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Electronic Bulletin Boards

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Electronic bulletin boards (also known as message boards or as computer forums) are online communication systems where one can share, request, or discuss information on just about any subject. E-mail is a way to converse privately with one or more people over the Internet; electronic bulletin boards are public. Any visitor to a message board can read and respond to any message found there, although registration of some kind is usually required before "posting" privileges are granted. A large collection of electronic bulletin boards is known as a newsgroup. Thousands of newsgroups populate the Internet, each dedicated to a single topic. Some are dedicated to roof-repair, some to obscure computer languages, some to skin defects. You name it.

Participation in bulletin boards messaging is simple. Any person can start a discussion on a topic and then wait for replies. The initial message alone—and others responding to it, if any—constitute a "thread." Some threads continue on for days or weeks or months. Sometimes a poster with a question or a statement, however, is completely ignored. The longer threads tend to find people responding not only to the original post but to subsequent replies as well. The latecomer who happens to hit on one of the items in a long thread my have to "unwind" the thread a long ways back to learn what the initial impetus was all about.

Bulletin boards provide a genuine service to the public in that they create an open forum for the discussion of issues and problems of the most diverse nature—but these discussions are easily accessible because search engines will ultimately pinpoint threads of interest to the searcher. Experts are similarly drawn to the BBs. Problems posed on a message board will draw answers from knowledgeable individuals pleased to enlighten the puzzled. To be sure, the answers may not always be correct—or, more likely, complete—but any flaw in a thread will tend to be corrected by others eventually. The initial poster may, indeed, request more detail. The ultimate judge of the received information, however, must be the individual asking the question or posing the problem.

On the downside, the accessibility of bulletin boards also attracts those merely seeking stimulation and attention. Troublemakers delight in stirring up controversy, badmouthing everyone and everything in "virtual" sight—and they do so from behind the handy "mask" of user names (handles) which hide their actual identity. In response to such invasions by less-than-helpful visitors, many BBs use editorial functions, some automated, to filter out unwanted material. Spamming is also a bulletin board problem. Very active bulletin boards require massive computer memory resources; for this reason older messages may be scrubbed from the system. BBs therefore do not always serve archival reference purposes well.

BBS AND SMALL BUSINESS

While many electronic bulletin boards have educational or recreational aims, or serve as forums for professional discussions in arcane fields like physics or philosophy, many are designed around business functions, occupations, or activities—sometimes directly tied to vendor groups, sometimes fielded by university extension services. The small business owner or self-employed professional will find such bulletin boards frequently extremely valuable in solving specific problems, diagnosing some peculiar problem, finding a suitable vendor for an unusual product or service, and sharing experience on common issues. As Bob Wittkamp pointed out, writing for ICS Cleaning Specialist, growing the business is a much favored and discussed topic on bulletin boards.

Although a BB appears to exist for virtually every topic under the sun, from "Amor" in its most graphic forms to "Zen" mediation at its most quiescent, small businesses engaged in complex fields of a technical nature will probably benefit most directly from routinely using message boards. Computer programming, hardware, and wiring problems; construction issues from cesspool seepage to wallpaper hanging; the seemingly infinite issues in growing anything from vegetables to flowers; the frustrating quest for old brass fixtures in restoration work; and on, and on—are all served by bulletin boards that attract the knowledgeable. Discovering the right BB is relatively easy. Sampling a few threads rapidly reveals the character of the participants and the seriousness of their treatment of issues. Once a BB is qualified, joining it and trying it is the next step—unless the user has already obtained a useful answer just reading a few postings.

Small business owners may also discover bulletin boards that talk about their products and performance. They may be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised. Negative posts (whether they are true or not) can, of course, seriously affect the 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, it can request that it be removed and seek to identify who is posting the information.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

"AMD Hack Points to Widespread Web Forum Flaws, Attacks." ExtremeTech.com. 3 February 2006.

Collinson, Patrick. "Collinson on Bulletin Boards." Retail Financial Strategies. October 2000.

Whittaker, Jason. "Open Forum: It's easy to add sticky content to your site. Jason Whittaker talks about how to implement bulletin boards." Australian PC World. March 2006.

Wittkamp, Bob. "Growing Your Business: A very common topic of discussion in classes and on Internet bulletin boards is how to grow one's business and, inevitably, what programs work best." ICS Cleaning Specialist. July 2005.





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