The effects of a shoutbox on a forum community


The New Architect
Feb 8, 2006
Medora submitted a new Article:

The effects of a shoutbox on a forum community

I originally published the following article at my forum, The Infinity Program.


The shoutbox, as it relates to the Internet forum, is a feature, usually attached to the front page, which provides a space for a type of interaction similar to an instant messenger program in that there is more of an emphasis on synchronous communication. Also, since the shoutbox, by its very nature, so encourages spontaneous interaction between forum members, it is often viewed, especially by webmasters, with contempt for influencing the creation of messages of exceptionally meager value.

Indeed, the value of a shoutbox has, on numerous occasions, been made into a topic of discussion at webmaster forums. In such discussions, several arguments against the use of shoutboxes have been advanced, but the most substantive and common is, in my estimation, the assertion that the shoutbox siphons or robs member-generated content that would otherwise have been created as topics or posts.

That said, my intention is to show the following: (1) the assertion that the shoutbox necessarily robs activity is specious at best, (2) the other criticisms advanced against shoutbox use are merely window dressing, and (3) there are ways to effectively minimize the perceived disadvantages of the shoutbox.

Countering The Main Argument

The problem with asserting that the shoutbox robs topics and posts is this: it simply assumes, without evidence, that, if the content was never posted in the shoutbox, it would have been posted as a topic, or reply to a topic. The assertion may, at first, seem self-evident: after all, the members visit and submit content, but with a shoutbox present, you may see them submit much of their content there while paying little attention to the topic listing area of the forum. This, in turn, creates the impression, in the observer's mind, that the shoutbox offsets activity in the topic listing area.

What this ignores is that it is because the shoutbox is a different medium of communication that to compare it to the Internet forum's topic and reply system is similar to comparing apples and oranges. The shoutbox, as I said, is more like an instant messenger program, which necessarily implies that the standard for starting topics is more relaxed, and so members who participate in it move from one topic to the next more freely and...

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