Blogs Can Learn Something From Forums

I just want to make some highly unscientific observations about the differences between blog posts and forums as ways to initiate community on your site. Blogs are all the rage now and it seems like forums kind of get a bum rap as being “Web 1.0″ or something. In reality, the forum technology was probably one of the harbingers of the so-called “Web 2.0″. Web 2.0 is all about sharing and collaboration, no?

I have mentioned before that in my spare (ha!) time, I am the “Commissioner” of a baseball simulation league. That league has a very tight community of the 24 owners involved in the league (and a few other “friends of the league”). We’ve been active for four years now and the majority of our communication is done on our private forums (login is required to even read it—and I bounce any requests for logins that are not associated with the league).

In those four years, we have racked up (as of this second) just short of 84,000 posts on over 7,000 topics. The TWML also has a blog. For the first couple of years, the site was a static HTML site. When I introduced the blog, I found that not many of my users were RSS-savvy. So, I would often make posts in the forum saying there was new material on the blog. So, comments would get split up (mostly) on the forum and (some) on the blog. Between that and the increased spam, I decided to just forgo comments. This is a forum crowd.

Here, of course, I run a blog with comments (and no forum). I’ve noticed quite a few differences between the two and have dreams about a perfect marriage of the two. Achieving this is not a technical issue, it is more of a find-a-slice-of-time-in-the-day-to-do-it thing. That said, I don’t have a big enough community here to worry about it yet. I do have some repeat commenters—and you know I love you—but we’re not getting lost in who is who yet.

So, enough ramblings. Some observations.

Forums provide each individual community member with a more concrete “identity”.

Most blogs don’t require a login to leave a comment. So, say that I leave comments on a blog with the names “Adam”, “Adam D”, “Traces of Inspiration”, “adarowski” and so on. What is my unique identifier that ties everything into my central identity on the blog? I suppose you could take the email address or ULR as the identifier, but it is way too easy to forge something in a blog comment. I mean… what’s to say I can’t post a comment pretending to be someone else? It’s up to either the site admin to double check ISPs or the person being imitated to say “Hey, that ain’t me.” With forums, there is a registration process that weeds this out.

Also, maybe it is the digital packrat in me, but I’d like to see everything I’ve contributed at a glance. It’s not just to see what I’ve contributed, but what others. Say you see a really intelligent comment on a blog. With (at least most) blogs, you can’t really do a “view all comments by this user”. It’s more of a “I think I’ve seen this name before.”

Forums have much better built-in mechanisms for showing what is new since your last visit.

When I log into the TWML forums, all the posts with “new” replies have a shrewdly labeled “new” image next to them. When I click on that image, it takes me to the last post made since my last visit. Do you have any idea how much I wish this was available in the blogs I visit? With many blogs, if the community is TOO big, then I just can’t keep up with the comments. But for sites like Jeremiah’s, Dan’s, or Brian’s, I like to read each comment. But you just can’t do this in any way that is useful.

One way could be is if the site had an RSS feed for all comments. This WOULD be cool, if more sites had it available (I’m speaking directly to you here, Jeremiah ;)). There are even downsides to this, though. Maybe I don’t want ALL the comments. Maybe I just want to read comments about the threads that I commented on. Many blogs allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds for individual posts’ comments. But come on. Our feedreaders are getting too full as it is. And what about the kids that aren’t hip to the R-double-S?

How ’bout this? I like a blog, so I can actually register for an “account” on it. I have a username, login, the whole business. I come back to the blog for the first time in a few days. Next to each topic, where it says “X Comments”, there is also a “(X New)” if I’m logged in. Click on that and it jumps to the anchor of the first one I’ve missed. Excellent.

Do all of your users need to register? Nope. Just the ones that want to be able to track their own responses (or have their responses tracked for others) and more easily see what is new since their last visit. Not everyone lives in their feedreader. Especially for design blogs, you want to read it in the author’s design.

In its crudest form, a blog is a forum where the blog author starts each topic.

So, say you have a blog where you post music reviews. Your users may want to discuss different bands that you haven’t covered yet. Where do they do that if you only have blog commenting?

Sometimes blog comments AND a forum could be the way to go. Many communities have very active “Off Topic” sections, and that could take place in the forum. One thing that bugs me though… if I made both forum replies AND blog comments, I’d like to see both of those at a glance, too. So attach both to the same “account”. Don’t have me logged into the forum and then make me go and enter all my login info if I try to make a blog comment. I want them attached to each other.

That’s it for now. This isn’t really as much about forums, but more about some features I’d like to see in blogs I frequent. Forums tell me what has gone on since I last visited. Blogs, as cool as they are, simply do not.

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