The internet has provided a level of emancipation for people in that it has taken much of the legwork out of finding and exchanging information. It allows people to exchange ideas and ask for ideas for solving problems in peer forums.
Peer forums started to spring up in the early 2000s, primarily set up among groups of like-minded individuals who share a common interest. In around 2003 to 2004, organisations started to see the value of setting up forums for their customers to exchange information and ideas, or provide feedback on products.
This has become particularly prevalent among technology vendors, providing them with the advantages that they can receive information that can allow them to improve products, as well as providing a service to customers that are likely to engender loyalty.
Today, forums have become a tremendous asset for all sorts of users, and especially for professionals that are looking to overcome issues that are unclear or new to them. For some needs, online training and tutorials are fine, but they are often too comprehensive for quickly finding an answer to a specific problem.
They provide an alternative to online support which, even from the largest technology vendor, can be difficult to obtain as this will often require that a specialist resource be available.
Forums can sometimes provide a more effective way of receiving answers to specific, often very technical questions as they allow professionals to connect with their peers who may have encountered similar, if not the same issues and can offer advice as to how to solve the issue. Many times, the advice offered can be invaluable and can save professionals a lot of time that would otherwise be wasted trying to find an answer.
An example of a technology vendor offering a wide range of forums for their communities of users is Microsoft, which provides a very wide range of forums, newsgroups and user groups covering all the products and programmes that it offers. One example is its WebsiteSpark programme, under which there are 60 forums concentrating on issues with Visual Studio alone. There are also more than 2,000 well-managed and moderated newsgroups, accessible in a wide range of languages. This programme is aimed at micro web development and design agencies with fewer than ten employees. Access to forums and newsgroups is of particular value to such firms as they have few resources and may often lack the specific expertise needed in-house to solve a particular problem.
The benefits of joining communities such as those offered by Microsoft, and especially specific programmes such as WebsiteSpark offered to small companies of specialist web developers and designers is the scale and reach of the community.
Their communities are also well moderated, so that comments will be kept at a professional level. But, if there were an area for criticism, it would be that it is sometimes hard to find the resources that you are looking for as the offering is so comprehensive. It’s likely to be there, but finding the right resource can at times be challenging.