Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
An Internet forum, also known as a message board, discussion board, discussion forum, or more simply, a forum, is a web application which provides a place for discussion, often for online communities. They are often considered the evolution of bulletin board systems which were widespread in the 1980s and 1990s, and of Usenet newsgroups. The topics which are discussed on forums range from politics to computer games, while many smaller communities use forums to discuss less mainstream topics.
Comparison with other web applications
Forums differ from bulletin board systems in a number of ways. BBSs were a whole community in themselves, including online games and file sharing; forums normally exist in addition to a website (often in the form of a content management system), or may comprise the entire content of the site.
The main difference between newsgroups and forums is that additional software is usually required to participate in newsgroups, a newsreader. Visiting and participating in forums normally requires no additional software beyond the web browser.
Unlike weblogs, forums typically allow anyone to start a new discussion (known as a thread), or reply to an existing thread. The range of topics discussed on forums is typically wider—as a website running forum software may have more than one forum, each dedicated to a different topic. While many weblogs allow visitors to post comments in reply, the number of people who can create entries is normally very limited, and the range of viewpoints and beliefs on a weblog are also limited.
The barebones definition of a forum is the ability for people to start threads and reply to other people's threads. However, most forum software provides considerably more than this.
Most forum software allows more than one forum to be created. These forums (or fora) are containers for threads started by the community. Depending on the permissions of community members as defined by the board's administrator, they can post replies to existing threads and start new threads as they wish.
Forum software can be broadly divided between those which allow visitors to post anonymously, and those which attribute posts to a username (some software allows for a combination of both). For username-based software, visitors choose a username and a password, and possibly an email address for validation purposes. In these types of forums, the members are often able to customise both how their posts display to others (for example avatars, user profiles and signatures) and how the board appears to them (such as different themes). Anonymous forums may offer full anonymity or pseudonymity without registration, using tripcodes derived by encrypting unique strings as identifiers.
The forum administrator typically has the ability to edit, delete, move or otherwise modify any thread on the forum. These moderator privileges are often able to be delegated to other forum members. The reasons for having these abilities are often to allow peace to be maintained and the rules to be enforced. The ways in which the moderation system works depends on the board software—for example, they can be directly appointed by the board administrator or chosen by a automated process combined with meta-moderation (moderation of the moderators). Many other systems exist and the board administrator is free to choose rules for their own forums.
Threads in a forum are either flat (posts are listed in chronological order), threaded (each post is made in reply to a parent post), or a combination of the two—community members have a choice on how to display threads.
Forum software packages are widely available on the Internet, and are written in a variety of programming languages, such as PHP, Perl, Java and ASP. The configuration and records of posts can be stored in text files or in a database. Each package offers a different variety of features, from the most basic providing text-only postings to more advanced packages offering multimedia support and formatting code (known as BBCode). Many packages can be integrated easily into an existing website to allow visitors to post comments on articles.
Due to the nature of forums, software enabling discussions, social communties tend to develop. These often come with their own unwritten rules and laws, forming a subculture. Some forums have members who organise worldwide social events, and it is not unusual for relationships to develop and even result in marriage between forum members.
Unlike other forms of communication on the Internet such as instant messaging, forum users often abide by correct spelling and grammar. Due to the huge amount of writing which is made in posts, this is even encouraged on several forum-based communities. It is often thought that the sheer amount of composition in these types of forums may have exceeded the number of standard letters written.
- List of Internet forum software
- Comparison of Internet forum software
- Use in eGovernment for online consultation
- Online chat
- Message Boards in the Open Directory Project
- Online Communities: Directories in the Open Directory Project
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