/or content. Many forums require a set amount of legitimate user posts before giving a user signature capability as a means to prevent abuse or spam.
  • Polls - What better way to get feedback about how to improve your website and/or forum than by asking your forum members? It's also a great way to generate interaction among users.