Website Forums as Community Centers for the 21st Century

Mar 21, 2012

Valuable free advice from friends you’ll never meet

An email I received this afternoon from the extremely popular TripAdvisor website — they have more than 20 million members and annual revenue over $500 million — caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, the email had a spectacular picture of a rainbow over Niagara Falls that it claimed was taken from a hotel room, a striking and attractive image, always a good thing in a broadcast email.

Second, my family enjoys travelling to new and interesting places, and we can do more of that it we do it on the cheap. But how best to avoid flea-bag hotels or those at four-mile “walking distance” from all the local sights? For us, Trip Advisor is our go-to destination-before-the-vacation.  There, on the site’s user forums, we can get all kinds of information about local customs and tourist attractions, read any of more than 50 million reviews of hotels and other attractions we’re considering, and even post our own reviews to benefit fellow travelers. For us, there’s a lot of value in sharing information we’ve gathered in our travels, and learning from the experiences of others all over the world. That’s what website user community forums are all about.

History and components of user forums

The idea for message boards, the precursors to user forums, began way back in the 1970s with Usenet, which was conceived by a couple of Duke University grad students now recognized as proto-web designers. Usenet was set up as a loose group of email-type bulletin boards, where users could post, read and answer messages and questions.

Obviously, web developers have come a long way since then. “Modern” web forums — many of which now have commercial components and can be turned into revenue generators — are prettier and easier-to-use discussion sites with hierarchical or tree-like structures that organize the topics covered. They have certain elements in common:

User Groups — Most forums divide visitors into guests and members, and organize groups by topics. Often, registered members have more privileges, i.e., they can access more areas of the site and can post on specific topics. People who like to visit and read particular sections, but who don’t actively participate, are called lurkers.

Posts and Threads — Each of the topics contained in the forum is known as a thread, and each item in a thread is a post, usually identified with a date stamp and the user name of the poster.

Mods Site owners themselves, or people they delegate, serve as moderators or mods. They are the only ones with global access to delete threads and messages from the boards, for purposes of keeping them free of spam, removing objectionable or illegal posts, etc.

Dotcomweavers  web designers recently built a user forum for New Jersey-based Cash Flow Navigator

We recently created a personal finance-themed website for that uses a robust user forum as part of a strategy to attract members to the new community and keep them coming back. Community involvement is gaining momentum as members post to forums on cash flow, assets, liabilities and numerous related topics. Coming soon is a Financial Providers Forum where you will be able to search a listing of financial services providers, add a financial provider you’ve used to the listing, and comment on financial providers you’ve used.

Our web developers in NJ can also help your business attract new visitors and generate advertising revenue by building a well-designed user forum into your site. Find out more by contacting the New Jersey web design experts at Dotcomweavers today.

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