Forums, Groups, Communities... Bulletin Board Systems... Discussion forums have been around the Internet in one form or another for over 20 years. The concept is simple: give people a place to post questions and discussion topics, and respond to posts from other people. The problem is, virtually every discussion forum has and continues to be inundated with spammers, even on the major social networks. Facebook Groups are wallowing in obscurity, and LinkedIn Groups are so overwhelmed with spam links that it's hard to find value.
It's unfortunate because discussion forums are genuine opportunities to foster online conversations, get help, and demonstrate expertise. Discussion forum participation has long been something Internet marketing agencies have advised their clients to do, but too often, these business owners get so overwhelmed by the spam activity and lack of immediate value, they give up. Once active groups are becoming nothing more than running classified ads, and many boards and services are getting shut down.
Can anyone save discussions forums?
Enter Google+ [cue dramatic music].
Google looked at the discussion forum landscape, saw the struggling systems in place on Facebook and LinkedIn, and said, "We can do better." At the time, Google+ membership was rocketing, so Google implemented Google+ Communities.
So what's different about Google+ Communities?
The basic principles are the same as the other platforms. Anyone can create a community, call it whatever they want, and suggest a general topic or topics for discussion. One you've joined a community, you can post whatever you want, including links to your website, just like a standard Google+ post.
One difference that is apparent right away is the ability to create Categories within the Community. A community for "Business Marketing" might have categories for TV, Radio, Print, Social Media, Blogging and others. This kind of separation helps users make sure that they're posting content that is appropriate and correctly filed. Of course, that won't stop a spammer.
This is where Google gets impressive.
Every community has an owner and potentially other moderators. Moderators have the ability to deal with spam posts and spammers easily.
Google also monitors each individual's activity and if you're seen to be posting the same content in multiple communities, ALL of your posts will be immediately hidden from anyone not a moderator!
These aspects are great, but what really tells me that Google is serious about making this system work is that they have a community specifically for moderators, where discussions and support can be found on what moderators face every day. And Google continues to make investments in the form of changes and improvements to communities and moderators! When was the last time Facebook added an improvement to Facebook Groups?
Google recognizes that there is extreme value in fostering online communities and discussion groups. Instead of using a mindless clicking game to inflate member time on site, Google is helping to create real value for members, and that translates into more content within the Google-verse, higher membership, and increased time spent within Google+.
I can personally attest to how much more discussion, how much more value, I get from Google+ communities as compared to anywhere else. I think that if Google continues to be innovative and diligent, spam content might not be eliminated, but it will definitely be kept at bay, leaving nothing but great discussion in place.
What do you think about Google+ Communities? Do they provide value to you? Do you think they'll last? If you haven't found one or two great communities, catch up with me on Google+ and I can recommend a few.
Image courtesy of James Jordan, Flickr.