The Forum is Dead, Long Live the Forum!

We get a lot of coverage of ‘the next big thing’ in the media, creating a  hype cycle which all too often leads to the trough of disillusionment as consumers find services that don’t fulfill consumers’ expectations or they simply move on to the next service to to be championed.

This is particularly apparent in the social media sector where we have seen many services emerge and decline. Among the winners and losers are Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and more recently, the emergence of mobile centred channels such as Tinder, Snapchat, Instagram and WeChat.

Predating what we now generally know as social media where bulletin boards which evolved into what we now know as internet forums. These typically provided an open environment based around particular interests with conversational threads which discussions can coalesce around.

The growth of social media has taken much of the media’s attention away from internet forums with the possible exception of Reddit which is something of a special case. But forums continue to play an important role in crowdsourcing expertise, particular in more specialised areas where knowledge is evolving and/or far from formalised.

The typically open and searchable nature of the content makes it easy for the novice user to see if content is available and post a query should the answer not be available (albeit at the risk of being flamed). Wikipedia plays a similar role in capturing and ultimately formalising information and Quora (and arguably Twitter) offers a Q&A platform. What these mediums arguably don’t have is a passionate community of interest that can be readily reached by the uninitiated.

Online forums have also provided an important bridge between the virtual and physical, as online communities move into real world spaces.  I can remember clearly the trepidation of going to my first LFGSS forum gathering with the inevitable ‘what’s your forum name?’ heard many times.

But forums also have considerable utility for organisations as well as communities of interest. Research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University published in the Journal of Marketing Research pointed to the value of online forums including those run by the brands themselves as Pratik Dholakiya comments:

In other words, it would be extremely foolish to assume that the traditional media coverage was more important than the community activity. In reality, sales were being primarily driven by community activity, reflecting what we learned in the first study above. Just as importantly, blog and traditional media coverage were being driven, in part, by community activity.

This study also brings with it an important insight: these discussions were taking place on forums, and most of the discussion was taking place on Kiva’s own forum.

Research from one forum does not make for a sound statistical forum and Kiva’s audience will have some different characteristics to the typical Western organisation. But unlike Facebook and Twitter, communities and brands have the opportunity to own their own channel for a relatively nominal sum, avoiding  the social media toll collectors.

A New Forum

Given the  opportunity that online forums provide, it has been exciting to see the launch of Microco.sm. The London-based startup aims to bring the forum forward into a more contemporary social media age with a cleaner interface , adaptive web design, built in events functionality and exportable data.

Microco.sm is not simply resting on its laurels, with a pricing strategy that sees it undercutting the market incumbents whilst offering an enviable feature set.

Microcosm Compare & Pricing

You can get a feel for the platform on the Islington Cycle Club’s forum which was the first client to launch and if you want a more hands on experience, Microco.sm are enabling consumers and organisations to launch their own forum for a month for free. For those of you still hungry for more information about Microco.sm, I’d recommend checking out the ShedCast interview with founder David Kitchen.

The featured image is Fish by Evgeniy Dikson

THOUGHT STARTERS: CONTENT THAT HAS GOT ME THINKING 10

The following provides a roundup of some of the articles, thought pieces and content which have got me thinking recently.

I still require some convincing on whether Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp makes financial sense. There has been a lot of talk of how WhatsApp will retain much of its management independence and will honour existing privacy arrangements including not collecting user data for advertising. These restrictions will hamstring the service’s utility for Facebook, but the service’s astonishing growth may make the question moot as these figures from Om Malik suggest.

mau-vs-age-final

The Flurry Blog looks at the growth of Android personalisation apps such as Facebook Home and Yahoo’s Aviate as being the next mobile battleground. Rapid growth, albeit off a small base and an interesting counterpoint to the growing attention to mobile messaging.

Growth in Peronalization Apps for Android-resized-600

Casey Research takes a critical view on Bitcoin, pointing out that the system is only as strong as its weakest link with a shortage of security and trust likely to encumber the currency  for the  time being.

Marc Andreessen provides some of the more intelligent commentary on the technology sector and his forecast for the media sector definitely provides food for thought.  As a counterpoint, the Columbia Journalism Review takes a less rosy view of the disruption technology is bringing to the sector.

The Wall Street Journal points to the continuing dominance of bricks and mortar in America’s retail sector – Amazon (and other eCommerce operators) still has plenty of opportunity to take a greater share of the pie.

Bricks and Mortar Retail

Microco.sm has publicly launched its online forum offering,  providing some much needed competition to Vanilla, vBulletin and Invision PB. It’s worth adding that despite all the talk of social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook, forums retain an important role in enabling conversations with customers as profiled in research published in the Journal of Marketing Research and profiled in Convince & Convert.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has done some great work making Britain’s public services more available online. The GDS‘ dashboard provides a valuable window into what devices consumers are using in the UK.

Activity on GOV>UK

The Financial Times looks at how automation is making growing inroads into white collar employment as software increasingly eats the world.

Technology- Rise of the replicants

Satellites are continuing to make images of Earth more and more available so its intriguing to see video now coming into play as Skybox’s offering comes online.

Most societies at least play lip service to the issue of social mobility, so its interesting to read Professor Gregory Clark’s research which points to mobility as being comparatively unaffected by social policy. We are better off addressing the results of inequality rather than expecting social reforms to enable the move from barrow boy to banker.

Evan Selinger in Wired looks critically at the launch of BroApp and suggests we might be outsourcing our humanity by relying on such tools.

The Wellcome Trust looks through its Mosaic website looks at the health benefits of cycling and what different cities are doing (or not doing) to encourage it.

Southwark Bridge, London by Sarah Maycock/Handsome Frank
Southwark Bridge, London by Sarah Maycock/Handsome Frank

The featured image is Caffarena 86 by Nelio from La Boca, Buenos Aires.