Bulletin boards, newsgroups, forums - whatever they're called, they all follow the same basic idea. Someone posts a message, such as 'I think JavaScript is the world's best programming language', someone else posts a reply, such as 'Rubbish!', other people join in and a 'thread' of linked messages develops. As with guestbooks, the databases of forum messages are stored on a third-party server, which also generates the display and data-entry HTML pages. You place links from your site to dummy page URLs, and the server does the rest.

Forums are normally organised by subject matter, with contributors deciding the threads within each forum. You can create a forum for each subject you'd like to see discussed under the auspices of your web site; so far I've created forums for general PC issues and UK Soap Operas on my website, but there's no accounting for taste.

Like guestbooks, forums need regular supervision. You can log into the forum server to remove unsuitable messages, and some forum servers let you ban unwanted participants (sometimes as part of a chargeable 'premium' package). However it's hard to keep a track of people's aliases, and banning by IP address is little use as most users connect via dial-up ISPs which allocate IP addresses dynamically.

I've used www.netbabbler.com for my forums. Its pages contain banner ads, but they're reasonably unobtrusive, and performance is good at most times of the day. You can also customise the forum page with your own graphics, giving it that 'in-site' feel. Another good feature is Netbabbler's choice of layouts for the lists of messages in each thread - either a hierarchic 'tree' (which I prefer), or the more formal HTML table.

There are plenty of forum servers to choose from, including Beseen's Boardroom (www.beseen.com),which is very similar to Netbabbler, although with fewer options. Meanwhile Delphi (www.dephi.com) is a rather different idea, in which you create forums and chatrooms on Delphi's 'forums community' website (a sort of free-access version of CompuServe), with no 'in-site' page layout customisation.

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