Op-ed by Luc Vezina, CEO at Vanilla Forums
The tenacious online forum
Email is dead. Browsers are dead. Forum software is dead. If you’ve been following tech for more than a few years, you’re probably used to this refrain from the commentariat. In fact, all these technologies are as relevant as ever even if they have gone through periods of innovation and dormancy.
Internet forums are one of the original killer apps that brought people to the Internet and were a precursor to today’s broad social networks. Many people thought that Facebook and others like it would kill off forums but in fact, it turns out that social media inadvertently created a resurgence of demand for forums and a new batch of forum software vendors.
The rise of social networks brought the interactivity of the internet to the mainstream but it turns out that building a community of people with a focused common interest on top of a social network has not panned out. People aren’t satisfied with just using a product or watching a TV show anymore, they want it to be a shared experience, but not necessarily shared with the same friends, family or colleagues that they are linked to on Facebook or Twitter.
Increasingly, brands (from barbeque vendors, to political movements, to online media to YouTube stars) have been launching online communities with a forum as its centerpiece. Forums provide brands with many benefits, including: their customers or audience can interact in a branded environment, it can reduce support costs, and it’s great for SEO. Perhaps more importantly, brand owners don’t have to fear the rug being pulled from under their community initiative if they own and control the software that runs it.
Consumers love online forums because they offer pseudonymity (a persistent identity that one can develop overtime, that is separate from your true identity). Forums also appeal to consumers because they are usually focused on a single topic, and because they’re easy to use.
The first batch of forum software vendors released their first products in the late 90s and early 2000s. Products like vBulletin and phpBB dominated and to this day power tens of thousands of forums. Many of these early platforms did not keep up with the changes that came with web 2.0 and opened the door to a new crop of vendors.
Vanilla Forums, founded in 2009 was one of the first to modernize forum software by improving usability, making it mobile friendly and offering it as a cloud-based service. Other new entrants include Discourse, an open source Rails project and Muut, a web-based freemium product. Other forum vendors include Jive Software and Lithium that provide a customer support focused forum solution to large enterprises. Forums are also increasingly showing up as features in CRM suites such as Salesforce.com and Zendesk. There has never been more choice of good forum software.
Luc Vezina is the CEO of Vanilla Forums. Vanilla’s cloud-based forum software lets you build an engaging community that is true to your brand. Vanilla’s customers include Penny Arcade, Hubspot, Kixeye, Adobe and Edmunds.
Main image credit: propheticdreamers.com
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