The chat rooms and instant messages described in the previous chapter are great for real-time mingling. But like conversations around the water cooler, they're not very long-lasting. Enter the discussion group, a thriving corner of the Internet where folks gather to post their opinions and expertise on every conceivable topic. Anyone reading along can chime in and post a message to contribute to the discussion—or read the whole thing from start to finish, because it stays on the Web site or server hosting the group.
A discussion group is like a chat room in extremely slow motion. And thanks to the permanence, it can be a treasure trove of useful information on everything from computer repair to the proper care of the viola da gamba.
Online discussion groups have been around since 1980, but they've gotten a lot easier to use in the past few years. Thanks to some of the same tools that make Web searching efficient, you can find the answers you seek in older discussion groups more quickly than ever before. Seek and ye shall find discussion groups on your favorite topics where you can jump right in with posts of your own. And if you don't find a group that you like anywhere on the Internet's vast frontier, you can play pioneer and start your own.
Google Groups is the biggest and most famous community of discussions; it tends to hog a lot of attention due to its Usenet pedigree. But it's not the only discussion game in town.