Identifying forums on specific subjects
June 9, 2008 1:48 PM   Subscribe

What is your formula for finding the most active online forums for discussions about very specific subjects?

Benchmark subjects to test your formula out are - solar electricity, icecream lovers, driving a taxi, the Weimar Republic, analysing dreams. The forums needn't be dedicated to the particular subject but they should be the sort of forum for which information about the subject is abundant.
posted by zaebiz to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm boring -- I always start with a basic google search for "[topic] forums" and work outwards from there, following links in what I suppose in a highly unscientific snowball sample. Sometimes you nail it on the first try, but other times you have to figure out what the key words are that will produce the results you are hoping for, and for that you have to have a pretty clear idea of what you are wanting.

That works great for a subject I know something about (eg ice cream), because it is really easy to skim a forum and see if it appears to be accurate, see how the tone fits with my interests, etc. But you need more of a focus than just "ice cream" -- doing this with "ice cream forums" quickly illustrates that I will go in very different directions depending on whether I am hoping to learn how to make my own, open an ice cream store, or exchange gossip about Ben & Jerry's flavors. In other words, I need more specificity to find something useful -- "ice cream" is still too general a topic.

But with something I know nothing about, like the Weimar Republic, I'd first have to begin by learning at least the minimum about it before digging into forums -- I need to know key words, enough to distinguish the crackpots from the informed scholars; I need to have at least the broadest sense of the issues. And that also gives me a sense of how to dig into it -- through the lens of history? Or as a cultural issue? Or postmodern geography?

Basically, it's easy if you have a direction ("I want to make handmade ice cream for fun") and hard if it is vague and general ("Weimar Republic"). I do this all the time -- finding ultra-specific and monomaniacal forums and websites to answer my questions -- but I do it late in the process of learning about something, when I have specific questions to answer, not at the beginning when I don't have any clue at all.
posted by Forktine at 2:45 PM on June 9, 2008

Hmm. Well, I tend to seek out (or be drawn to) forums after I've reached a certain level of "basic internet expertise" in a topic, and still want to know more. In essense, if I find even a very good website about said topic, I'll already know the gist of what it tells me, and at that point, to pursue my interest online I really need to start talking to people, not just reading.

At this point, it's not that I have a formula so much as that people who have excellent websites on a topic also tend to know where the good forums are, if they exist - so it's easy enough to find them if you're patient. Also, polite inquiries in more general but tangentially related forums or websites can work well. Heck, people here sometimes Ask.Mefi about this kind of thing, which is just that kind of principle. Google can work sometimes, but it's not my first impulse.

Sometimes I seek out livejournal communities, but while I'm more positive towards the LJ membership than many others on MeFi, I've noticed that many lj comms with a very specific interest base are neither very active nor advanced - with the exception of fandom comms. So it depends on a) how successful I am in my forum search (how desperate I am), and b) how interested I am (if I'm obsessed, I want to read ALL about the topic, everywhere), and c) sometimes how board I am (eeh, it's late at night, I've got nothing to do, the forum here is dead - hey, maybe LJ has a community about it, too!).

Honestly, I'm not sure I have any really good examples of this because I tend to become a regular at a forum and then forget how the heck I got there! Right now, I hang out at a comics website geared at fans of feminist (superhero) comics, but that one doesn't count because I was in the first wave of folks who knew the founder personally. I also post regularly at a betta hobbyist forum, which I think I found because someone recommended it on a livejournal betta community while I was doing research for my first fish. (I highly recommend it to all current and prospective betta owners, by the way.) Or, possibly, it was linked to on, but I can't check because bettysplendens seems to be dead. D'oh! Heck, maybe I did Google "betta forum" after all.

Anyway, in general, the process of finding forums is a very organic process for me. As an information/library science student I really ought to have a more intellectual explanation for this which throws around phrases like "information-seeking behavior," "berrypicking," and a bit of blather about Bates and her successors in communication theory, but honestly I really need a nap right now, so please forgive me if I don't try to parse this out at the moment. Also, I just tossed all my notes out in the recycling a few days ago.

Note: all of the above only applies to knowledge that can be acquired through written or other similarly hands-off sources, whether practical [gardening, pet care] or intellectual [topical learning, like the Weimar Republic]. If I wanted to find, say, a support forum for people with a certain health condition, I would probably just Google. When I want a knowledge-based forum, I want it "peer-reviewed," which is why a rec from someone with the know-how (like someone with a great website on the topic) helps - but if I want a support forum, then I'm the peer, and the best judge of whether the community's right for me.
posted by bettafish at 3:16 PM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, I think asking on other forums has got to the best means (a Google search is a quick start, though not always very accurate). I would suggest trying to find a larger board on a "parent" topic at a place like Big Boards and then going there and asking for more specific discussion places.
posted by shivohum at 5:40 PM on June 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

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