One of the most frequent questions we get here at MemberPath is “What’s the difference between a blog, a forum, and a listserv?” For someone new to social media, all these things can seem interchangeable and confusing – in reality, however, they all serve distinct purposes.
The word “blog” comes from a contraction of the words “web log,” and a blog in its most basic form is just that: a log of whatever the author choose to write about. Originally, most blogs were online journals of individuals, dedicated to their daily lives and whatever else they wanted to write about. Today, while that type of blog is still very common, the most successful blogs are usually centered around some specific topic – they can be location-based (like “Dining out in Richmond, VA”), interest-based (like “Awkward Family Photos” – really!), or anything else the author has the desire to write about.
With blogs, one person (the blog’s author, or “blogger”) has control over the content. They can post what they want, when they want. Most blogs allow other users to post comments, but the blogger still has control over what gets posted and can choose to delete any comments they want.
A forum is an online meeting place or discussion board, where users can start conversations (or “threads”) with new topics, or contribute to already-existing threads. In a forum, all members are created equal – except for the moderators. Forum moderators are people with administrative power, who keep an eye on the forum’s posts and watch out for abuse and off-topic content. Forums can be public or restricted, general or specific, and ___. Forums are much more community-based than blogs are.
Forums can be organized into different areas for different things – for example, a forum about pets could be organized into sections for “dogs,” “cats,” “small mammals, “birds,” “reptiles,” etc., and then each of those categories can have many different threads, like “what’s the best type of food for 2-year-old Labradors?” or “Are parakeets good pets for children?” etc. Forum members can then share their knowledge and experience with each other. Many forum threads are based on questions from members, but they can also be media-based (“post pictures of your pet turtles here!”) or informative (“list of links about Siamese cats”).
A “LISTSERV” is a commonly-used name for an online mailing list. Technically, it’s actually incorrect – the term “LISTSERV” refers to the specific computer software developed to help create and manage mailing lists – but to many people, the terms are interchangeable. The way a mailing list works is simple: a user sends an e-mail to the mailing list address, and the listserver (software that is being used to manage the list) distributes the message to everyone who is subscribed to the mailing list.
With a mailing list, typically one or a few people are writing, and many are listening. There are two main types of mailing lists: “announcement lists” and “discussion lists.” An announcement list essential functions like a newsletter – information is distributed in one direction to people who are subscribed to the list. Discussion lists, on the other hand, are more like forums – while one person may start the conversation, list subscribers are all able to contribute and reply to everyone else on the list.
Other types of personally-published online content...
Podcasts: a “podcast” is an audio recording that usually has the same type of content as a blog, but can also be interviews, roundtable discussions, etc. podcasts are typically produced in mp3 format (as it’s the most commonly used audio filetype), and made available for download through the iTunes music store or on a blog or website.
Vlog: a “vlog” is a video weblog. Again, the content is usually the same as a blog/podcast, but in video format. Videos may be uploaded to YouTube or a similar service, and then posted on blogs and websites.
Wiki: a Wiki is collaborative informational website that allows users to upload and edit content. The most widely-used and well-known wiki is Wikipedia, a massive online encyclopedia.
A great video about blog basics, by Lee LeFever of the CommonCraft Show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN2I1pWXjXI
Another CommonCraft Show video, this one on wikis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY