Forum Tutorial - Overview
A general overview of the myTobago Discussion Forum
Let's start by getting the terminology out of the way:
- Board: An abbreviation for discussion board - simply another name for forum.
- Sub-Forum: A sub-category, also known as a discussion group, within the overall forum. Each sub-forum/discussion group contains messages pertaining to a different subject.
- Topic: Also known as a thread (because it represents a thread of conversation), a topic is a specific string of messages within a sub-forum/discussion group.
- Post: An individual message. A topic will be made up of one or more posts.
The forum contains thousands of messages about Tobago. The tricky bit is finding ways to allow the reader to quickly locate the information they are looking for.
The first way we do this is by dividing the overall forum into subject matters. We call these individual sub-forums Discussion Groups. As the name implies, each group contains information about a specific subject - accommodation, air travel, car rental, food and drink, etc.
If the discussion group is large, we sub-divide it into smaller groups (sub-forums), as in the case of our very popular Accommodation group; this has been sub-divided into sub-forums for every property with 20 rooms or more, and smaller property that we can personally recommend.
The actual messages (posts) are contained within each discussion group. However, its not quite that simple. If we stuffed all the messages into the same drawer, it would soon become a total mess. So, the forums/sub-forums are divided into topics - threads of conversation. This is not something that we do - it is something initiated by readers. When a user posts a new message, it automatically becomes a new topic and will be listed under the subject given by the author (like the Subject line of an email message). Replies to the message are then shown after the original message, so become part of the topic. In other words, a topic consists of one or more related messages (posts) on the same subject.
So, the basic structure is as follows:
Putting all of this together, a forum may contain other sub-forums. Each forum or sub-forum contains topics. Each topic is made up of one or more posts.
How does this all work in practice? Well, have a look at the central part of the main page of the forum. This is called the Index page. It serves exactly the same purpose as the index of a book.
What you see on this page is an index of all the Discussion Groups available on the forum. You can ignore everything on the right side of the page as this is information for advanced users. Concentrate on the blue headings to the left of the page. This comment applies to all other forum pages as well.
For neatness, the overall forum is divided into two groups. The top group is for Announcements & Welcome Messages. The contents of this sub-forum are hopefully obvious.
Now for the interesting stuff...
All the main forums are listed in the Discussion Groups panel, illustrated above. Click on any of the blue titles (in the forum - not in the illustration) and you will be taken to the topics in that forum. There is one exception to this rule. The Accommodation forum is so large that it has been sub-divided into smaller sub-forums. You must choose one of the sub-forum before you can get the list of topics.
Throughout the forum it is the same principle of clicking on the blue title line and 'drilling down' to the actual messages. As with all web pages, if you mouse pointer turns to a pointing finger, you are hovering over a link. Clicking on the link will take you to the associated page.
Clicking on the blue title of any sub-forum will take you to the next level - a list of the topics in that sub-forum. On the page illustrated above, you can take a shortcut by clicking on the sub-forum names listed under each group name.
So, having selected a discussion group we arrive at the topics page, which might typically look like the following:
Once again, ignore the information to the right of the page and concentrate on the titles to the left. These are the subject lines of specific topics of conversation. The topics will be listed in descending order of date - so the newest threads will appear at the top of the list. However, topic threads take their date from the most recent post in the thread, not from just the originating message, so an 'old' thread could appear at the top of the list if someone has just posted something new in the topic.
Do you notice the little icons to the left of the topic subject line? If you are a registered user, the icons will appear in orange to indicate that the topic, or a message within the topic, has been posted since you last visited the forum. This makes it very much easier to catch up on those posts that you haven't read. There's a legend explaining what these icons represent at the bottom of every topic page.
To read the posts within a given topic, simply click on the subject title. The resulting messages will be listed in date/time order, so will read in just the same order as a normal conversation. Popular threads may be made up of multiple pages, but if so there will be a 'Goto page' link at the top and bottom of the page. This will allow you to skip to more recent pages within the same topic.
Having 'drilled down' deep into the forum, it can be easy to lose track of where you are. Fortunately, there is a navigation aid in the form of a line of blue text at the top and bottom of every page:
This line is telling us that we are reading a topic entitled 'North or South' in the General Accommodation sub-forum of the main Accommodation discussion group. We can click on any part of this navigation line to take us back to that level. So, for example, clicking on -> myTobago.info Forum Index will take us back to the main (start) index page. Clicking on -> Accommodation will take us to the main Accommodation page and it's list of sub-forums. Clicking on -> General Accommodation will take us to the list of topics in the General Accommodation forum.
At the top of the panel (illustrated above) you will also see View previous topic :: View next topic. Clicking on these links allows us to scroll sequentially through other topics in whatever discussion group we are currently viewing.
At the bottom of the page you will also see a link that will allow you to jump directly to any other forum or sub-forum. This is also a good way to see the full navigational structure of the overall forum.
So, having learned how to navigate your way around and to view individual messages, I would strongly recommend that you practise for a while before reading the next section of the tutorial.
NEXT: Forum User Accounts...