Friday, October 2, 2009

Owning & Operating a Successful Forum

It’s been more than thirty years since the invention of the ARPANet, the Defense Department’s first iteration of the Internet as we know it today. ARPANet was designed to facilitate sharing and gathering of information and to increase data redundancy in the event of a catastrophe. In its earliest form, the Internet was nothing more than a bulleting board system, or forum, where people could get together and post and comment on new and relevant information. Now, thirty years later, forums are still a central part of the Internet as we know it. So, it stands to reason that there is a very large market in creating and maintaining an Internet forum that deals with a subject that many people are interested in. What action should a 21st century entrepreneur take to capitalize on all of this potential? The most laborious, but also the most gratifying way, is to create an original, high-demand forum or online community.

The first big decision that must be made is what purpose the online community or forum will serve. Will it be a stand-alone forum, using the “hive consciousness” to disseminate information in place of a dedicated web site, or will it be a forum that is affiliated or a part of another web site?

If the message board is intended to stand alone, in place of a traditional web site, there are some unique challenges to overcome. The first and primary requirement is an audience. If there is nobody to listen and contribute content to the forum, then it is an exercise in futility. The forum should be based on a topic that a lot of people are interested in, to ensure a constant supply of new readers and contributors. Another concern with young message boards or forums is a lack of content. It stands to reason that a day old forum should have less content than a well established one. However, there are ways of legitimately filling a new, blossoming forum with lots of fresh, original, and meaningful content. If another forum owner or moderator is willing, sometimes a post exchange can be arranged, where two forums combine and share their content with each other, to supply each with quality content. Another common method is more similar to traditional 9-5 employment. Forum owners can, and often do, “employ” or otherwise compensate talented writers to join their forums, and regularly post quality content to the site. This route works well, since there are experienced writers, stimulating dialogue and member involvement.

It is much easier to make a forum succeed and thrive if it is affiliated or launched in conjunction with another web site. Especially if the web site already has a dedicated, loyal following, getting the audience to voice their opinion and interact with each other is much easier if they have a mutual interest or experience to bond over. The only main drawbacks to this type of forum format are those that are universal to almost any enterprise- there is overhead, in the form of server and hosting fees, and also as payroll, if someone is being paid to contribute content. However, the time and effort put into promoting and furthering the forum, the more rewarding the experience will be for everyone including owners, moderators, administrators, and posters alike.

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