Internet Services: Websites, Chat Rooms, and Newsgroups

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Websites are discussed above, along with tips for choosing an ISP.

Message Boards

Message boards are "threaded" online discussion forums where discussions can ensue without everyone being online at the same time. In contrast to a mailing list where messages are automatically delivered to a subscriber’s mailbox, users must check a central web site to look for new message board posts Messages are posted in topics or threads, and may quote previous messages. These boards are built with software that allows the setting of topics and automates the linking of related messages. As with mailing lists, you must be cognizant of the fact that anyone can post and the information provided may not be the most accurate. This is of special consideration because archives are created, so people will be able to see these posts for many years to come! Message board software offers features for user registration, administrator privileges, and searching. There are several bulletin board packages available, including Ultimate BBI.

Blogging software behaves in a very similar way. For more about blogging, see the discussion in "Internet and Web Resources" and "About this site."

Finally, Protecting Message Boards from Spam is an extremely important step in creating a successful message board.

Protecting Message Boards from Spam

Organizations have faced issues with spam on their online forums and community message boards. Spam can come from either people or bots, so it is important to consider both when working to protect message boards and forums. There are many methods to prevent spam, and it is often both useful and necessary to use more than one of these methods to increase security, help keep members safe, and protect the organization's server and intellectual property.

General Tips

  • Never use default settings.
  • Use a strong administrator password.
  • If possible, use the Akismet plug-in to help catch spam. It is supported by many applications.

Spam from People:

  • Some small organizations directly approve anyone trying to register for their listserv. If the staff member assigned to this role does not recognize the newly registered member, he or she sends them a message asking why they want to be on their board. Those that do not respond do not get approved. This tactic also allows the organization to find out about new families.
  • Small organizations can also choose to approve all messages before they are posted on their listserv so that they can prevent any spam from getting through to their community.
  • Using SMF (Simple machines forum), organizations can protect themselves from spam from people by using a double opt-in to register. The form can be protected with various tools including CAPTCHA, a simple random question, and/or organization-specific questions, such as asking about a registrant's connection with the condition that the organization supports. The server will collect the IP addresses of each person who submits this form. The IP address can then be manually checked using the IP Blacklist Checker. If there are too many registrants to do this manually, it can also be done automatically by setting up Spamhaus to screen the sign-up email. If the address is blacklisted, the request to join is denied.

Spam from Bots:

  • Bot spam is particularly hard to deal with, and can sometimes get around CAPTCHA forms and security questions. Furthermore, they are sometimes designed to harvest members' email addresses, and inject virus code into organizations' websites. Hackers unfortunately see trusted sites as good places to infect with malicious code, and oftentimes the organization will not know their site has been compromised until too late.
  • Zbblock is a free security script tool that that is quick to set up and will work on any forum that uses .PHP and many websites.
  • Use an .htaccess file to protect the access to all files and folders on a website.

Chat rooms

Chat rooms are real-time spots where individuals can gather and have a group conversation. Chat rooms usually support public conversation and private messages. Chat rooms may be accessed through an application, called a client, which resides on a website or on your computer. The client connects to the chat area and lets you talk publicly with others or have private messages one-on-one.

If you host a mailing list with a service such as Yahoo!, chat services may be included. If you are choosing an ISP for a website you are developing, you may wish to check and see whether the ISP you select supports chat or has any restrictions against using chat programs (which can put a heavy "load" on a server, so companies may be careful about where they allow them).

As with mailing lists, you must have a Terms of Service for your chat area, and you may wish to place restrictions on how people can identify themselves. While you and your members will almost certainly only use your chat for sincere and mutually helpful reasons, people do occasionally abuse the trust that makes chat rooms work, and by considering that possibility in advance you can ensure that even if problems arise, they are quickly solved.

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