The best online community: A forum or a blog?

by Martin Reed on 7 February 2008 in Articles

Forum or a blog as an online community

So you have a great idea for a new community, and the subject of your community is something you are passionate about. Your next decision is what kind of community your new site will be: a forum or a blog?

A forum as an online community

For most of us, when we think ‘online community’, we immediately think of forums. This is because of the sheer number of them out there, and the general familiarity most of us have with them. Regardless of the forum software used, they are all very similar from a user perspective – there is a list of topics, and within those topics are threads and posts written by members of the community.

When forums have reached critical mass, they run pretty much on auto-pilot – members create the content whilst the community developer can reduce their involvement in the site. Unfortunately, it can take a very long time for a forum to reach this stage. A new forum has no members and no content. You can’t attract new members without content, and you can’t generate content without members, right? Well, kind of…

Without content, you’ll never attract members. It’s as simple as that. However, you can generate content without members. You simply do it yourself. Whether you choose to create posts and threads using your own user name or do so under the guise of a few aliases, it doesn’t really matter – the important thing is that you are creating content.

This process will need to continue for as long as it takes for you to attract enough members who interact and create content by themselves. Until then, you will need to create new threads and write new posts in order to convert visitors into members and encourage members to get involved and interact on the forum.

Forums are easy to establish, but extremely challenging to develop into a success. You need time, motivation, dedication and a long-term commitment.

A blog as an online community

Not everyone will agree with me when I argue that a blog is an online community – those people see a blog as a one-way communication medium where the writer of the blog publishes their content for the visitor to read. Someone who thinks in this way is missing out on the true nature and purpose of a blog: to prompt discussion and the sharing of ideas.

Blogs come with commenting systems for a reason. Not all bloggers engage with their readers and not all bloggers even encourage readers to comment. This is a big mistake – the commenting system can create a real community around a blog. Comments can generate discussion and create new ideas. They can inspire the blog author, helping them to come up with ideas for future articles. Comments can add significant value to a blog and really make it stand out from the crowd.

When starting a new community, basing it around a blog is not a bad idea. By starting out as a blog, you will learn the following:

  1. Is there a demand for a new community on the subject you have chosen?
  2. How keen are your target audience to really interact and talk about the subject?
  3. Can you remain motivated and put in the work required to make the site a success?

You should never decide to start a forum because you don’t have the time to create and maintain a blog, or because you think that creating a forum is easier and less time consuming. Let me tell you now – creating a brand new forum from scratch is far more time consuming than creating a successful blog.

A successful blog needs the author to create high quality content on a regular basis. A new forum needs the author to create high quality content on a regular basis as well as attract and retain a large number of visitors to post and create new threads. Your involvement will need to continue on a regular basis before the forum will be able to stand on its own two feet.

A blog may well be the best way to start off your new community; there’s nothing wrong with changing over to a forum based community in the future, or with you adding a forum to the blog once you have the traffic and enough active members.

Your thoughts

Do you consider a blog to be an online community? Do you believe that forums are the only basis for an online community? Did you consider starting off with a blog, or was a forum your immediate and only consideration? Share your thoughts and opinions on this article by leaving a comment below.

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Smiley February 7, 2008 at 10:28 pm

I think this blog could be classed as a community y’know. We don’t just read it, we post our own thoughts, we discuss in our comments, we give feedback.

Nor do you just post articles, you ASK for feedback, you encourage discussions and not only that.. you also post in your own comments replying to us which again, furthers the discussion(s).

I’m really pleased with my forum. It’s not huge, but 50,000 posts since September, it always has people logged in no matter the time now, even wee hours of the morning. I’m really pleased because I thought it was going to fail! I know how hard it is to get a new forum going, I thought it was a daunting, near-impossible task.

Hope none of my users read this but what I did was make 2-3 other accounts, and made new threads every single day. Just 5-6 new threads each day, 2-3 per account, then reply to them all on each account.

I don’t use any account now, this past few weeks I’ve barely been online myself and I logged in to find 3,000 new posts in just a couple of weeks!

Remember me posting about the trouble I had when I stopped posting, everyone else did? I don’t have that trouble anymore. Everytime I disappear for a week or two, I come back to find new regs are already posting. Can’t miss my presence if I’m not there all the time I guess!

A lot of people would criticise me for doing what I did with the multiple accounts, but at the end of the day — IT WORKED. It also shows dedication to my community.

Kevin February 8, 2008 at 12:00 am

Martin, I’m glad you were able to make a post out of my question. I think a big part of the decision to go with a blog first or forum first is what is the goal that you wish to accomplish. With my forum, I want members to share ideas, network, brainstorm and collaborate. I feel the unique questions and needs members have will work better in a forum setting than one by one with blog posts and comments. It’s a busines owners forum, and there are many things members can share that are unique to our industry and our marketplace niche. I plan to put in a lot of effort and content and I will keep you posted on how things are going.

Nicole Price February 8, 2008 at 7:31 am

You are right. It may take a forum a lot more time to succeed. And it will surely need more work. Plus, I think it may be easier to monetize a blog. Not too sure about that though.

bad credit car loans February 8, 2008 at 11:41 am

I like livejournal’s threaded reply system where blog and forum discussions both can be seen at the same time. I do tend to agree that most blogs are ‘one way communication media’ :-) But I have had huge discussions on other people’s blog and the interaction was appreciated by the blogger.

Sue @ TameBay February 8, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Yes, yes, yes, a blog is DEFINITELY a community! I think which you choose probably *ought* to depend on your motivation: are you starting the community because you have something to say, or because you think other people have something to say? A blog, when it starts, will be about you and your content and what you have to say: if that’s interesting and useful, a community will happen in your comments. I think that’s slightly different to starting a forum, when you have to be a facilitator for other people (though of course you can create all the content in a forum too, as Smiley says).

creating a brand new forum from scratch is far more time consuming than creating a successful blog
And ain’t that the truth! A blog’s still a blog whether you have commentors or not, but a forum is nothing without other people’s involvement.

Amish Made Furniture February 8, 2008 at 3:28 pm

I consider blogs as online communities. Let us take this blog. You post, your visitors comment, you comment on their comments, some post on other visitors’ comments. By now, the regulars here are aware of the other commentators and without getting too involved with each other, they are regularly visiting and contributing to the learning process. In a forum the whole approach is different. As Sue says, what your motivation is as a blogger should be clear in the blogger’s mind. If that is clear, as Smiley’s comment clearly states, then the whole mistaking of one for the other simply ceases to exist.

Family Guy February 8, 2008 at 7:45 pm

I think a blog is the best online community. As some one who studied communications it is very clear that blogs create a common fantasy theme among their readers(The Theory of Symbolic convergence). This is a very effective communication tool also blogs have done something that we hadn’t seen until now. Finally , the regular persons voice is heard.

iS Clinical February 8, 2008 at 9:25 pm

A blog is definitely a community.I think it has more one time traffic then a forum does but I also think it is more recognized by people. People know they can just go read a blog post and don’t feel that they have to contribute, although a number do. I agree a blog is easier to maintain and may even be more effective depending on your purpose.

Niccolo Svengali February 8, 2008 at 10:04 pm

A forum AND a blog! Wordpress + PHPBB (suitably modded)

Chat February 9, 2008 at 1:07 am

Hello Martin

Before i read your article i believed that a blog is not a community. A few reasons are:
Usually communities have members. I used to think of an online community like a real city community. you either have a fixed address in a community or your just driving by.

But you did a good job convincing me that a blog is infact an online community.

Thanks :)
- Cody Grandish

mikey February 9, 2008 at 11:57 am

I think that blog is more convenient way to share you thoughts. Forums sometimes can be filled with freaks that fill it with too much useless messeges

Michelle from the Coulee Region February 9, 2008 at 9:17 pm

Let’s see…

CommunitySpark = blog? Check.
CommunitySpark = community? Check.

All checks out for me. ;)


Hirsutism February 11, 2008 at 4:48 am

Forums and blogs are the only ways to build online communities. But personally I feel making a blog is much easier than making a forum. A blog can become successful and popular if good posts are put up on the blog, where as for forums we need lot of visitors who visit the forum and start new threads or reply to the existing ones. Forums have to be subject base, where as in blogs one can have a blog which covers miscellaneous topics ranging from health, weather, current affairs, news, technology etc.

Guy Cohen February 11, 2008 at 6:18 am

For me a blog can be consider as an online community. as long as the author of the blog knows how to make the post conversational and he should maintain a regular and quality post.

Online Furniture Store February 11, 2008 at 9:25 am

I also see a successful blog with involved writers, readers and commentators as an online community. A good blog serves as a great medium for like minded people to come together, share, learn, engage in debate and interact.

Fly Fishing For Beginners February 11, 2008 at 8:31 pm

I definately believe that a blog can be a community. That’s not to say that all blogs should be a community. Much like everything on the internet its only what you make of it. The entire blog format appeals to me much more than that of the forum.

Ernesto February 12, 2008 at 3:33 am

I love blog as an online community better than forum. I also like forums but only as a means of learning information and stuff. When it comes to blogs, especially the more established ones, I try to give a piece of my mind by commenting and making suggestions.

Eva White February 12, 2008 at 10:20 am

For me a blog always will be a better online community then forums. Forums are also needed but it is easier to make a blog and popularize it. Forums have certain restrictions while blog is like your own personal diary, you can write whatever you feel.

RZST February 15, 2008 at 1:00 am

As a user, I personally like forums better. They seem to be more capable in handling different functions. For instance a forum user can start his/her own topic, upload pictures, take polls, etc. A blog user can only add his/her opinion. Thanks for the post!

Eva White February 15, 2008 at 5:21 am

For me A blog anytime more better than a Forum. May be because I have my own blog………

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 15, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Smiley – Your forum seems to be doing great. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using a few aliases to get a forum going as you are adding value by creating good content that will encourage interaction.

Kevin – I am glad you enjoyed the article; your email was definitely the inspiration! I still think you would be better off starting with a blog, but wish you luck with your new forum.

Nicole – Forums can take longer to turn into a success, but it all depends on how you are measuring and defining ‘success’. Both take a lot of hard work, and the most suitable type of community depends on your own goals and aspirations.

Bad Credit – Comments add immense value to blogs which should never be underestimated. All good bloggers should love reading comments and getting involved in discussions related to their articles.

Sue – I agree with you that deciding on a forum or a blog is down to the aims of the individual. You’re right that a blog still has value without comments, whereas a forum has no value without interaction or discussion.

Ramana – I would agree, and you mention one aspect of blogging communities that hadn’t really occurred to me before now – readers soon get to know other readers. This really strengthens a community and keeps people coming back to your site.

Family Guy – Thanks for your comment. I think that both blog and forums enable a “regular person’s” voice to be heard. The choice comes down to the goals of the individual creating the community.

iS – I think people need to be encouraged to get involved in a blog just as much as a forum. Many blog readers will enjoy reading articles but rarely leave a comment. At the same time, many forums have a large number of ‘lurkers’ – those that read and get a lot of value from the content, but make no contribution themselves. In both cases, people need to be encouraged to get involved.

Niccolo – Wow, a forum and a blog, eh? I am assuming you enjoy a challenge? A website combining a forum and a blog can be fantastic if successful – my article entitled ‘Should you add a forum to your blog?‘ may be of interest to you.

Cody – I do think blogs have members, but they are far less obvious and well defined than forum members.

Mikey – I agree. If you want to ensure your ideas and opinions are the focus of the community, a blog is the way to go. Forums can be far more interactive, but the additional interaction can lead to a few odd comments and unusual discussions which may not be what you were after!

Michelle – Yes! I passed :)

Hirsutism – You can have general interest forums; the Just Chat message boards are evidence of that. I accept that forums can be more difficult to keep subject specific if that is your aim, though.

Guy – I agree. A blogger needs to encourage interaction through a conversational writing style and the asking of questions. They should then respond to comments in order to promote additional interaction.

Reena – You make a good point; blogs can be just as much an effective medium for like minded people to come together as forums.

Fly – It’s always worth remembering that different people have different tastes; for example, you prefer blogs to forums. The personal tastes of your target audience should always be considered when deciding what type of community to launch.

Ernesto – An interesting comment. I always imagine people reading blogs more than forums when looking for informative information, but it just goes to show how communities differ based on the aims of the community developer.

Eva – A blog author may find they can be ‘themselves’ more than if they were involved in a forum. After all, when it comes to a forum the administrator will often need to take more of a neutral role to prevent alienating forum members or accusations of favouritism.

RZST – Forums are definitely a good choice if you have a large enough userbase that will take advantage of all the additional features forums offer. Until then, perhaps a blog is a good way of starting out?

Eva – Ha! Perhaps you are a little biased, eh? Have you started a forum yet?

Justin Slife February 16, 2008 at 10:29 pm

I believe both are communities. They are different, but they both have interaction between members.

I have a hard time with my blog because I’m just not great at writing…it is very time consuming.

Martin Reed - Blog Author February 20, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Justin – You are spot on; both are communities, but in different way. Blogging is not easy – it is bloody hard work, as you are realising for yourself! Then again, I would argue that forums are even harder to successfully develop!

Chat February 28, 2008 at 12:44 am

Martin before i became a community member on communityspark i really wasn’t into blogs/ didn’t have that much knowledge about them. Now i retract my statement that blogs don’t have members because they definitely do.

(this is really the first blog I have ever posted on a semi regular basis)


Martin Reed - Blog Author February 28, 2008 at 2:02 am

Cody – Well, I’m glad I converted you! It’s good to have you around :)

Cologne April 14, 2008 at 3:36 am

I believe both make for great communities and I use both. However, I only tried started a blog and not a forum. Forums are a different online beast. As much as I like the community and network aspects of starting blogs and forums, I need to pay the bills so these projects need to be somewhat profitable for me to go into a particular venture. The blogging platform has been great as far as monetization goes, but I have not yet delved into the making money online through forums.

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 15, 2008 at 11:00 am

Cologne – You’re right; forums are completely different to blogs in terms of the challenge they pose. You can make money from forums, but you may find advertisers shy away from standard CPM or time-based advertising and prefer to pay only for results. A large forum with a strong niche can be highly attractive to relevant advertisers, though.

Mathew day February 25, 2009 at 8:11 am

I am member of several forums and I also have a lot of blogs. Which is better for me? I could not say per se. A forum gives you immediate response to quesions that you may have while you can get to talk about anything in blogs without interruption or prejudice. People who are interested in what you have to say visit those blogs and they may approve or disapprove. So which one is better for me? I say, both. I could not live without either one.

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