For many people, the Internet has made it easier to communicate with people who have similar interests. Virtually as long as there has been an Internet, there have been online groups where people can share information about a given topic. Because it’s possible to communicate in so many ways, all the terms can be confusing. Here is a run down of some of the lingo.
A discussion group or discussion list is sometimes called a forum or newsgroup. Generally, someone posts a message and then people respond. Other terms used for groups include usenet, bulletin board (or BBS), Listserv, majordomo, or Lyris. Generally these names correspond to the software or platform used to run the discussion. These days, groups revolve around the Web site that hosts the group, such as Yahoo Groups or Google Groups.
In a discussion, related responses are called a "thread," and they are linked together so people reading later can follow the context of the discussion. A "moderated" discussion list means that someone (the moderator) reads all the postings, deletes inappropriate commentary, and generally tries to keep the group on topic and civil towards one another.
As in any community, disagreements can arise. Different groups have certain rules and etiquette standards that are often listed in a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document or welcome message that you receive when you join the group. Particularly nasty disagreements often are termed "flame wars" where the moderator has to step in and settle everyone down (or throw people out).
Before you post to a discussion, it’s helpful to just read postings for a while (termed "lurking") to get a feel for who is who. When you reply to a posting, it’s also considered good form to copy out only the text you are commenting on. "Snipping" makes it much easier for people to follow the conversation.
Always remember that things you say in a discussion list can last for years and years. I’ve found postings that I made to a technical writing list in 1995. They are still out there in cyberspace. If you are nice and mind your manners, you’ll find that discussion groups are a great way to meet new "virtual friends."