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Crucial Differences Between Blogs And Forums As Tools For Two-way Interactive Online Communications

   By: Oleg Ilin

I mentioned in my previous articles that RSS technology can be successfully used as an improved substitute for emails.

People simply subscribe to RSS feeds and they can use multiple RSS Readers to read those feeds. All major search engines - Google, Yahoo! and MSN now offer personalized "home pages" for their readers and the ability to subscribe to numerous feeds from those pages, and to read them right there. So they all now have built-in RSS Readers, so to speak.

What I didn't quite realize before is that blogs can now also perform many functions of forums. In fact, forums in the future might give up most of their power of interactive two-way communications to blogs.

Why? Let's look at forums closely. What are the main purposes of forums? To provide the place for people with certain common interests to hang out and to interact with each other and to interactively communicate with the host of the forum.

When the publisher of the newsletter sends e-mails to the list of his subscribers, it's a one-way communication. If he really cares about his subscribers, he wants to provide them with the way to communicate back to him, to ask questions, to give their opinion, tell about likes and dislikes, request additional information on the particular subject, etc.

Emails are not really a choice anymore, many publishers receive so much spam that they simply delete e-mails from un-known sources.

So forum is a great way to create a community, to let people help each other and let them talk to other people and to the host of the forum.

Also, it's a great way to create new content on auto-pilot. Hopefully you will have a few knowledgeable members in your forum and they will post thoughtful answers to other people questions. And those answers will lead to new questions, and on, and on, and on.

You just got yourself a constantly growing source of useful unique content, and search engines love fresh unique content.

However there are a few noticeable drawbacks in the forum structure. First, when you let people to freely communicate with each other, they unfortunately have a tendency not only to help other people, but bash them as well. Some are helping, others are bashing. You want your forum to stay a friendly place where people are willing to help each other, so you need to take some administrative steps - hire moderators, ban "bad apples", etc.

Also, it's not so easy to give forum a life. You need to get at least a few hundred people to subscribe to your forum in a short period of time, or it will slowly die. And you need to keep people active.

Even if your forum is thriving (which is of course a good thing), you have another issue. it's hard to maintain control over the topics in the forum. You created it with a purpose of discussing certain topics, but in a while forum will start living the life of it's own and you never know what other topic will pop-up. It may be a good thing, it may be a bad thing. But it certainly doesn't help to keep this place in a line with your initial concept.

Ok, so let's summarize the drawbacks of the forums: possible bashing posts and additional administration costs, forums are hard to launch, hard to keep the posts in a line with your initial concept.

Now let's look at blogs. They have a fantastic feature called "comments". That means any person who visited your site may leave a comment about your post (if you enabled comments in your blog settings, of course). They may tell you what they like, what they don't like, ask you questions, etc.

Those comments could be followed by the comments from other people about previous comments, questions, answers, recommendations - and you get the ball rolling.

It's up to you to decide, however, whether to post any particular comment on your blog or not. If the comment bashes another visitor or doesn't add any value to your blog, why should you bother posting it? Simply delete it and the end of story.

And with blogs people tend to keep discussion close to the topic of the post, thus allowing you to maintain the theme in line with your concept.

Which of forum's drawback haven't I covered yet? Launch? Well, with blog it's a breeze. You're not launching the place for interactive communication per se, you already have a blog. So you simply email your list and let them know that you provided them with a place to ask you questions.

You don't have to bother whether you have a one question or dozen for this particular post. The blog won't die as long as you're posting new information on it. Some people will like one post, others will want to comment on another - and that's how you get your interactive community, with little effort and no headaches!

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Copyright@ 2005 Oleg Ilin

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