Web Forums 101

Lovingly written and submitted by Jay & Xandra.

Forums might seem like a long gone feature of the internet of yore, especially now in the time of social media and chat services like Discord. Would it surprise you to know that forums are not just alive and kicking but also making a comeback as sentiment toward social media begins to wane and folks begin branching out their microcosms on the internet? It wouldn't surprise the thousands of people who subscribe to various forums, which are still going strong!

What are forums?

Forums can be called many things: web forums, message boards, or internet forums. Forums are an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. Since the rise of social media, web forums have fallen out of favor with services like Facebook Groups taking their place. However, forums are a great way to disconnect from the dependence upon companies like Meta to host community-driven conversation. Wikipedia's article about internet forums outlines the long history of forums and goes into great detail about forum culture, if you're interested.

What makes forums different?

Message boards can be a great way to engage with a community and interact on a deeper level than chatrooms typically offer. Because it's a slower format, folks are hopefully putting in more effort to their posts than chatting on Discord. You can have more meaningful discussions without getting lost in a sea of messages. It's an asynchronous communication medium, so there's no stress in replying so-called "fast enough," staying "active enough," or keeping up with all the conversation happening. You can subscribe to the threads that interest you and stick to topics that you prefer to discuss at the speed in which you're most comfortable.

What usually discerns forums from other communication media is the level of passion, knowledge, and reference. Forums are often focused on specific niches, but the types of people who join forums tend to be more passionate about the overall forum topic. Gardening forums, for instance, can be a wealth of knowledge for an amateur gardener, who can ask questions and discuss topics with other people who are just as passionate about gardening without feeling overwhelmed by chatter activity. A forum you enjoy might focus on something yet still have amazing conversations about tertiary topics, such video game forum that sometimes discusses the implications of gaming addiction. This can also mean forums can be harder to find, though, so take your time finding a community that fits.

Users can also be as anonymous as they want to be, and posts stay online much longer than chat messages. Be aware of how much you share, and be mindful of how much personal information you're putting online.

Posts on forums usually use either BBCode or Markdown to format posts, but usually, there will be guides on the forum itself on how to use its formatting of choice. It's not complicated, though, and most forums offer a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor for posts.

What does forum participation look like?

Being a good netizen of a forum generally means following the rules of that forum, and standard internet rules apply: be kind and remember there's a person behind the screen. Be sure to read the forum's rules, which are usually enforced by a moderation team.

Forums tend to favor long-form conversation. Don't reply to things with one-word responses like "cool" or "I don't get it" with no follow up. Why do you not get it? What is cool about it? You don't have to write multiple paragraphs with every post, but because you often will not get a response right away, it's good to cut down on confusion by being as clear as possible. When the person you are replying to sees your message, isn't it better they reply in a way that is helpful (if help is needed) rather than having to ask you to clarify?

Be aware of the forum structure. A lot of forums have carefully organized boards and specific spots to put each type of question you may have or cool thing you may want to share. Participation is most important when it comes to forums, though, so don't be afraid to start a new topic or thread. Moderators will often just move the thread to an appropriate topic if you mess up, so no harm, no foul!

Part of the fun of forums is being able to style your signature and avatar, which can reflect you and your interests. Sites like Avatar Abyss and Picrew can help you find an avatar that fits you if you don't want to create your own. Signatures can either be plain text, link to things you care about, or show a snazzy banner that reflects your personality. WikiHow has a tutorial for creating forum signatures, but feel free to get inspiration from other users on the forum.

Be Mindful of the Culture

Online communities have to be careful of nefarious community members that can lead someone to be groomed or radicalized into bigotry and hate. This is especially true for self-hosted web forums, which can bypass many common platform rules that would have otherwise removed the community from platforms. While this may seem like something that can be easily avoidable, it can happen subtly and over time, especially to young people. Before joining any online forums, be aware of signs of online grooming and radicalization. Since forum users can be more anonymous, be aware that folks you talk to might not be who they say they are and might capitalize on feelings of isolation and loneliness. Learn how radicalizers work so you can protect yourself.

Memes are especially easy to hide bigotry behind, as the offending user might just say it's "dark humor" or "irony," but all it does is continue to normalize hateful and discriminatory behavior. Is the joke just that someone is different and not "normal" (e.g. a trans person just being who they are), or is it to cope with a difficult concept (e.g. death or trauma)? Maintaining critical thought, and skepticism, is healthy in online discourse, and this can help with determining what forum content you might be dealing with.

Don't forget that you can leave a community at any time, and you do not owe anyone a goodbye. There's no need to change yourself in order to fit in to any online community, as there's so many out there who will accept you for who you are. If folks are pressuring you to think a certain way or trying to persuade you into doing or talking about things you might be uncomfortable with, leave immediately.

Currently Active Forums

While we previously linked to a variety of forums through the 32-Bit Cafe's linkroll, we actually have found too many to list, so the community has compiled them here. These are forums that tend to be more on the positive side of the internet, so we're happy to showcase them here as an introduction to forums in general. The 32-Bit Cafe doesn't co-sign anything written or talked about on the forums below, but we wanted to share regardless.

Forums that 32-Bit Cafe members enjoy are starred.

This is not where the list ends, our fingers just got tired! Due to the nature of forums being decentralized communities, it might be harder to find comprehensive lists of forums that encompass a wide range of interests, outside of Wikipedia's lengthy list of active forums that include some large communities as well as some unsavory ones. You can always look through the ProBoards Forum Directory for communities as well. On your search engine of choice, search an interest of yours and the word forum, and you just might find a community of like-minded individuals!