A discussion board, commonly known as an Internet forum or message board, is a type of website that allows users to communicate with one another. Discussion takes place through the use of posts, which are messages posted by users and displayed in order of the date and time they were entered. Each post is part of a thread, which is usually focused on a specific subject or question. This allows members of the discussion board to have conversations, without having to physically be online at the same time. There are thousands of discussion boards on the Internet, with many catering to specific subjects, although some are general in nature.
Discussion boards differ from other forms of Internet communication in that they provide a permanent record of conversations that can be read and discussed by other members. E-mail, for example, provides a personal and private form of communication. Forum discussions are open to anyone who wants to convey their opinion.
A user usually must sign up to start posting on a discussion board. This provides the user with a permanent username, which is linked to every post that he or she makes. Forcing users to sign up is also a way to help prevent spam messages, which are sometimes posted by automated programs.
There are many different types of software available for running a discussion board. Some are for sale through commercial retailers, while others open source, which means that they are free to use. Although the basic principles of most discussion board software is the same, the add-ons and support for extra features such as customized avatars, private messaging and custom themes may differ.
As a discussion board is usually based on a specific subject and each user has a permanent username that he or she uses to post, communities of like-minded people are often established. Unlike a regular chat room, old posts and threads can be searched, which can make a forum a useful source of information about its topic. The anonymous nature of the Internet also means that many people are more open with their views than they would be in real life, especially if the topic is a controversial one.
Another difference between chat rooms and discussion boards is that the information in threads and posts is sometimes indexed by search engines. This means that, over time, a discussion board can gain a significant amount of search engine traffic to old threads. For this reason, some discussion boards are set up for commercial reasons as revenue streams. Many, however, are simply established as a virtual community, where Internet users with similar interests can chat and get to know one another.