An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site. It originated as the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board, and a technological evolution of the dialup bulletin board system. From a technological standpoint, forums or boards are web applications managing user-generated content.
People participating in an Internet forum may cultivate social bonds and interest groups for a topic may form from the discussions.
Early Internet forums could be described as a web version of a newsgroup or electronic mailing list (many of which were commonly called Usenet); allowing people to post messages and comment on other messages. Later developments emulated the different newsgroups or individual lists, providing more than one forum, dedicated to a particular topic.
Internet forums are prevalent in several developed countries. In terms of countable posts, Japan is far in the lead with over two million posts per day on their largest forum, 2channel. China also has many millions of posts on forums such as Tianya Club. The United States does not have any one large forum, but instead several hundred thousand smaller forums, the largest of which are Gaia Online, IGN and GameFAQs. China, the Netherlands, and France are also home to hundreds of independent forums.
Forums perform a function similar to that of dial-up bulletin board systems and Usenet networks that were common from the late 1970s to the 1990s. Early web-based forums date back as far as 1996. A sense of virtual community often develops around forums that have regular users. Technology, computer games and/or video games, sports, music, fashion, religion, and politics are popular areas for forum themes, but there are forums for a huge number of topics. Internet slang and image macros popular across the Internet are abundant and widely used in Internet forums.
Forum software packages are widely available on the Internet and are written in a variety of programming languages, such as PHP, Perl, Java and ASP. The configuration and records of posts can be stored in text files or in a database. Each package offers different features, from the most basic, providing text-only postings, to more advanced packages, offering multimedia support and formatting code (usually known as BBCode). Many packages can be integrated easily into an existing website to allow visitors to post comments on articles.
Several other web applications, such as weblog software, also incorporate forum features. Wordpress comments at the bottom of a blog post allow for a single-threaded discussion of any given blog post. Slashcode, on the other hand, is far more complicated, allowing fully threaded discussions and incorporating a robust moderation and meta-moderation system as well as many of the profile features available to forum users.
In the United States and some parts of Europe, most Internet forums require registration to post. Registered users of the site are referred to as members and are allowed to submit or send electronic messages through the web application. The process of registration involves verification of one's age (typically over 12 is required so as to meet COPPA requirements of American forum software) followed by a declaration of the terms of service (other documents may also be present) and a request for agreement to said terms. Subsequently, if all goes well, the candidate is presented with a web form to fill requesting at the very least: a username (an alias), password, email and validation of a CAPTCHA code.
While simply completing the registration web form is generally enough to generate an account[note 1] the status label Inactive is commonly given by default until the registered user confirms the email address given while registrating indeed belongs to him. Until that time, the registered can log in to his new account but may not use the forum for communication (posts, threads, private messages).
Internet Forums are used frequently in conjunction with multiplayer online game sites.
Sometimes a referrer system is implemented. A referrer is someone who introduced or otherwise "helped someone" with the decision to join the site (similarly how a HTTP referrer is the site who linked one to another site). Usually, referrers are other forum members. The referrer system is also sometimes implemented so that if a visitor visits the forum though a link such as referrerid=300, the user with the id number (in this example, 300) would receive referral credit if the visitor registers. The purpose is commonly just to give credit (sometimes rewards are implied) to those who help the community grow.
In areas such as China and Japan, registration is frequently optional and anonymity is sometimes even encouraged. On these forums, a tripcode system may be used to allow verification of an identity without the need for formal registration.