Creative Commons License photo credit: jcfrog

One question I get asked a lot goes something along the lines of “how will forums keep up with [something]?” or “forums are old hat, why would people use them over [something]?” or “why use forums when you can use [something]?” However will forums survive? Let’s talk about it.

This is Limited Thinking

Forums aren’t going anywhere. Let’s get that out of the way. My great grand kids may well look back at this post and laugh at their crazy great grandfather and his talk of vinyl records, er- I mean forums. But, for as far into the future as I can possibly see, I do not see a time where structured, text based online discussion communities will cease to exist. Unless the internet ceases to exist or, at least, changes very dramatically.

Structured, threaded, text based online discussion communities. That’s what forums are, that’s how I describe them. Don’t get hung up on the verbiage of “forums.” Look at your favorite “social network.” See any threaded, text discussions that are happening? I’m pretty sure that you will, in private and public. Pretty much every social network I know of has them. These are essentially forums within the larger social network.

Your Ning site is forums. Maybe it’s more, but it’s also forums. Forums are online communities, though online communities can be other things, too.

The point is, they all (can) fit together pretty nicely.

They Are Different

Yet, they are also different, and that’s good. There is a lot more to Facebook than threaded conversation. There is a lot more to a Ning site than just forums. But, at the same token, there is a lot more to (many) forums than just text based conversation, as well.

Variety of tools is a good thing. There may be competition between the various tools, as they all want to be your platform and what you use. But, from the perspective of someone who needs to make use of this space, variety is rarely a bad thing. So, instead of thinking about “how can forums compete with Facebook,” think about what forums are best suited for and what Facebook is best suited for, what your goals are and how they fit.

Moving Past the Tools

In other words, move past the tools and into strategy. Whenever someone asks me “should I set up forums?,” one of the questions I’ll likely ask is “what are you looking to accomplish?” I love forums, Facebook, Twitter and plenty of other things, but they also are not for everyone. What you want to do should dictate what you use.