Although I’ve been a web designer professionally for almost a decade, I was working on a college degree for far longer. That’s right, I learned this stuff before you could major in it. As a result, I decided to go for an e-business degree because I had no desire to sit through months of basic web design classes. Surprise! I already knew about 99% of the e-business material too.
But this meant I got to participate in some interesting classroom discussions and once again see how other people view the Internet.
In several classes there was confusion among students as to the difference between blogs, wikis and forums, what they did, and when to use them.
To add to the confusion, they each do have some similar functions. Yes, all 3 are web-based applications that allow people to communicate with each other. However, this doesn’t mean they are all ideal for the same needs or projects.
What you are looking at now is a blog. It is a site that one or more people post articles to. The articles appear in a linear fashion (most recent articles to the oldest). There is the ability to make categories and search for articles, but little else for organizing large volumes of information in an easy-to-access fashion. And while people can make comments on posts and even talk back and forth within those comments, the design is not typically ideal for extended conversations on complex subjects. A blog would be ideal for an organization that wants to share information with members of the organization or with the general public. Not for collaborating when you need to organize large volumes of information or for having extended discussion.
Forums can also be used by many for communication. And they can even be organized by category. For example, I could make a GeekArtist Web Solutions forum for my clients. Within that forum would be rooms separated by category: one about domains, one about web hosting, one about web design, one for general banter, and so on. Forums are great for exchanging ideas and carrying on complex conversations. But their design tends to leave something to be desired in terms of organizing information. Forums are ideal for organizations that want a way for their internal or external members to interact. For example, a church may have a forum where church members can discuss any number of subjects. Or a web hosting business may have a forum used to keep customers up-to-date on news and allow customers to help each other out with website issues a host can’t typically help with, such as web design troubleshooting.
A wiki is typically a repository of information on a particular subject. Think of it as an instruction manual, or it may span many subjects like an encyclopedia (hence the name of the popular wiki, Wikipedia). For example, I could make a how-to wiki on “how to make websites”. The information can be organized by subject matter. Some groups have wikis that several people contribute to, or are like Wikipedia, where anyone who wants to can make changes to the information. Yet not all wikis allow everyone and their dog to make edits to them. This could be useful for an organization that needs a means to organize information on a project and allow team members to keep an extensive living document up-to-date. Wikis are usually best for major collaboration, and some wikis have incorporated blogs, forums and chat rooms into them so that wiki participants can better communicate as they collaborate on the project.
Maybe this will help you find the one that is best for your project. Still not sure? Feel free to ask and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction.