You might be asking yourself what a discussion forum is. Modern Internet forums go by many names: discussion board, social community, forum board, message board, bulletin board; the list goes on. Regardless of what you call Internet discussion forums, their function remains the same. Discussion forums are a place for people of similar pursuits, interests, avocations or professions to congregate and discuss topics they're all interested in.
Why build a discussion forum? The uses for today's Internet forums vary widely. Businesses use them to enhance employee productivity or communicate with customers, sports fans use them to discuss their team's performance, schools provide educational support to students, "foodies" compare recipes, and so much more. Forum audiences are as diverse as human interests. In all cases, forums are, in essence, communities.
How Do Forums Work?
A forum's main topic is generally set by the owner, also known as forum administrator, but the bulk of the content is provided by members of the forum. In a forum, visitors have the ability to start "discussions" with other members in the form of topics, also known as "threads". Once a forum user (guest or member) has read a thread, they'll generally have the option to post a reply which can then be read by the community. These discussions can develop without all users needing to be online at the same time.
Forums can be thought of as containers, or archives, for information fostered by the community. Depending on the permissions community members have (as set by the forum administrator), members can post replies to existing threads and start new threads at will. Most forums allow people to browse through postings before registering and, once they feel comfortable, they can set up an account and submit their own posts.
Who Should Create a Forum?
If you're passionate about a subject, there are few better ways to indulge your enthusiasm than by creating a forum for others to share and learn about the topic you love so much. Not only can you write about something you really enjoy, meet and become friends with people that share your passion, but there is often the opportunity to make good money while you're doing it. What could possibly be better?
If you love kayaking, start a kayaking forum. If you love collecting Cherokee arrowheads, start a Cherokee arrowhead collectors forum. If you love skydiving, start a skydiving discussion forum! You can be sure of this: there will be others who share your zeal.
With over 2 billion people that now have access to the Internet, there really isn't an interest, avocation or hobby that's so obscure there aren't others who share your passion. In fact, the more eccentric and unseen the subject, the more likely it could go viral and be of interest to a much larger audience. If your forum takes off and you have a large number of people visiting it every day, selling advertising space can often generate substantial monthly income for the forum owner.
Adding Community to Your Existing Site
Building a forum community is a great way to add value to an existing site and can create a sense of belonging for your visitors. This can encourage repeat visits and generate more interest in the site as a whole. With a discussion forum, there will be richer and more varied content being added to your site. You no longer need to be the sole contributor creating content, but rather many people joining in with their opinions and perspectives will help grow your site.
Also, if you're marketing a product or service, you can generally rely on rapid and unvarnished feedback from a forum community. You can quickly find out how your product is working in the real world and respond more efficiently to customer needs. Moreover, forum communities foster personal relationships between members which can help get information rapidly disseminated as well as increase pageviews and product-use through word of mouth.
Creating a Forum
There are basically two ways to create an online discussion forum; the hard way, and the easy way. The "hard" way requires a fair amount of technical expertise and involves installing forum software on a host server, creating a database, and configuring the forum once it's been installed. Further, installed forum software will also usually require some level of ongoing maintenance to insure proper functioning.
The smart and simple way to create a discussion forum simply requires choosing a free, web-based forum host like the award winning forum hosting service ProBoards. For those of you not interested in taking on the responsibilities of installing software and configuring databases, "remote" forum hosting offers a much simpler, more reliable, and less demanding free solution. Also, remotely hosted forums can easily be linked to websites or be operated as stand-alone entities.