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What are online message boards?

A cork pin board

You’ve got a problem or query and would like some practical help or advice. Or maybe you’ve seen a news story and would like to add your views to the comments section. This article explains how you can make your internet experience more interactive - so it’s something you can take part in rather than just something you read. And it might even save you some cash too!

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

Message boards on computer systems have been around in various forms since the 1970s. Back then, you and another person in the UK with a home computer would connect to a central computer, and put messages onto a bulletin board (named after the cork boards still popular in just about every office around the country).

Why use a message board?

The principle is much the same now, except you and millions of others around the world can connect to a website that allows or encourages messages, feedback or queries.

If you haven’t done it before, you might be wondering why you would want to share your views with strangers in cyberspace.

But maybe there’s a problem with your washing machine, in which case you could go somewhere like tips website UK White Goods to track down the answer. Or maybe Nick Robinson’s blog on the BBC has grabbed your attention and you want to register your view. There are numerous reasons why you might want to take part in an online discussion.

First register...

Assuming the site you’re interested in has a web forum or comments section (it’ll be clearly labelled), the first thing you need to do is register as a member. This is to keep automated comment systems out, and to make sure only real people take part. No reputable site is going to pass your information on to anyone else.

Registering as a member just involves clicking the “register” button then giving whatever basic information the site asks for – often just a name (your real name or a nickname you want to use for the site), email and the password of your choice.

...then get started

You’ll probably get a confirmation email with a link to click, and then you can log in to the site, using your username and password, and start posting your comments. Other sites won’t require you to become a member. They’ll ask for your name and email address, but they won’t keep the information you give. Instead, you enter the details every time you post a remark.

You might often be asked to retype some random letters which are shown to you in a strange typeface. This is a system called ’Captcha’, and it’s purely there to make sure you’re a human sitting in front of a screen rather than a computer sending random adverts to every open website it can.

Many message boards offer the option to send you a note when someone replies to you. If you want to see responses this can be a good idea as it saves you the bother of going back to every website you’ve left a message on, just in case someone’s replied.

Message boards can be great. You can save money finding bargains. Someone can probably help you with a problem or query (for instance, your dishwasher actually needs a single screw tightened rather than an expensive visit from a repair man). You can join owners’ clubs for your favourite brand of watch or car. Or you can just comment on the way a journalist has handled a news item. It’s up to you – enjoy!

The WebWise 'W'

WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.