Forums vs The Real-Time Web
I’ll start by saying that the real-time web is cool. You can’t ignore that it is awesome to be able to watch a Gizmodo liveblog, or watch the news about a celebrity icon’s death unfold on twitter. But does that make non-live forum discussions obsolete? No.
There is an intrinsic value in being able to take part in a discussion on your own time. One of the teams at TechStars this year (TimZon) is entirely based upon this premise: specifically across time zones. We can’t all be online, let alone awake at the same time, so in these situations the real-time web doesn’t work. Forums are always on, and they are expected to operate on a different schedule than real-time.
Forums can provide a much higher quality of content than the real-time web, and that content is left behind for indexing and searching. I read a great blog post by Zeus Jones about how the real time web shapes our information. He argues that real-time information becomes less valuable as time passes and it becomes outdated. Search for anything on Google and you’re guaranteed to find a forum in the first page of results, and nine times out of ten the answer you’re looking for will be in the forum comments. In this way, forums can actually provide timeless information, if not information that is valuable for a much longer period of time.
It’s not a competition. There is a place for forums, and there is a very different place for real-time web. Saying that one will destroy the other is like saying that hockey is going to destroy baseball. If anything, they compliment each other, and will continue to do so in ways that we have yet to discover. With Vanilla we are trying to lead this charge.
Forums are changing. Although it may look similar to Vanilla 1, Vanilla 2 is an entirely different animal with all kinds of real-time web features built right in. While it maintains the singular purpose of nurturing discussion, it has the power to do much more. Thanks to the new plugin framework behind it, you’ll be seeing a lot of new features popping up over the next year that will blur the lines between the static and the real-time web even further.