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Sometimes known as online forums, web forums, message boards, bulletin boards, or discussion groups, Internet forums are interactive websites where members can post discussions and read and reply to posts by other forum members.

This is a guide to Internet forums. Forum software or scripts, as well as dedicated forum hosts, and informational sites and directories that are focused on forums are appropriate for this category. However, individual Internet forums should be submitted in the category that best represents the forum's topic or geographical area, in the case of geographically-focused forums.

Forums are usually focused either on a topic or on a group of people who it is designed to appeal to, which may be more or less specific. For example, there is a forum known as Religious Forums, in which any and all religions may be discussed. However, MennoNet is only for the discussion of the Mennonite religion. I don't know of any but, theoretically, a local Mennonite church might have a forum specifically for members of that congregation of Mennonites.

There are forums for dieting in general, and there are also forums for specific diet plans. The popular subscription diet plan, Nutrisystem, operates a forum for people who are on that plan.

It is common for businesses, such as software companies, to have support forums where users can help one another with troubleshooting issues, many of which are also monitored by company tech support personnel, who may also assist with problems. In some product support forums, company representatives answer all of the questions.

Some forums are made up of people from a specific age group, such as the SENIORSonly Club forum, whose membership is restricted to people fifty years old or older.

There are alumni forums, where people who attended the same school can keep in touch with one another and with things that are going on at the school.

Whatever the topic, someone has probably created a forum for it, and it's likely that there are competing forums. Although forum usage is down somewhat in recent years, given that many of the people who might have otherwise been expected to participate in an Internet forum are spending their time on Facebook, Twitter, or another social media instead, but many forums remain active and vibrant.

Forums evolved from the discussion areas on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), electronic mailing lists, and newsgroups like Usenet, and they serve a similar purpose.

Important to the longevity of a forum is the sense of a virtual community that develops around its regular users. People who have been members of the same forum for a long period of time often come to feel as if they know one another, although they have likely never met.

One of the first forum sites, which is still active today, is Delphi Forums, which began as Delphi in 1983.

There are several publishers of forum software, often known as scripts, and they are readily available on the Internet. Written in a variety of programming languages, forum posts and statistics may be stored in text files or in a database. Each forum package offers different features, and some are intended to be easily integrated into an existing website. In addition, WordPress blog software has been manipulated to allow for threaded discussions, using its comments features. Unless a theme was created specifically to function as a forum, a blog is not a forum, however.

The structure of a forum is tree-like. At the top are categories, dividing the forum into various general topics. Within each category are sub-forums for more specific topics, and these sub-forums may be further divided into deeper sub-forums, although some forum packages limit the number of levels available. Forum administrators or staff usually set up the categories and the sub-forums, although some scripts allow users to suggest sub-forums.

Within the sub-forums, users of the forum, often known as members, are encouraged to introduce topics for discussion. User-generated discussion topics are known as threads. When a user starts a new topic, he is asked to introduce it in some manner. This is known as the opening post and often abbreviated OP. Replies to threads are known as posts.

Depending on the forum package or options chosen by the administrator, messages are displayed in one of three formats: non-threaded, semi-threaded, or fully threaded, with advantages and disadvantages to each, threaded being the most common.

Forums are operated by an administrator, who has access to all of the functions of the forum software. Often, moderators are employed, or promoted on a volunteer basis from within the membership, who are granted greater access than regular members for the purpose of moderating discussions. Many forums also progressive levels of membership, often based on activity levels.


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