Most everyone is familiar with the online forum, the threaded discussion list, that foundation of online community that personified the concept in the Web 1.0 decade before blogs and wikis were understood or even discovered.
I got into the forum business in 1995 with two buddies, Mark Cahill at Vario and Thorne Sparkman, then an MBA candidate at Berkeley’s Haas School. We launched a simple online forum called Reel-Time for saltwater flyfishers, partly because all three of us were saltwater flyfishermen and also because I was making an extreme long tail point in 1995 that the web opened up infinitely discrete niches — hence one could form a community around fishing, then saltwater fishing, then saltwater flyfishing, then saltwater flyfishing on Cape Cod.
The system we used, at Thorne’s suggestion, was a freeware app called HyperMail used by nerds to archive and share email discussions (listserv). Thorne hired a geek to modify it and we launched it at Reel-Time as one of the first discussion systems on the net.
I was the sysadmin, or moderator, and every month I had to archive the posts and start a new month, usually opening the month with these simple rules and guidelines:
How to use this forum
David Churbuck (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sun Jan 11 10:41:43 EST 1998 Welcome to the latest installment of the Reel-Time New England BBS.
Regulars to this forum can ignore these instructions, but if you are new, here are some simple tips.
The sort-by-date function is broken, always has been, always will. Therefore
PUT THE DATE OF YOUR POST IN THE SUBJECT BOX!!!!
This makes life much easier for everyone who wants to see what’s new and what’s not.
Second rule: PRESS POST MESSAGE ONLY ONCE!!
Don’t worry, your words are being written to the server. Press the button four times and guess what, your post will be written four times and you will look like a dolt. Don’t look like a dolt. Press the button once and be patient. As more messages are written, the posting process takes longer.
Third rule: Eat your peas and sit up straight and don’t try to sell stuff in here. Reel-Time depends on advertisers who pay their bills, people trying to slip in a freebie for their guide service, miracle lure, or naked bait girls want to meet you website get away with it once. only once.
This forum will go until it gets too big to handle, at which time it will archived.
Have fun, tight lines, and happy posting …
That was it. Tools to delete posts, ban users, or otherwise “tend the virtual garden” were nonexistent. Chaos ensued but the community lives on, now on an up-to-date system called vBulletin which is still managed by Mark Cahill at Vario Creative Design.
Anyway — when I got to Lenovo two years ago there were no forums for users to discuss our products or seek technical guidance. There had been, in the old IBM PCD days, but it was a custom solution that was discontinued a few years before my arrival. I thought it would be a good idea to bring it back, if simply for the reason that I preferred to get my technical advice from other helpful users than an unknown tech support person who had to follow scripts that usually began with the helpful question: “Is the PC switched on?”
Mark Hopkins, who leads our social media efforts and blogs at Lenovo Connections, put together a strong case for investing in the return of a classic user forum. We considered a self-hosted model, using a program such as vBulletin, but in the end decided it would be more stable and secure if we teamed with an organization that specializes in corporate communities, Lithium.
It took a few months and a few presentations, but Mark made a masterful case for investing in the Lenovo forum project and with the assistance of Esteban Panzeri and Tim Supples, launched the forums earlier this month. Assisting in the creation of the forums were the moderators at Thinkpads.com, who lent us their valuable time and expertise in setting up the discussion areas and policies to govern their operation. Bringing the experts in from the beginning was probably the smartest thing we could have done, and already it’s paying off in terms of a high caliber discussion.
So, there it is. Check them out at http://forums.lenovo.com. I’ll post more on our strategy and how we intend to reward people for registering, participating and assisting.