21 thoughts on “In praise of forums?”

  1. Nice reminder that forums are sometimes enough. I use one (www.louthnet.com/LAMB) for a particular niche interest (mountainbiking in Louth in case you are interested) and have a lot of interest…but almost no interest in taking up Twitter, Foursquare etc. There is a bit of Facebook interest from a few, but for most users the forum is where it is at.

  2. If there’s a subtitle to this blog, it’s this: ‘And how boring can be actually quite cool.’

    Quite often people can get absurdly hung up on new tech. From the Twitter discussion that preceeded this blog post there was the beginnings of a rudimentary cool tech map. Stephen Fry’s boxfresh ipad hand signed by Steve Jobs is at one end. Nick Booth’s mum’s 10-year-old mobile switched off to save the battery is at the other. The rest of us are somewhere in between.

    Like most people, I cut my online teeth on a forum. Mine was a Stoke City forum called The Oatcake. It could be a useful place to go. It could also be deeply irritating. There are still people on there who to this day are slugging it out over whether or not Gudjon Thordarson should have been sacked three days after winning the Play Offs to get into the Championship in 2002.

    However, I’d echo the point you make above, Dave. Without careful and regular moderation you can end up being a platform for trolls, keyboard warriors and wind-up merchants.

    I’m digressing.

    Here is another point which in some ways echoes the praise for forums. What is quite groovy is e-mail. Why? Because it’s hugely democratic. Virtually everyone has it. What made me think differently? Two things. The Business Desk in the West Midlands is a business targeted website that drives 90 per cent of its traffic by targeted emails. Those are significant numbers that made me really re-evaluate how we should be communicating. By all means keep the council Twitter streams. But if an opt-in email means that business gets to learn when there are big projects that the council is loking to procure for then everyone is a winner.

    Secondly? There was some useful research done by Liz Azyan on the massivegrowth in email use that dwarfs other platforms and means of communication. Liz is rarely wrong on this stuff.

    Boring as it is this form of comunication has numbers that others can simply dream about.

    ** I’m now going to click the box that asks for an email to be sent if there are follow-up comments **

  3. Pingback: danslee (Dan Slee)
  4. Dave,
    I’d agree with most the points you raise. I’ve been involved in Forums for many years, and the one I currently run has been going since 1996/7. They are great places for specialist, or highly topical knowledge.

    They have their own social aspects, hierarchies and ‘feel’ as members pass through them.

    Yes Facebook/Twitter is great, but they don’t allow for certain forms of communication – i.e whereas but forums/newsgroups can you openly share your thoughts, at all times, with people with similar interests (whether due to locale, or interest). FB/Tw allow only small fragments of comms.

    It’s a huge area I could natter about for hours, and have done on many occasions!

    I’d probably disagree about ‘Also, unless the people running the forum manages it really tightly, they can quickly degenerate into bickering bear-pits where nothing constructive is ever discussed. It’ – After a while no need to be tight, just have clearly defined scopes, and area. As well as dealing with political/tension on your site in the appropriate way to desist any form of rebellion.

  5. i love forums and, if I could get officers to commit to engage, we’d use them.

    however, when we (North Devon Council) did a survey two years ago (admittedly before social media became mainstream), we asked what kind of online interactions would respondants like to see:

    1st – email
    2nd – subscription newsletters
    3rd – what’s on calendar
    4th – webforms
    5th – webcasts
    6th – blogs
    7th – RSS
    8th – IM
    9th – forums
    10th – podcasts

    my view, whatever methods you use, put the resource into them to keep them alive, active and engaging. if they become inactive, remove them.

  6. Thanks for dropping by, Peter. I do think it is important given time and cash restraints that existing forums and networks are used by local government to engage locally – I don’t think I would advise a council, say, to create its own forums.

    The other thing is just about treating surveys such as the one you carried out with a little caution. After all, simple choices can still mean different things to different people, and there is probably an issue around understanding – probably a majority of people still aren’t really sure what RSS is.

    Indeed with a few of the choices on your list, it’s possible to see them in two very different ways: podcasts – the council running its own, or tapping into an existing one? Likewise with blogs, forums, etc etc.

  7. Dave

    thanks for the response.

    i agree with what you say about surveys. we used the results as general pointers and there are other sources of feedback that we use. we’ll be doing real live guerilla user testing – (c) paul canning (or was it jakob nielsen) – very shortly.

    we were social media naive when we carried out the survey. if we were to ask the same question now, the choices would be very different (if we were to run such a survey). btw, we did try to explain RSS in words of one syllable.

    the survey did, however, give useful pointers and feedback so far has been generally positive.

    as for forums, yes we need to tap into existing ones (resources permitting) the same way we use social media, but i wouldn’t rule out running a council run forum for specific topics such as planning policy.


  8. At Staircase.org.uk, we recognised very early on that the traditional forum concept is something that is really useful in engaging people. At the same time, there are certain features from Facebook, Twitter, et al, that are also very useful for engagement.

    What we have implemented in creating a new platform for community engagement is a kind of ‘open forum’ system in which every post from a user or organisation is itself part of a forum thread. Our main premise is that people are engaging for personal or community advancement, so they want others to see wha they are saying. We provide a number of different ‘views’ and filters for them to discover new topics adn engage at the level they want to.

    If they want to engage with a select group of people, they can create or join a public or private group, the main focus of which is a (traditional) forum, with threads only visible to members of the group.

    We are quite keen to hear what others think of what we’ve created so please join us and share your views.

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