Internet message boards are the general stores and barbershops of the new millennium. They’re places where people gather to discuss any topic under the sun. They are invaluable as a research tool. You can find message boards on virtually any topic, frequented by true experts on those topics. When I have to find specialized information, I look for message boards on that topic. This is a short tutorial on message board use.
First, a message board is a program that stores and displays messages or “posts”. It displays the message along with other information such as the date it was written, and who wrote it. People read the messages and respond to the messages with their own messages. The interaction between people is what makes them interesting and valuable as a source of information. Most message boards are broken down by topic, and further by subtopic. Some message boards are very broad in their scope, some very narrow. Here at bipolarconnect.com you’ll find a message board with a fairly narrow scope – bipolar disorder. But at this board you find several sub-categories such as a category for parents of bipolar children, one for caregiver suggestions and recommendations, one for bipolar books, and so forth. Under these sub-categories you find discussions. These discussions are started by individuals and responded to by others.
A message board is NOT a chat room. The word “chat” used on the internet implies live discussion. Live discussion is just like it sounds – people talking “live” to each other. It is not saved in messages to be searched or referred to later. While chat has it’s place in a social setting, it is not to be confused with message boards and will not be covered in this post. A message board is also not a message service. We talk about messages, but it is NOT like Instant Messenger, or any of the message or messenger products out there. They are valuable tools, but not in the way a message board is.
Message boards are known by several names. You may hear them called bulletin boards, discussion boards, forums, and other names. This all means the same thing. In the old days it was “bulletin boards” or BBS, and they were accessed by dialing the board directly. Today, technology has advanced to the point that the average techie can start their own web site and get free open source software to run their own message board. This has led to an explosion of message boards. Personally, I have set up many message boards, and currently administer and run 2 boards. As with anything in life, there is good and bad, valuable and worthless, well maintained and well run, and sloppy and decrepit boards.
Most message boards will require registration of some sort to be a contributing member. While most will allow you to read messages as a “guest”, to get the most out of the board take the time to register. Generally, the more professional the site the more information they ask for. At a minimum they’ll want a user name and a valid email address. Your actual name and email address will not be shown to the public. Only your user name will be visible, so choose a descriptive user name. When you register most message boards send your password or activation to the email address you specify. And don’t worry, a legitimate message board will not send spam or sell your email address. But if you’re not comfortable giving your main email address, get a Google Gmail account, or a Yahoo email account. These are much better than the email you get with your internet service anyway. If anyone out there wants a Google Gmail account, they’re still by invitation only but I can hook you up if you get word to me. So back to registration, give them the information they need, and follow the instructions to activate your membership.
Before jumping right in and asking the questions you’re dying to have answered, look for the search function. All message boards have it, it might be called “Find” or “Search” or similar. Search first, and find out what has already been discussed. Your question may have been answered already. And if it has, you may want to follow up with another question, or add your input to that existing “thread”. If you can’t find your answer, start a new discussion. Find the appropriate category, and start your discussion. Be concise, but give enough information. A discussion might be titled something like “Has anyone been prescribed Lamictal?” Your first message might say “I’ve just been prescribed Lamictal. Does anyone have experience with this med?” People will respond with their experiences. On an active board it might take a few minutes for a response, on a less active board it might take a few days.
We’ve thrown around a lot of terms, so let’s talk a little about the lingo. A “discussion” usually means a series of messages or posts on a certain topic. A “thread” is the same. “Post” and “message” are used interchangeably. An “avatar” is a picture that many boards allow you to put next to your name. A “smilie” or “emoticon” is a little picture used to convey feelings or emotions. A “troll” is a troublemaker who is there just to make people angry. A “moderator” is a person who polices the board, and makes sure rules are followed. A “spammer” is a person who is there to sell something.
Finally, a little etiquette. Always be polite. Even if a troll is mean or condescending, remain polite. Use profanity sparingly, if at all. On some boards profanity will get you banned immediately. Don’t type in upper case, it’s the on-line equivalent of shouting. It’s acceptable to use upper case for emphasis, but use it SPARINGLY. Don’t feed the trolls. Ignore them and they’ll go away. Get to know the board “regulars”, they’ll be knowledgeable and a good source of information for you. Lastly, be accepting and nurturing of new people. Treat them with kindness and respect.
The main thing about message boards is to participate. Jump in, ask questions, give your opinion and experience, and participate. It’s anonymous, so don’t be embarrassed or self-conscious. In fact, jump on over to the bipolarconnect boards located here: http://forums.healthcentral.com/discussion/bipolar/forums. You can interact with myself, John, Lynne, and many other fine people. We look forward to seeing you there!