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WWW Conferencing - Forum One Report (fwd)

From: Steven Clift <clift@freenet.msp.mn.us>
Date: Tue, 2 Sep 1997 09:44:57 +0000
Message-Id: <199709021445.OAA25917@freenet.msp.mn.us>
To: COMMUNET@LIST.UVM.EDU, edem-elect@mtn.org, www-talk@w3.org, e-conf@chatsubo.com, ietf@ietf.org, online-news@planetarynews.com

Another excellent Forum One Report.  I am always interested in what 
other people are learning about the use of the WWW and the Internet 
in general for conferencing.  In particular I am interested in 
stories about more local uses that seem to be working (by local I 
mean either something with a geographical scope along with some topic 
or some organizational community-oriented use.)

Direct subscription information for the report is near the bottom of 
their message.

Steven Clift
Democracies Online
http://www.e-democracy.org/do

------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Mon, 01 Sep 1997 20:08:52 -0700
To:            (Recipient list suppressed)
From:          Jim Cashel <cashel@ForumOne.com>
Subject:       Forum One Report

FORUM ONE REPORT: News from the Web Forum Sector
September 1, 1997

FORUM ONE REPORT generally reports on innovations in the web forum sector.
In this issue, we report on ten trends that we are *not* yet seeing (but
expect in the coming 12 months).

COMMUNITY DESIGN

* MIGRATION TO THE WEB OF ONLINE SERVICES' FORUMS: Of the major online
services, only Delphi currently offers full web access to its forums (there
are limited other examples, such as AOL's Motley Fool).  We expect a
partial (or perhaps full) migration of the vast forum offerings of
Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy to the web (note that AOL recently adopted web
access for its "buddy list" community technology). 

* SCHEDULED EVENTS: Most forums to date are designed as ongoing
communities.  We expect to see far more scheduled events forums tied to
real world events (like the IBM chess forum), conferences and trade shows
forums, as well as free standing forums (but time limited).  Scheduled
forums offer advantages in publicity and in user experience (evolving into
a form of "threaded chat").

* MODERATORS ONLY IN FOR-PAY FORUMS: Many forums use moderators (hired or
volunteer).  Hired moderators are frequently not financially viable in
forums relying on ad income (a moderator would have to increase page views
by several hundred thousand per month to meet salary).  Volunteer
moderators raise tax and liability legal issues.  For these reasons we
expect in the future to see few moderators in public, ad-supported forums,
though many in for-pay specialty forums. 


SOFTWARE

* COMPATIBILITY: Currently there are at least 10 major and 30 secondary
forum software products on the market (see a list of resources at Forum One
at http://www.ForumOne.com/products.htm , or David Woolley's thorough
compilation at http://freenet.msp.mn.us/~drwool/webconf.html ).  Currently
none of these products are compatible with one another.  This raises
technical issues of sharing information, and also user interface issues
(people develop strong loyalties to given interfaces).  [Note: there are
two products which span the incompatibilities of the web forum sector, the
Forum One Index <http://www.ForumOne.com> and the Circular Logic offline
forum reader <http://www.pan.com/circular/wippper.htm>, but neither of
these are forum software products per se).  We expect two things to occur
in the future: preliminary discussions among major forum software vendors
about standards (perhaps focusing on underlying database design, not as
focused on user interface issues).  Second, a slow but steady shakeout of
the industry (it's not clear how technologies will conveniently merge, so
there will clearly be winners and losers).

* DISAPPEARANCE OF "WEB FORUM SOFTWARE": As communications software (web
forum, chat, listserve) continues to cross integrate and be embedded into
other types of software (conferencing software, distance learning, games),
the distinct category of "web forum software" which now exists will
disappear (at one time it was possible to buy "spellcheck software", but
that has now disappeared as a distinct category of software). 

* NNTP BATTLES: There are currently two different technologies for threaded
discussion forums on the Web: web forums (html based) and Usenet (nntp
based).  Each offers advantages and disadvantages, and for the most part
co-habitate the Internet with little friction.  The issue of
incompatibility may be forced eventually as communications technologies
continue to merge around a common web platform.


PRESS COVERAGE

* REPORTS FROM INSIDE OF COMMUNITIES: To date, press coverage of web forums
has mostly focused on the proliferation of communities and new
technologies.  Very little coverage addresses what is actually happening
within these communities.  At some point the press will report community
events in the virtual world (major decisions, political intrigue, revolts)
as it does community events in the real world, with the fact that these
events are happening online being not the main story.  The technology will
become more transparent, while the *community* becomes the focus.


BUSINESS STRATEGY

* SECONDARY MARKET IN COMMUNITIES: It is time consuming and expensive to
build a robust online community.  In many cases it's probably easier to buy
one that already exists.  We have seen very few examples of this (the
Durand Communications purchase of Electric Minds is an example).  We expect
to see a secondary market in web forums, but as importantly a secondary
market for popular listserve communities (although probably not Usenet
because of decentralized control), and perhaps even the "online community
rights" to real world communities.  Celebrity moderators (or list owners)
in this process will become highly valued.

* PROFITIBILITY: Few forum areas as of yet are directly profitable (see a
worthwhile ComputerWorld article on this at
<http://www.computerworld.com/features/970811chat.html>).  Most forum areas
are banking on increased advertising and transaction income in the future
(turning to Net.Gain by Hagel and Armstrong
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0875847595/forumonecommunicA/> for
a frequently needed pep talk).

* AGGRESSIVENESS: Very few organizations are in our opinion are making
aggressive plays at the web forum market (compared to, for example, chat).
The forum areas that exist on major sites (leading newspapers, search
engines, large organizations) generally take a distant back seat to most
other parts of the web strategy.  If the financial consequence of web
forums grows in coming months as many foresee, this will change. (We'd
recommend watching CNN, Excite, Barnes and Noble, and Salon Magazine as
early indicators of the sector's overall possibilities.)
  


*******

FORUM ONE STATISTICS:

The Forum One Index now tracks over 96,000 ongoing discussions across the
web.  Within these discussions, we count the following numbers of current
messages posted in ten selected forum areas (not necessarily representing
the ten largest forum areas on the web / compiled 8.21.97):

Cafe Utne                 474029
Salon Table Talk     247278
Pathfinder                131248
Excite                        127116
Parent Soup             102794
Yahoo                         32022
GardenWeb               27014
Motley Fool               25787
Chicago Tribune       16456
NY Times                   14286

Please write us if you have information which should be included in a
future Forum One Report!

*********

FORUM ONE REPORT is a monthly publication prepared by Jim Cashel
<cashel@ForumOne.com> and Dave Witzel <dave@ForumOne.com> of Forum One
Communications Corporations.  If you would like to be included in or
excluded from this mailing list, please write report@ForumOne.com.
Comments and information are welcome.

Republication of part or all of this report is allowed as long as Forum One
Communications Corporation is credited.

Forum One Communications maintains the Forum One Index
<http://www.ForumOne.com> tracking over 96,000 web discussion forums, and
also provides consulting services to organizations building or maintaining
online communities.

Forum One Communications Corporation
e-mail: info@ForumOne.com  web: http://www.ForumOne.com
San Francisco Office (business operations): 
Phone: 415 512 8856  Fax 415 512 9409
Arlington Virginia Office (technical operations):
Phone 703 237-8537  Fax 703 237-8274

*********

-------------------------------------------------------
     Steven L. Clift, Director, Democracies Online
     3454 Fremont Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55408 USA   
     Tel: 612-824-3747  E: clift@freenet.msp.mn.us

  http://www.e-democracy.org/do/ - Democracies Online
  http://freenet.msp.mn.us/people/clift/ -  Home Page
-------------------------------------------------------
Received on Tuesday, 2 September 1997 10:48:12 GMT

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