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Internet Entrepreneurs Blog

Data Ranching Software: Forums

November 7th, 2007

Forums are all over the Internet, covering topics ranging far and wide – and they are data ranches. An organizer opens forums on a particular topic and waits for users to show up and join the conversation (and hopefully add data to the ranch).

The great thing about forums is that they are so ubiquitous. Almost everyone knows how to use them by now and they’re generally very accessible. Just enter your screen name and email address and you can become an instant contributor. Forums are generally easy to organize and to navigate and these days most users are pretty savvy about posting photos, videos, and even HTML.

More importantly, forums are one of the better “data ranches” at creating a virtuous cycle of data growth. That is, the more data and information that is posted, the more data and information a forum will attract. The bigger your ranch gets, the faster it grows.

Forums are not the ideal way to organize answers or knowledge on a particular topic due to the free-flowing nature of conversations. A great answer to your question may be posted halfway through a discussion but you’d have to read the entire thread just to find the single nugget. As such, forums can be time consuming to navigate. It’s as if your ranch allows pigs, cows, and horses to roam freely into one another’s pens – so you never know where to look for your prize sow!

And while forum members may have “status markers” denoting their levels of expertise, users generally view all posted information through a skeptical lens. Likewise, new members often find themselves the subject of “flames” for posting a question that has already been answered elsewhere – as if users are expected to read the entire complicated, crudely organized knowledge base before seeking help. Poor information organization is frustrating to knowledge seekers and knowledge owners alike.

Data ranching with forum software is an excellent idea, particularly when the goal is community interaction. For building a knowledge base of fact-based information, however, consider a data ranch alternative to forums.

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