Increased fragmentation of society coupled with fast-paced life-styles has contributed to the popularity of electronic forums between people separated in time and space across diverse geographical regions and different time-zones. Unlike face-to-face discussions, electronic forums can be accessed at any convenient time and place. Such forums are not limited by the number of participants on account of administrative constraints, such as seating capacity or scheduling problems. Visitors to an online forum also have the benefit of reviewing earlier postings and to bring themselves up-to-date before deciding to join a particular e-group or participate in the discussion. Online forums also offer the advantage of anonymity on account of which participants can post their views and responses without the fear of ridicule, since appreciation of and eliciting different view points is the main purpose of the forum. It also offers participants the opportunity to mull over whatever information has been viewed and offer a measured response at a convenient time after having considered all the pros and cons of an argument. These factors affect the manner in which electronic forums function in that they are more free-flowing and unstructured.
Face-to-face discussions on the other ...
When there is no eye contact, accompanying gestures or intonations, understanding a point can sometimes become difficult or may even be mis-understood. Face-to-face discussions are definitely better off in this regard. On the other hand, certain unconscious reflexes deeply ingrained due to socio-economic causes, e.g. not to interrupt when a senior is speaking, may result in a face-to-face discussions getting hijacked by a few persons. Moreover, one tends to agree more readily with people from the same ethnic or racial background out of a sense of affinity and misplaced sense of loyalty. This is not so in the case of electronic forums where only the relevance and power of the written word is of consequence.
Another major difference is the manner in which the discussion progresses. In a face-to-face discussion, only one person is articulating his views at one time which are commented upon by another and so on. Thus the discussion is linear in nature and more easily understood. In an electronic forum on the other hand, a number of users may be logged on simultaneously, discussing various themes or variations of the main subject. This jumping from theme to theme may make it confusing for a new or first time user or to someone not conversant with the subject. Yet another factor is the time available for response, which is very limited in face-to-face discussions. In most cases, rather than concentrating on what is being said by the speaker, most listeners are formulating their own response.
This brings into consideration the pattern of participation. While some people may feel too shy to speak in front of a group of strangers, yet others may not participate fully for fear of seeming too knowledgeable or of 'showing-off'. An electronic forum on the other hand allows