Discussion Forum

Discussion Forum: An Internet forum, or message board or discussion forum, is a web application for discussion that manages user-generated contents in a manner that is easy-to-browse and search. Recent development in some popular implementations of forum software has brought social network features and functionality. Such features include personal galleries, pages as well as a social network like chat systems.

The forum consists of a tree like directory structure containing at the lowest end topics (commonly called threads) and inside them posts. Logically forums are organised into a finite set of generic topics (usually with one main topic) driven and updated by a group known as members, and governed by a group known as moderators. By default to be an Internet forum, the web application needs an ability to submit threads and replies. Forum software may sometimes allow categories or subforums.

Each forum offers different features, from the most basic, providing text-only postings, to more advanced packages, offering multimedia support and formatting code (usually known as BBCode). Many forum packages can be integrated easily into an existing website to allow visitors to post comments on articles.

Internet forum originated as the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board. Early Internet forums could be described as a web version of a newsgroup or electronic mailing list (many of which were commonly called Usenet) that were common from the late 1970s to the 1990s allowing people to post messages and comment on other messages.

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. Because members may miss replies in threads they are interested in, many modern forums offer an "e-mail notification" feature, whereby members can choose to be notified of new posts in a thread, and web feeds that allow members to see a summary of the new posts using aggregator software.

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

The chronological older-to-newer view is generally associated with forums (the newer to older being associated more akin to blogs).

Forums differ from chat rooms and instant messaging wherein participants do not have to be online simultaneously to receive or send messages. Messages posted to a forum or Usenet are publicly available for some time, which is uncommon in chat rooms that maintain frequent activity.

The discussion forums are marketed through blog, posting message to online groups and so on so that the user knows its existence and can arrive at it.

a) Forum Features: A discussion forum has the following features:

i) Registration: In the United States and some parts of Europe, most Internet forums require registration to post. Registered users of the site are referred to as members and are allowed to submit or send electronic messages through the web application. The process of registration involves verification of one's age (typically over 12 as required so as to meet COPPA requirements of American forum software) followed by a declaration of the terms of service (other documents may also be present) and a request for agreement to said terms.

            In areas such as China and Japan, registration is frequently optional and anonymity is sometimes even encouraged. On these forums, a tripcode system may be used to allow verification of an identity without the need for formal registration.

An unregistered user of the site is commonly known as a guest or visitor. A guest can usually view the contents of the forum or use such features as read marking, but occasionally an administrator will disallow visitors to read their forum as an incentive to become a registered member.

ii) Subscription Options: A subscription is a form of automated notification integrated into the software of most of the forums. It usually notifies either by email or on the site when the member returns. The option to subscribe is available for every thread while logged in. Subscriptions work with read marking, namely the property of unread which is given to the content never served to the user by the software.

To stay with the post or comments many forums generated their RSS feed. RSS and ATOM feeds allow a means of subscribing to the forum. Common implementations only allow RSS feeds listing the last few threads updated for the forum index and the last posts in a thread.

iii) Rules and Policies on Forums: Forums are governed by a set of individuals, collectively referred to as staff, made up of administrators and moderators, which are responsible for the forums' conception, technical maintenance, and policies (creation and enforcing). Most forums have a list of rules detailing the wishes, aim and guidelines of the forums’ creators. There is usually a FAQ section containing basic information for new members and the people not yet familiar with the use and principles of a forum. Forum rules are maintained and enforced by the moderation team, but the users are allowed to help out via what is known as a report system.

iv) Thread: A thread (sometimes called a topic) is a collection of posts, usually displayed – by default – from oldest to latest (options to order threads by other criteria are generally available). A thread is defined by a title, an additional description that may summarize the intended discussion and the comments. The members (sometimes even to anonymous users) are presented with a web form to fill in requesting at the very least: a username (an alias), password, email and validation of a CAPTCHA code and the post (message) or comments to existing message as threads. So, a thread consists of the original post (OP) and the discussion or comments on it. A thread can contain any number of posts, including multiple posts from the same members, even if they are one after the other.

Post: A post is a user submitted message enclosed into a block containing the user's details and the date and time it was submitted. Members are usually allowed to edit or delete their own posts. Posts are contained in threads, where they appear as boxes one after another. The first post starts the thread; this may be called the original post (OP). Posts that follow in the thread are meant to continue discussion about that post, or respond to other replies; it is not uncommon for discussions to be derailed.

Discussion: Forums prefer a premise of open and free discussion and often adopts de facto standards. Most common topics on forums include questions, comparisons, opinion polls as well as debates.

Attachment: An attachment can be almost any file. When someone attaches a file to a post they are uploading the file to the forums' server. Forums usually have very strict limit on what can be attached and what cannot be (among which the size of the files in question).

v) Invitation: Most forums have an option to send invitation by the members of the forum to those who are still not members of the particular forum. Sometimes, the forum gives credit (sometimes rewards are implied) to those who help the community to grow.

vi) Administrator: The administrators manage the technical details required for running the site. As such, they may promote (and demote) members to moderators, manage the rules, create sections and sub-sections, as well as perform any database operations (database backup etc). Administrators also often act as moderators. Administrators may also make forum-wide announcements, or change the appearance (known as the skin) of a forum.

            This level of content manipulation is reserved for moderators or administrators on most forums.

vii) Moderation Activity: The moderators are the users of the forum who are granted access to the posts and threads of all members for the purpose of moderating discussion and also for keeping the forum clean. Moderators also answer the users' concerns about the forum, general questions, as well as respond to specific complaints. They also can do anything to lend a helping hand to a user in need. Moderators themselves may have ranks: some may be given mod privileges over only a particular topic or section, while others (called 'global' or 'super') may be allowed access anywhere. Common privileges of moderators include: deleting, merging, moving, and splitting of posts and threads, locking, renaming, stickying of threads, banning, suspending, unsuspending, unbanning, warning the members, or adding, editing, removing the polls of threads.

Assigning Privileges to Members: Many forums organise visitors and logged in members into user groups. Privileges and rights are given based on these groups by the moderators.

Issuing Report about Post: Moderators issue a report when some post are not considered for posting. It may be due to the fact that the post is against the rules or its offending contents. All such posts are usually deleted.

Punishments to Members: The moderator sometime also gives punishment when rules are broken by the users or members. First a warning is usually given; this is commonly in the form of a private message. Subsequently, if the act is ignored and warnings do not work, the member is – usually – first exiled from the forum for a number of days. Denying someone access to the site is called a ban. Bans can mean the person can no longer log in or even view the site anymore. If the offender, after the warning sentence, repeats the offense, another ban is given, usually this time a longer one. Continuous harassment of the site eventually leads to a permanent ban. However, in most cases this simply means the account is locked. In extreme cases where the offender – after being permanently banned – creates another account and continues to harass the site, administrators will apply an IP ban (this can also be applied at the server level): if the IP is static, the machine of the offender is prevented from accessing the site. In some extreme circumstances, IP range bans or country bans can be applied; however, this is usually for political, licensing or other reasons.

Topic Locking: Sometimes if the topic is answered, it is locked; often a poster may request a topic expected to draw problems to be locked as well, although the moderators decide whether to grant it. In a locked thread, members cannot post anymore.

Deleting Thread: The old and not used topics may be deleted.

viii) Archive: Many discussion forums have online archive feature so that if the discussions are old and not used at all it goes to the archive. The archive can be retrieved at any time using search features or browsing through categories and sub-categories.

ix) Statistics Generation: Most forums keep track of a user's postcount. The postcount is a measurement of how many posts a certain user has made. The users with higher postcounts are often considered more reputable than the users with lower postcounts. However, some forums have disabled postcounts in the hopes that doing so will reduce the emphasis on quantity over quality of information.

            A thread's popularity is measured on forums in reply (total posts minus one – the opening post) counts. Some forums also track page views. Threads meeting a set number of posts or a set number of views may receive a designation such as "hot thread" and be displayed with a different icon compared to others threads. This icon may stand out more to emphasize the thread.

b) Concerns: Because of the volatile and random behavior of forum, unsocial behavior is easily sprouted as people lose temper, especially if the topic is controversial. Poor understanding of differences in values of the participants is a common problem on forums. Because replies to a topic are often wording aimed at someone's point of view, discussion will usually go slightly off into several directions as people question each others validity, sources and so on. Circular discussion and ambiguity in replies can carry out arguments for several tens of posts of a thread eventually ending when everyone gives up or another similar debate takes it over. The main concerns are -

i) Troll: A troll is a user that repeatedly and intentionally breaches netiquette, often posting derogatory or otherwise inflammatory messages about sensitive topics in an established online community to bait users into responding, often starting flame wars.

ii) Sock Puppet: It refers to someone who is simultaneously registered under different pseudonyms on a particular message board or forum.

iii) Forum Spamming: It is a breach of netiquette where users repeat the same word or phrase over and over, but differs from multiple posting in that spamming is usually a willful act which sometimes has malicious intent.

iv) Double Posting: It’s the posting the same message twice. Users sometimes post versions of a message that are only slightly different, especially in forums where they are not allowed to edit their earlier posts. Multiple posting instead of editing prior posts can artificially inflate a user's post count. Multiple posting can be unintentional; a user's browser might display an error message even though the post has been transmitted or a user of a slow forum might become impatient and repeatedly hit the submit button.

v) Cross posting: A user may also send the same post to several forums, which is termed cross posting. The term derives from Usenet, where crossposting was an accepted practice; however, it causes problems in web forums.

vi) Bumping: When a member posts in a thread for no reason but to have it go to the top, it is referred to as a bump or bumping.

vii) Flame Wars: When the discussion becomes heated and sides do nothing more than complain and would not accept the differences in each other’s point of view, the discussion degenerates into what is called a flame war. To flame someone means to go off-topic and attack the person rather than their opinion. Likely candidates for flame wars are usually religion and socio-political topics, or topics that discuss pre-existing rivalries outside of the forum.

c) Examples: People participating in an Internet forum may cultivate social bonds. A sense of virtual community often develops around forums that have regular users.

i) 4chan (http://www.4chan.org/): 4chan is a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images. Different boards are dedicated to different topics, from Japanese anime, manga, and culture to videogames, music, and photography. Users do not need to register a username before participating in the community.

ii) Gaia Online (http://www.gaiaonline.com/forum/): Gaia Online was founded in 2003. Gaia's forum is a place where millions of members gather to discuss random stuff, make new friends, complain about life, argue about nothing, laugh at dumb pictures, discuss serious issues and/or curse like sailors.

iii) Something Awful (http://forums.somethingawful.com/): Something Awful, often abbreviated to SA, is a comedy website housing a variety of content, including blog entries, forums, feature articles, digitally edited pictures, and humorous media reviews. The site is home to a collection of Internet forums, which charge an initial registration fee of US$9.95 and fees ranging from US$4.99 to US$29.99 for additional features. If a user is banned by administrators, the fees for initial registration and all additional features are not reimbursed.

iv) The Student Room (http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/): The Student Room (TSR), known from 2001 until 2004 as UK Learning, is a United Kingdom-based internet forum for school and university students. The site currently has over 300,000 members and more than nineteen million posts.

v) Neowin Forums (http://www.neowin.net/forum/): Neowin.net is a technology news site that actively focuses on Windows, Mac and Linux. The Neowin forums are Powered by Invision Power Board forum software. Neowin has an active technology forum consisting of over 236,000 registered users and over 9 million posts.