How are forums different from other kinds of community spaces?

Forums are a really popular type of way to exchange ideas. I think about it as kind of a leaderboard where everyone can apply wisdom of the crowds to the best ideas.

How are they different from Twitter, Twitter Spaces, Facebook Groups, SnapChat, Instagram, Youtube, other ways of voting on the best ideas?

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Forums are definitely different than other kinds of community spaces. Here are some of the differences I’ve noticed:

  • they are typically public, permanent and searchable both internally and externally.
  • users may not provide their real names (they may use handles)
  • they are timestamped. This gives immediate feedback about the accuracy of their content, depending on the topic (a forum post from 2002 about farming may be worth reading, but one about webdev from the same time will probably not be)
  • they are async. This can be helpful in some ways, but lots of people want feedback right now and forums don’t typically feed that
  • they are threaded. this means you can have more than one conversation going on, esp when combined with the async nature mentioned previously. contrast with single threaded spaces like Twitter Spaces.
  • they have moderation tools, which can help foster community
  • they are text based, with all the emotional flatness that implies.
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In this day and age of online video, forums remain a celebration of (hyper)text.

You can share an essay, conduct an in-depth debate, or point to various resources using hyperlinks (remember that word?). And often you can embed images and perhaps video and other media. Hypertext is easy to navigate and can be made available to search engines, if desired (remember people used to used search engines other than Google?).

So just by focusing on hypertext, forums offer different affordances than, say, a Twitter Space. (Of course, there are tradeoffs involved: if you want to get the gist of a new topic while folding laundry, a forum thread won’t cut it.)

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One thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is ‘the algorithm’ that forums don’t have and which is a big reason why I love forums. They should focus more on being helpful, have good navigation and be designed to be searchable.

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There are many reasons, but I think the most powerful is:

  • Permanence and easily searchable
  • Inclusive regardless of timezone and who is currently online
  • Discovery tools without an algorithm
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