Friday, March 25, 2005

Curious about Groups, Forums, Discussion Boards and Lists? Are They Worth the Time and Effort?

I am a member of several Internet groups, forums, discussion boards and lists. Yes, they do take time and effort - even if you are just a “lurker” (someone who is a member and reads others’ posts, but seldom or never takes part by posting).

My question is, “Are they worth the time and effort?” I say “yes” with the caveat that we need to choose wisely where to spend our time.

Here are the reasons I belong to the five active ones of which I am a member and take part in:
  • They work much like a mastermind group, where I can bounce ideas off others, along with reading others’ ideas and the reactions to them.
  • They make me think about subjects that I might not consider addressing.
  • By formulating answers to others’ questions and statements, I clarify my own thoughts and beliefs.
  • I have learned more than I could compile in a long book. And, the links to important websites shared have filled my favorites list.
  • By taking part and contributing (even though there are times when I am forced to be a lurker) I have received clients, subscriptions to my e-newsletters, visitors to my websites (and blog!) and buyers of my products.
  • The best part is that I have developed so many great friendships and relationships with people from all over the world.

The next question is, “What makes a group, forum, discussion board, or list successful and worthwhile?”

Here are the answers that I have observed for myself:

  • It needs to be active with a group of non-lurkers who are willing to share information and take part in discussions.
  • The messages can’t be filled with fluff and too much chitchat and silliness - although some is OK.
  • There should be diplomacy and courtesy.
  • I also enjoy controversy, as long as it is accompanied by the above. One of the members of my favorite group just pointed out that by introducing a bit of controversy, he precipitated a good amount of interaction and also many postings by lurkers.
  • Respect for each other rates high on my list of requirements.

The final question is, “What will make you leave or drop off a group?”

These are my observations and also reasons others have given me:

  • Conflict that gets out-of-hand. Fortunately, the one group that has suffered from conflict, has a moderator who removes the perpetrator from the group when conflict reaches an unbearable level.
  • Too much trivia and chitchat as opposed to real and useful content.
  • Threads (topics) that don’t hold my interest any longer - or never did!
  • And, if someone else or I post a thoughtful - and even lengthy and well researched - message and never receive a “thank you” or reply, we can feel unappreciated. Once or twice, I can understand, but repeatedly it is the “kiss of death.”

Finally, I suggest trying a variety of groups, forums, discussion boards and lists that relate to your interests and/or career - just like you do with organizations. When you find the ones that you enjoy and are worthwhile, start giving of yourself and your expertise and you will receive more in return than you can imagine!