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Blogger culture: Forums a dying art?

Posted by gregwarner, 26 August 2011 · 1290 views

I'm writing this entry purely as an observation of a phenomenon that appears to be increasing in frequency.

I'm speaking of course of the tendency for new forum submitters to post their help-related questions to the blogs rather than the help forums specifically intended for this use. Surely, forums aren't becoming that convoluted, are they?

I've been using the Internet since the trailing edge of the bulletin board era, and so when forums such as this one began to develop, I learned their ins-and-outs and usefulness rather quickly, a skill that stays with me to this day. But the paradigm of the world wide web is shifting toward a blogger-oriented one.

Microblogging sites such as Twitter are becoming the mainstream way to communicate, even pushing email and IM out the door in certain arenas. The ubiquity and instantaneous nature of these new services have had a direct part in their success, and I welcome all these new innovations with open arms.

But older methods of communication still have their place. Email is still essential to business, and, to bring it full circle, forums are still essential to knowledge-based communities such as CodeCall. The tools available in a forum thread far surpass the usefulness of a blog entry when it comes to getting help. So why do people still post their questions in the blogs?

My degree is in Communication, and for my thesis work, I conducted research on the growing popularity of text messaging (SMS). This was a few years ago before the boom of microblogging, but I would argue that my theories would still apply. I was able to show that, although we have decades of solid communication theory that serves very well to explain a huge amount of human behavior, those theories break down in an instantaneous/ubiquitous communication paradigm such as SMS. My research revealed that in this paradigm, human behavior changes and no longer conforms to the expected outcome proven by tried and true theories of the Communication Discipline. Times are changing, and so are people.

In my thesis, I made the analogy of moving from classical physics to quantum physics. The well-proven laws of classical physics break down in the new sub-microscopic paradigm of the quantum world. Old theories no longer apply, and it is necessary to develop new strategies and theories to explain this new world we've encountered. The same goes for communication.

Perhaps it is the blogger mentality of the modern internet user that compels them to move toward the blog when they wish to communicate a thought. In the mind of the modern individual, this makes sense, especially if they are post-forum/bulletin board era.

For a pre-blogger era person such as myself, I plainly see the need for forums, email, and other "antiquated" forms of communication. But I mustn't take it for granted that everybody sees it that way.

Now then, what should we do with this current data?

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There have actually been discussions about why people seem to gravitate towards using the blogging feature on this site instead of the forums. I wonder if some people find the structured nature of a forum a challenge to their immediate desire to communicate. If they see the BLOG button posted prominently, and don't see an appropriate place on the top of the main page, perhaps they simply go to the blog from the desire to communicate quickly, rather than respecting the purpose.

Another interesting question would be whether there is a correlation between programming skill and proper use of a forum with a blog feature. Do people with programming talent look for what meets their purpose, rather than just what's before them?
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Another interesting question would be whether there is a correlation between programming skill and proper use of a forum with a blog feature. Do people with programming talent look for what meets their purpose, rather than just what's before them?

I have no research to back this up, but I would personally guess that it doesn't necessarily depend on programming skill so much as it does the communication paradigm the person is used to operating in. (But that's just because my degree is in Communication: I interpret my whole world through that lens.) Modern internet users, especially the younger generation, view the internet as a collection of "snippits". Microblog posts and status updates are a good example of this. Composed and sent quickly, there's often no context for their existence, which does have a certain charming aspect to it at times.

This "snippit" paradigm has a weakly formed concept of conversation threads. (Weakly formed does not necessarily mean inferior, just less formally defined and structured.) One may reply to a Twitter post, but only the original poster gets it, not those who also replied previously. Gathering all the related communications to a particular thread can be somewhat of a chore.

I would guess that people operating under this communication paradigm would instinctively gravitate toward the blog feature because it's something they immediately recognize and understand. To them, this is a way of broadcasting a message to reach a large audience, something they wish to do when they have a programming question. It's not a lack of programming knowledge, but rather a communicative unfamiliarity with the highly structured thread-centric forum entity.
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That makes sense.

(But that's just because my degree is in Communication: I interpret my whole world through that lens.)

My degree is in math. I completely understand the lens issue.
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I come from a pre-bloggin era too.
And I never really understand why everyone use a blog as a forum.
In my mind, a blog is a way to create an article to show everyone. Something important, something that everyone should know.
And in a blog, you can leave a comment, not an answer, your comment should be something to add to this article.

A forum exist to communicate between multiple people, you post something and you want an answer or a follow up to what you post.

And in my mind, a micro-blogging should not exist. If you have something interesting to say, write an article in a blog. If you are able to say your though in only 140characters, it's probably because you don't really have a lot to say.
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If you are able to say your though in only 140characters, it's probably because you don't really have a lot to say.

Wasn't it Shakespeare though who said, "Brevity is the soul of wit"?
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Younger people and people who appear new to much of the internet are exposed, maybe even brought to the internet because of Twitter and all those fad sites and their views are bias from the start.

This may cause significant audiences to go to blogging first and whatnot. However I speculate the lack of knowing what communities are out there is the reason people may post in the blog portion. Further, it may be that people think (or observe) the forums are for answering or discussing "problems" and not theory or learning. It may be the similar to you looking at an expert help list, and asking yourself, should I post here for beginner help?

A few thoughts off the top of my head.
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Thanks, Alexander, for the input.

The communicative model of blogging and microblogging sites is likened to the "shotgun approach". The message is broadcast over a wide range of listeners, and the probability of hitting an expert or some other intended recipient is pretty good. (Think of Reddit IAmA requests as an example.) The only difference with forums is that there is a much more systematic approach to targeting a specific recipient.

The two communicative models definitely each have their own strengths and appropriate applications, but I believe it's been shown that the forums definitely still hold the advantage in terms of communities and available tools for serving as an expert help system.
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It seems to be only a small minority of people who go to the blogs for help. These are probably people who are unfamiliar with the way forums work. Keep in mind that the majority of the internet-using population rarely venture outside the realm of AOL, Facebook, and **. The bulk of the internet is still primarily the domain of geeks, even after all these years.
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Twitter and other "microblogs" are cool for status updates and such (eg Some errors, but should be out within the week!), Tumblr and other blogs provide a good platform for full sized posts (for example notch discussing the next level format) and which contain information and opinions while forums are for asking questions and starting discussions.
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I believe that the Blog and the Forum can coexist.

Their purpose is actually different to begin with.

You come to a forum either with an interesting topic to discuss, or a specific question to ask a dedicated community of people. Your thread then gets archived, later to be useful to thousands of others.

When it comes to blogs, they're usually of a much less "precise" nature: they seldom solve concrete problems, but rather serve as an outlet for people (such as Notch) to address their followers, provide incremental status updates, and so on.

Forums will always stay superior when it comes to communication and socialization. That's why they beat places such as StackOverflow as well, which, in my opinion, does a better job at actually solving concrete problems and archiving them for later use by the community. Thankfully not all problems are concrete in nature, and only a fraction of them are actually suited for StackOverflow, so we live. And always will...
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