While both forums and groups are very popular ways to interact and meet people with the same interests as one does, they are basically two different things with the same functionality. For this paper, I will make use of autism as a starting point for comparing groups and forums, and show why forums are better suited to use for people who are searching for information
Texas Autism Advocacy at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Texas-Autism-Advocacy/?v=1&t=search&ch=web&pub=groups&sec=group&slk=1 requires membership to let a user access its files, which includes messages, files, photos, links, database, polls, events calendar, and member lists. To join, just click on the Join This Group! button, then choose the appropriate responses to various questions regarding one’s E-mail information, and message delivery options. One would also need to go through a character verification process to prevent automated registration and leave a comment to the group owner. The group owner would have to approve your membership to join.
Autism and ABA at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Texas-Autism-Advocacy/?v=1&t=search&ch=web&pub=groups&sec=group&slk=1 is another autism-related Yahoo!Group. It offers basically the same things as the Texas Autism Advocacy group, only that this one allows for immediate access to its files after registration. Meaning one would not need the group owner’s approval to view the messages, events calendar, etc.
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MSN Groups has a similar autism support group called the Autism Group at http://groups.msn.com/AUTISMGROUP/welcomtotheautismgroup.msnw, while I was not able to find an autism group for AOL at groups.aol.com, which was shut down on July 24, 2008 and replaced with People Connection Blog.
The Autism Group at MSN had basically more options for pages, as MSN is fully customizable. For instance, it has options for various external links like the DAN Doctors, Web rings, and other sites, while it also features internal links to pictures, the message boards, information on support groups established by the group founder, and other information. The Message Board at the Autism Group in MSN is more like the forums.
Using Yahoo, I came across the Autism Forum at http://autismforum.net/forums. This particular forum has the message board, Web links, news about autism, as well as pages that allows users to upload news and files. The initial interface also features the latest forum posts, a Chatbox, and a search box. The message boards are immediately readable. Reply to topics or posting a new thread, however, requires membership. To sign up for a free membership, the user has to certify his or her age, provide the desired login name, password, and E-mail address.
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For me, in this particular case, I prefer going to the forums rather than the groups. For one, forums are much more secure in terms of the security of your E-mail address. In a forum, personal details like your E-mail address, full names are protected and cannot be seen by other users. In fact, only your handle or code name identifies you. This is a very different situation from Yahoo Groups where your E-mail address is displayed with your message (should you decide to post).
Forums also allow one to access posts and messages immediately, even to non-members. With autism, most people tends to look for information, rather than socialize, so it would be helpful for them to just read the posts. Also, having a preview of what’s inside, and the amount of interaction between users would be helpful in encouraging a “lurker” into joining the discussion.
On the other hand, if one is interested in a more generic thing, like photography or scrapbooking, I would suggest using either Yahoo or Google Groups, which allow for photos and files to be uploaded. Groups are also more organized in terms of page layout, so it’s easier to find one’s way around. Also, group sites also allow the user to opt to get the messages sent or posted on the board directly to E-mail.
Both groups and forums have their own set of advantage and disadvantages, and both serves the purpose of bringing together people of the same interests and allows them to interact with one another. However, I think that forums are more appropriately used in interests like autism, because not only are forums easily searchable, it also allows for instant access to message boards