What’s the difference (other than public access) between this and MemberSpeak [IABC’s member-only discussion forum]? Will one not cannibalize off the other? Will this just become MemberSpeak rebranded with a hip, new moniker so we all feel cool? (Which still makes it a great idea!)
As it hasn’t yet been addressed, I’d like to comment on it here. It’s a very good question, one I’ve also been asked a few times. What is the difference?
First, let’s look at some similarities.
With both blogs and discussion forums (or newsgroups, chat groups, discussion threads… there are many different names for essentially the same thing), you can post a comment, and comment on other comments and so develop discussions. In both cases, you can leave comments which may or may not be moderated; and usually (but not always) you have to identify yourself with a name and email address.
Broadly, that’s where the similarities end.
In comparison to blogs, discussion forums are highly structured. You log in – not a requirement on the majority of blogs – and typically see an index of topics or categories (which can contain other topics), within which are comments, usually organized in date order. Think of it as a little like the hard drive on your computer and the folder/directory structure. Usually, to start posting your own comments, you need to register on a forum with a user ID and possibly an avatar (a little graphic). Many discussion forums enable you to sign up for email notification whenever new comments or replies are posted to a discusson you’re interested in. You can also communicate directly with other forum members online through private messaging. And forums will typically show who’s online at a given time, plus provide statistical info, eg, how many comments posted over what period of time.
Blogs, on the other hand, are collections of posts (articles). While these are usually structured (organized by category), that isn’t an essential requirement as it is with discussion forums. Commenting is not the primary reason for a blog’s existence: the posting (content, in other words) is the rationale for a blog, not the commenting. A significant differentiator is the ability blogs have to connect a post with content on other blogs through the trackback capability (definition) of many blogs, and to notify blog services through pinging (definiton) whenever a particular blog has new or updated content.
Probably the most significant differentiator is RSS (definition) – the ability to syndicate your blog content to anyone who wants to receive it. (I’m sure discussion forums can also do this, but I don’t see RSS offered on any of the dozen or so different forums I belong to. One likely reason: each of the forums is private, so broadcasting RSS info would compromise that privacy.)
Most of the above are really the technical commonalities and differentiators. And no doubt there are other things I’ve not mentioned.
At the end of the day, what really matters is how you can answer three simple questions:
- How easy are they are to use? The more hoops and hurdles you have to jump through and over, the less lilely you are to want to participate.
- Is the content compelling enough to make you want to comment as well as come back again to develop discussions or conversations?
- Do you feel that the blog or forum is credible and warrants your trust as an open and honest communication channel? If you feel there are ‘censors’ lurking, or some or all of the content isn’t produced in a way you’ve been led to believe, that will diminish such attributes for you.
Each channel has its value, without doubt. I’d hazard a strong guess, though, that for inter-relating and developing online conversations, blogs will soon surpass structured discussion forums as the informal communication channel of choice for most people.