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Web forums are a great way to interact, converse, build community, promote products and ideas, and generate content and relationships online. Even though forums have existed since before the web, there are many people who still do not use forums, who do not know about them, or who think that web forums are read more limited than they are. This five part series offers a basic introduction to web forums and answers eight basic but important questions; addresses one of the negative aspects of forums--haters--and how to keep a healthy forum; discusses the basics of running a forum; is frank about common pests and problems which often infest forums; and finally provides five useful reminders about forums.

Part III: Four Questions About Running Your Own Forum

So far, this series has addressed basic questions about forums as well as one of forums' biggest problems: haters. Fortunately, you learn quickly how to deal with them. If you've been bitten by the forum bug, you're probably considering running your own forum. This article addresses four key things to keep in mind when considering running your own forum.

1. Who controls a forum?
The person or people who control a forum are usually called that forum's "administrators," or "admins" for short. These are the people with the highest level of access, who can make any change at any level of the forum. You can identify these users by special colors or text next to their posts. For example, administrators may have the word "Administrator" next to their screen name or avatar.

Administrators sometimes give normal users special privileges on their forums. These special users are usually called "moderators," or "mods" for short. Mods are sort of like the police of the forum - they watch for violations of the forum rules and dole out discipline accordingly. This is the job they have to do in exchange for being given special powers (such as the ability to delete posts) by the admins. Admins can revoke these powers at any time if they feel that the mods are not doing their jobs right.

2. How hard is it to set up my own forum?
If you're willing to spend a few bucks a month on it, it couldn't be easier. There are a few very low priced forum hosting services that will take care of everything for you - you just have to let them know some basics like what you want your forum to be called, what URL you want people to access it at, etc.

It's also possible to buy a shared hosting account at a provider and to install and configure the forum software yourself. Obviously, this will be a greater investment of time and resources on your part to learn the ins and outs of a particular forum software package. Plus, you still have to pay the shared host provider, so unless you're using the hosting space to host blogs or other websites, it's not as good of a deal as just using one of the simple forum hosts.

Finally, it's possible to buy or lease your own dedicated server and to install forum software on there, but this option is definitely reserved for people who are interested in hosting many forums at once or in reselling their space to others interested in hosting forums. (If you go this route, you can even become your own mini shared host!)

3. How do I get people to come to my forum?
It sounds obvious, but the most important thing is content. If your forum is attached to a larger website, then you already have content - you just have to make sure people see the link to your forum and want to go there to discuss your content.

If your forum isn't attached to a website, then you need to make sure Google and the other search engines are indexing your forum. Check your search rank by typing in some terms you think are related to your forum and looking at where your forum is in the search results. Are you on the first page? Are you the first hit? Try starting some threads on your forum with prompts for people to discuss. You'll be surprised how quickly people will start posting if the topics interest them.
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