Electronic bulletin boards (also known as message boards or computer forums) are communication systems online where one can share, request, or discuss information on just about any topic. While e-mail is a way to converse privately with one or more people over the Internet, electronic bulletin boards are totally public. Any message posted on one can be read (and responded to) by anyone else in the world who has access to the Internet or the particular online service that is providing the message board. A large collection of electronic bulletin boards is known as a newsgroup. Thousands of newsgroups exist on the World Wide Web, each dedicated to a single topic, making it easier for one to navigate through the information contained on it.
Electronic bulletin boards operate in a very simple manner. Any person can start a discussion on a particular topic and then wait for replies. These lines of discussion are known as threads. Some threads can go on endlessly, while other posts run the risk of getting no replies at all. The longer threads tend to find people responding to not only the original post, but to the subsequent replies as well. This can often lead to some confusion, since later posts in longer threads often have nothing to do with the original subject.
The main advantage of electronic bulletin boards is the fact that they are so public. Because of their accessibility, they give users the opportunity to get information from a huge number of sources, each with the possibility of a unique, original, and even global perspective. There are several disadvantages to electronic bulletin boards as well. Since they are so public and often unedited, they are almost like an open invitation for troublemakers whose sole intention seems to be to stir things up. The proliferation of unwanted ads (also known as spamming) is another problem for computer forums. Some online providers like AOL have board hosts whose sole job is to keep the peace and weed out irritating posts and threads. Also, most electronic bulletin boards do not keep an archive of each thread and post. Some may disappear over a period of time as new threads are started.
While electronic bulletin boards are often used for educational and recreational purposes, they also can come in handy for small business owners and self employed persons. Small businesses can discuss strategies and trends in the marketplace, recruit workers, place ads, get technical support, and share information on just about any subject that is pertinent to their business. Businesses can also set up their own electronic bulletin boards to help their operations run a bit more smoothly, but should be aware that messages posted there could lead to a variety of legal problems, including libel and sexual harassment.
Small business owners are also standing up and taking notice as to how electronic bulletin board messages are affecting their companies' standing in the stock market, as well as their reputations and branding image. Negative posts (whether they are true or not) can seriously affect the stock value of a company. As Patrick Collinson mentioned in an article that appeared in Retail Financial Strategies , a British company called IBNet is about to start marketing software which will alert a company each time any mention of it appears anywhere on the Internet. When the company learns that the information is false, they can request that it be removed and seek to identify who is posting the information. Collinson also mentions that Internet detectives can be employed to track down where such information is originating.
Collinson, Patrick. "Collinson on Bulletin Boards." Retail Financial Strategies. October 2000.
SEE ALSO: Newsgroups