Until recently, I had come to the conclusion that web forums were dead. When it came to new sites or conversations about web technologies forums were something I avoided all together. Forums just didn't seem to fit within the current paradigm of web technologies and there seemed to be better ways to have the same kind of communication. That was until recently when I saw a variation of forums that works in this new paradigm.
The History and Difference
Forums came out of the old usenet channels. When we started transitioning to web based software usenet type conversations migrated into web forums. These forums not only had topics based on the site they resided on but, the topics were defined in the categories of the forums.
I always found it awkward to try and figure out what forum to put my post in. This is a usability failure. As someone posting I had to think way to hard and take to many steps to post.
This forced structure from the site maintainers is a far cry from the new paradigm of web technologies that relies on organic conversations and simple steps to have them.
Forums In The New Paradigm
Twitter is a perfect example of this new conversation paradigm. Conversations happen and they have backchannel topics in them. The conversations change, fork, and merge over time. Twitter has no defined categories to niche these conversations into. They free flow. Yet, with search you can follow them and where they are going.
At its root, the new paradigm in the web based conversations is they lack site defined categories and allow for free flow organic conversation. This is at the root of forums not working for me.
Then came along Stack Overflow and its family of sites. Instead of a defined organization it allows for free form discussions and backchannel conversations. Yet, it still fills the hole for the same type of conversations forums did. It's the next major revision to the idea of forums.
What's really powerful about Stack Overflow is that I don't need to look for a place or try to figure out the right place to post. I just post. Through tags on the post I can follow the backchannel conversations. I can follow the topics, the trends, and the ideas.
If you're considering a forum for your site it might be time to consider something a little different. Take a look at the Stack Overflow style conversations and consider those over forums.