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An Internet forum (aka message board or discussion board) is a web application that provides for online discussions, and is the modern descendant of the bulletin board systems and existing Usenet news systems that were widespread in the 1980s and 1990s. An Internet forum typically exists as part of a website and invites users to start topics and discuss issues with one another. Sometimes, a forum even comprises most, if not all, of the content of a site. Compared to wikis, Internet forums don't allow users to edit the forum posts of other users; however, administrators and moderators generally have the capability of doing this.
Typically, common Internet forum software will allow the webmaster or administrator to define several forums (or fora) which act as containers for topics or threads started by users. Other users can post replies to topics and start new ones as they wish.
Internet forums are divided between those requiring registration and those allowing users to post anonymously. In the former, users choose a username and password, and may be required to submit an e-mail address for confirmation. Members are often allowed to customize their board experience with special items such as avatars and profiles.
Certain users may be given moderator privileges, which may include the ability to delete posts and topics, move topics to other forums, edit posts, or other mechanisms designed to keep the peace and uphold the rules set out by the webmaster. Who exactly will become a moderator is decided by the webmaster or by some kind of pseudorandom process possibly combined with meta-moderation. Such a system is used on Slashdot. Many different moderation systems exist and webmasters are free to choose rules for their own forums.
A forum can be flat, meaning that each reply within a certain topic is listed in chronological order; or threaded, where each post descends from a parent post. Sites often provide several different views which combine aspects of both flat and threaded modes.
Many Internet Forum software packages are available, usually written in PHP, Perl, or Java, and run by a CGI or Java Servlet. Data and configuration are usually stored in an SQL database (such as MySQL) or a series of text files. Each provides different features: the most basic restricting users to text-only posting, the most advanced allowing users to insert multimedia elements and formatting in to their posts using HTML or BBCode. Packages are often integrated within weblogs or news posting scripts (such as PHP-Nuke) to allow people to post comments on articles or entries.
It is interesting that many Internet forums tend to develop into social communities, with their own social rules and even language forming a subculture. Some members organize social events, sometimes involving extensive international travel. It is not uncommon for members to marry people (sometimes from different countries) they have met on the forum.
Despite being an Internet tool, one thus popularly supposed to be part of the trends of anti-literacy, forums generate a huge amount of writing in posts. In sharp contrast to other Internet technologies such as instant messaging, many forum users often abide by correct spelling, grammar, and other rules of writing. The sheer amount of composition in such forums is sometimes thought to have exceeded the number of standard letters written.
List of Internet forum software
- Burning Board
- Ideal Bulletin Board
- Invision Power Board
- Jive Forums
- Open Bulletin Board
- Simple Machines
- Snitz Forums 2000