Monday, January 4, 2010

The Value of Forums

In recent years I have come to value blogs and other social networking sites. It has been rewarding to meet people with similar professional interests. In addition to new and potential clients, I have built a healthy network of experts that I exchange ideas with often. It is exciting to wonder what the next decade will bring when you consider that social networking software was not even thought of a decade ago – or was it? It is true that Twitter, Facebook, Live, LinkedIn and others are still fairly recent phenomena, but I recall using forums prior to the turn of the millennium. In fact, some suggest that the earliest web forum software was W3 Interactive Talk (WIT), created in June 1994, but Google has USENET archives dating to May 1991.

Do people still use forums? Absolutely! I would suggest that they are more popular today than ever before. Blogs have their place. Personally, I subscribe to over eighty blogs in my RSS reader. I read my favorite bloggers and favorite product blogs to stay current, and I share my favorite articles using FriendFeed. Still, though, I am limited to a relatively small number of authors and their experiences. Enter web forums…

Many people think of forums as a last resort – if they cannot solve the problem themselves or through other conventional means, they may post a question on a technical forum. While that is not a bad strategy, I want to also make the case for forums as a preventative maintenance tool. Think of the event log on your servers. Many people do not look at their event logs until they have a problem they are trying to diagnose. If they had seen the warnings in the event viewer before the “disaster”, however, they may have prevented unnecessary downtime. That is why I visit the SharePoint Forums regularly – not because I am trying to solve a particular problem, but because I want to see what business or technical challenges that other people are facing. It may be that I or a client will eventually face the same challenge. The new forums provide some cutting edge social networking features, too. If I help someone solve a business or technical problem, then they can rate me, recommend me or follow me.

My favorite SharePoint forums are Microsoft’s Technet Forums and Developer Network Forums. They are essentially one and the same with only a few subtle differences. .NET developers who are fans of the popular forum will be pleased to know that there is now a forum. As you consider the case that I make for forums and other social networking software, do some introspection and consider how these same technologies could enhance knowledge sharing in your own organization. Watch for a future post about the new social networking features in SharePoint 2010. Happy New Year!

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