What is an Online Forum? A Beginner’s Guide (Definition + Examples)

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From fostering discussions to sharing insights, discover how online forums serve as dynamic hubs for diverse communities. Whether you're a novice navigating the virtual landscape or an enthusiast seeking to delve deeper, this guide provides valuable insights into the essence and functionality of online forums, providing a rich understanding of their role in fostering digital conversations on community platforms.

What is an Online Forum? A Beginner’s Guide (Definition + Examples)
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Think back to the early days of the internet, around the late '70s and early '80s. That's when Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) started to pop up. They were like the grandparents of online forums. Users could post text messages on various topics, but it was all pretty basic and mostly dial-up modem stuff. 

Then around the mid-2000s, Facebook and Twitter took center stage as the go-to spots for online socializing. Online forums still had an edge over social media giants due to their capacity for in-depth discussions, niche-focused communities, better privacy control, and a stronger sense of community. 

Online forums have come a long way since the early days of the internet, and they're still here, thriving in their own unique way. They complement the big social media platforms by providing a space for deeper, specialized discussions and communities. 

In this blog, we will explore all things Online Forums and help you understand whether you need to build a forum for your online community. Keep reading1

What is an Online Forum?

An internet forum is an online platform or website where individuals can engage in discussions, share information, ask questions, and interact with others who share similar interests or have common goals. Forums provide a virtual space for people to communicate and collaborate on various topics, often organized into categories or threads based on specific themes or subjects.

1. Structure: Think of a forum as an online hub for discussions. It's organized into different sections, kind of like rooms in a big building. Each section is dedicated to a specific topic or interest, making it easier for people to find discussions related to what they're interested in.

2. Threads: Threads are like individual conversations within these sections. When someone has something to say or a question to ask, they start a new thread. Other people can join in by replying to that thread, and that's how discussions grow.

3. User Accounts: To be part of these discussions, you usually need to create a user account. This is like getting your own badge to enter the forum. It helps keep track of who's who, and you can customize your profile with a unique username and other information.

4. Moderation: Just like in a real-world discussion, there are forum moderators who keep things in check. They make sure people follow the rules, stay respectful, and don't go off-topic. If someone misbehaves, moderators can step in.

5. Features: Forums often come with some cool features. You can send private messages to other users, search for specific topics, and personalize your profile with avatars and info about yourself. Plus, you can give a thumbs-up or a like to posts you find helpful or interesting.

Some well-known forums include Reddit, where you can explore countless topics in its subreddits, and Stack Exchange, which is great for asking and answering questions on various subjects. 

Then there's Scenes, which lets you create your very own customized forum from scratch with your logo, brand colors, and identity. The members can also post pictures, text, like, dislike, comment, and share posts on Forums. Interaction among members is facilitated through threaded comments. Not just this, on your scenes community, you can create an unlimited number of forums and discuss anything and everything.  

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What are Online Forums used for?

Online forums serve various purposes and can cater to a wide range of interests and needs. Some of the common purposes of online forums include: 

Community Building: Forums foster communities of like-minded individuals who come together to connect, build relationships, and share their passions or interests.

CUR8 leverages Scenes, an all-in-one community platform, to run forums.

Discussion and Information Sharing: Forums provide a platform for users to engage in discussions, share information, and seek advice on a wide range of topics and interests, from hobbies to professional fields.

TeachersHelpTeachers utilizes Scenes to run forums for discussions and expert sessions.

Expertise and Knowledge Sharing: Experts and enthusiasts often use forums to share their knowledge, answer questions, and provide guidance in their respective fields.

Your Counsellor uses forums for knowledge sharing and increasing engagement within the community.

Troubleshooting and Tech Support: Many forums are dedicated to helping users troubleshoot technical issues with software, hardware, or other products. Users can seek assistance and find solutions to problems.

Marketplace: Some forums have sections for buying, selling, or trading items, making them virtual marketplaces for various goods and services.

Feedback and Reviews: Users can provide feedback and write reviews about products, services, or experiences, helping others make informed decisions.

How to start an online community forum?

Starting your own online community forum can be a great way to connect with people who share your interests. Here’s how to get it up and running:

Step 1: Define your niche 

First things first, you need a clear idea of what your forum will be about. Think about your passion or expertise – it could be anything from gardening to video games. The more specific, the better!

Step 2: Choose a platform next

You'll want to pick a platform to host your forum. There are lots of options out there like Scenes, phpBB, or even Reddit depending on whether you prefer. 

Scenes offer an excellent platform for building an online forum tailored to your community or brand. Similar to the experience found on Reddit, Scenes allows community members to create and participate in dedicated forums. With Scenes as your community platform, you can even create an unlimited number of forums, making it an ideal space to discuss anything and everything relevant to your community or brand.

Step 3: Set up the basics 

Once you've got your platform, set up the basics. Choose a name for your forum, pick a simple and memorable web address (domain name), and decide on the forum categories that'll cover your niche.

Step 4: Customize your forum 

Make your forum stand out with a bit of customization. You can tweak the design, add a logo or banner that fits your niche, and set the colors to match your brand or style.

Step 5: Write clear rules 

Every forum needs some ground rules. Write clear and friendly guidelines for your members to follow. This helps keep discussions respectful and on-topic.

Step 6: Create valuable content 

Start some interesting discussions yourself to get the ball rolling. Share valuable content, insights, or tips related to your niche. People are more likely to join if they see engaging conversations.

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5 Examples of Thriving Online Forums

The Student Room: This forum is aimed at students in the UK, offering discussions on education, university choices, career advice, and various academic topics.

GardenWeb: GardenWeb is a well-established forum for gardening enthusiasts. It features discussions on gardening tips, plant care, landscaping, and more.

BabyCenter Community: BabyCenter's online forum is dedicated to parenting, pregnancy, and childcare discussions. It's a supportive community for parents to exchange advice and experiences.

Warrior Forum: Warrior Forum is a community for internet marketers and entrepreneurs. Members discuss digital marketing strategies, affiliate marketing, product launches, and business growth.

MyFitnessPal Community: MyFitnessPal's forum is a hub for health and fitness enthusiasts. Members discuss weight loss, nutrition, and exercise routines, and provide support and motivation to achieve fitness goals.

Ready to start your own online forum?

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