Digital discussions

Since its earliest days, e-mail has always been valued as a quick and easy two-way communication tool.

By Len O'Neal December 1, 1998

Since its earliest days, e-mail has always been valued as a quick and easy two-way communication tool. Therefore, it’s easy to see why online discussion forums, which are basically public e-mail threads, have evolved into popular tools for people with similar interests to share ideas, voice opinions, and find solutions.

Using an online forum is simple. In most cases, a user posts a question with the hope that other users of the forum will see it and provide a valuable answer, or at least direct the user to useful resources. An estimated 20 million users participate in 25,000 forums, and according to the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), 36% of internet users post messages at least once a week.

A large reason for the growing popularity of online discussion forums was the conversion of 60,000 internet discussion forums, including 14,000 Usenet newsgroups, to a web-based interface in 1995, compliments of Deja News ( Deja News has since improved the interface through the addition of common web offerings (channels and personalization), yet the backbone of the online discussion forums — the simple posting of text-based messages — remains intact.

Now, instead of having to remember the specific hierarchy for a particular newsgroup or forum — Did I post my message in sci.engr.television. advanced or sci.engr.television.broadcast? — you can perform a keyword search of all the forums or a selected topic area, browse the descriptive channel topics that lead to listings of specific forums, or create your own personalized page of frequently visited forums.

Serving your community

The use of online discussion forums is viewed as a critical component in the effort to build a sense of community for internet users. In a recent survey by GIT’s Graphic, Visualization, & Usability Center, under the category called Community Building, 45% of the respondents claimed to be “MORE connected with people like me” since getting on the internet.

At Deja News, you are sure to find many useful “communities.” For example, there are several forums available in Science/Engineering (sci.engr.):

– sci.engr.control — control systems in industrial applications

– sci.engr.heat-vent-ac — HVAC systems

– sci.engr.joining.welding — welding processes and systems

– sci.engr.manufacturing — manufacturing processes and procedures, including quality assurance

– sci.engr.mech — mechanical engineering processes and analysis

– — safety designs, materials, and issues to development of products and systems

To enter any of these forums from the Deja News home page, simply click on the “Science” topic link, followed by the “Engineering” link.

As for the use of discussion forums on Plant Engineering Online , stay tuned for next month’s Web Update, which will cover this and other changes you can expect to see on the site in 1999.