Staying Social: Forums, Discussion Groups, and Why They’re Important

Connecting Through Digital Mediums

One thing that many college students may hate about their classes is the fact that they usually have to engage in some sort of discussion with their classmates. This can be done physically in the classroom but is also often done virtually through discussion groups.

While this may seem like tedious work and a waste of time today, there was a time when college students longed to be able to quickly share information and ideas the way we seamlessly do today. Here’s a brief history of discussion forums, where they originated, and how they’ve changed today.

The 1980s – Early 1990s: Usenet

Usenet is a social platform that’s safe to say that many people haven’t heard of. It was created back in 1979 by two graduate students at Duke University who wanted to be able to send and receive information to and from their friends at the University of North Carolina.

During this time, there was no internet, and many people were still typing on typewriters instead of computers, so this idea was likely too far-fetched for some people to comprehend. Despite all of this, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis were successful in creating a way to send information between two computers, and this invention was later named Usenet, short for “users’ network.”

Usenet became very popular on college campuses throughout the 1980s (mainly because that was one of few places where computers could be accessed). Students created and joined academic newsgroups (forums) for math, science, literature, and the arts. In the 1990s, when more people had access to a personal computer, Usenet became less academically bent and more pop-culture-focused.

Late 1990s – 2000s

Over the years, discussion forums became more and more popular on college campuses (aside from Usenet), where professors encouraged their students to discuss class topics. With researching topics limited to encyclopedias and other texts, these discussion groups were a great way for students to exchange information, such as tips on writing an essay or the latest discipline-specific research, and learn from each other.

At this time, forums were seen as a way to gather information, but at the same time, they were also becoming more popular on non-academic platforms as well. Several websites, including blogs, fan pages, and even Yahoo! had forums available for users to chat with each other.

Discussion Groups and Forums Today

Forums exist on just about every type of platform and website imaginable, and they are also still used by college campuses all over the country and around the world.

Though they may seem like extra work to a college student, discussion forums have great benefits. Instead of receiving feedback from a professor or graduate assistant, students can receive feedback from their peers— people who think just like they do. Of course, there are rules, and students must be courteous with one another, but this just presents an opportunity to practice professional etiquette.

Forums can also be niche-specific, such as a discussion board for writers to exchange ideas or simply for people with the same interests to chat outside of social media. In fact, Usenet, the world’s first discussion forum, is still in use today, with over 100,000 newsgroups and forums addressing a variety of topics to explore.

Usenet is still not something that can be accessed through a browser or even an app on your phone; the best way to access Usenet is through a Usenet service provider. Here you’ll be able to post and securely download text, photos, videos, and audio files that you won’t be able to access anywhere else on the world wide web.

The bottom line is that discussion groups are very informative and a good way to expand your knowledge of a particular topic. You can learn so much from putting your own ideas out there and having people add to them or challenge them.

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