Harness benefits of discussion forums


This is my humble initiative to share with the readers some basic guidelines to make the best use of discussion forums. Though the points discussed may be very preliminary and basic, I hope, from a realtime experience, these go a long way in getting the best benefits from discussion forums of any kind.

Introduction


Web-based Discussion Forums, Email discussion groups are no wonder undoubtedly the best ways of resolving any of the problems we have under the Sun. Not just that, we get wide exposure to the area that we are researching and delving into.

At the same time, the topic that we are researching and resolving the problem in the discussion forum, also becomes like a knowledgebase, which search engines help future readers to make use of the same.

While visiting the Questions section, I just encountered a portion of the questions with subject likes 'Urgent', 'Can you please help' and some questions which just says 'hi' and a very short incomplete description of the problem. I was just thinking of writing this article to address this gap that we normally encounter in many forums for that matter.

The Basic Homework


No wonder, the moment you get a doubt, you can throw it in a discussion forum of your choice, get an expedited resolution from experts surfing your questions. But there are little homework that you can d, to make best the use of discussion forums:

As we discussed previously, topics of discussion, eventually become like a open knowledgebase. Hence, the problem in your hand may have been already discussed sometime previously. Your best bet would be to follow some homework in the following lines.

  • Put Google or your favorite search engine to work.

  • Try up your vendor or its parner websites and/or knowledgebases.

  • Search any of the offline manuals for the product you are using.

  • Try out any related weblog linked to (2) above. Most of these would be discussed there like in http://blogs.msdn.com/



Now seeking discussion forums...


Now having exploited all channels and still to find a resolution to your problem on hand, you can consider discussing it in an appropriate forum. There are little guidelines and thumbrules that you can follow to make the post elicit the very best response from experts and also get up you with a good reputation in discussion forums.



  • Identify the discussion forum category of your choice. Do not attempt cross posting across categories and to all discussion forums on earth. Regular forum posters often visit multiple forums and likely to get intimidated seeing ditto posts in multiple forums by same user. The end result, you stand to lose significant percentage of expert-assistance from regular contributors.

  • Make the subject as crisp and clear as possible. Everyone knows that your deliverable is important and so is theirs. They visit the forum on thier own time and resources to help their peers. Just by using the words 'Urgent', 'Please Help', you can not simply attract the attention of experts visiting the forums.

    Experts scan the list of postings and open only those threads' description which they feel they can help the best. So let the subject line be very clear and crisp as possible.
    You can not also afford raising a sympathy wave by using 'Is nobody to help me'. Discussion forums are intended for peer to peer help and may not always be charity discussions, unless the website has a discussion forum like Lounge just like CodeProject, Experts-Exchange has.

  • Do not attempt using a Private Message option in the messages posted to contact the Experts. Discussion forums are intended to ensure that you throw open your problem in open and some expert who is free and willing to help can attend to your query. Your Private message option would defeat this purpose since you are trying to extract work from a special effort like a Premium service, which some experts may not be supporting.

    To this perspective, I would like to bring to your attention that colloborative forums like Experts-Exchange disallow private messages.

  • If somebody else has answered or posted a comment to your question that seems to be unrelated or not to the point or may not be working, politely regret and request for clarity. If it is abusive, then you take to a redressal with the forum admin or the site webmaster. Do not flame or use harsh words in your reply, which in fact talks negative about your profile to the community at large.

  • If the forum supports screenshots/attachments, then give simple (interlaced) GIF files so that experts can provide expedited resolution to your problem on hand. You can also alternatively, try hosting a screenshot in your personal website and linking the same, provided your web host supports remote loading. There are many forum-supportive remoteloading image hosts as well.

  • Do not embed Scripting code in your posts, unless you are sure the forum is capable of displaying it as source code and would not execute. This is purely for security reasons to avoid cross site scripting vulnerabilities.

  • Use simple plain vanilla ASCII text. Jazzy HTML signatures, flash-loaded embedded GIFs detract the attention of the viewers.

  • Check for typos and grammar breakages. Nothing is more disgusting than broken language.



Summary



I hope, thouse these may be very small tips but it would pave a strong foundation to at least beginning forum users to make the best use of discussion forums in achieving resolutions to their problems. Perhaps regular posters too would find these useful. Please share your comments and experiences visiting diversified technical forums around the web.


Comments

Author: Brainstorming Guy05 Dec 2005 Member Level: Gold   Points : 0

Hi,
Very good guidelines. Thanks for sharing it...

Regards,
Brainstorming Guy aka Venkatarajan A



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