I’d explored instant messaging and blogging so where did my Internet expedition take me next? Forums…well, one forum anyway.

Offline life sort of set me off down this avenue as I got engaged and began planning for my two wedding days. Looking back it is obvious that this was probably the point at which I really began to reap the value of communicating on the Internet rather than just using it for the sake of using

Wedding magazines are incredibly pricey and shows are sometimes hard to get to and don’t necessarily cater for those looking to stray from the traditional path. And I didn’t have any real life friends to ask for advice or recommendations being among the first of my circle of friends to tie the knot.So, online I went.

I tried all the (now) well established websites from offline wedding brands. Then I found what was to be my online home for the best part of four years (two and a half wedding planning then moving to the baby talk board).

At the time I was slightly in awe of the way you could get an answer to any question at all from the collective knowledge available through the forum. Now of course that seems almost run of the mill given the way social media is evolving but for my first experience of it there was a danger of being overwhelmed.

I shared many wedding days through that board as people revealed their plans, counted down to their big day and then posted their experience and top tips for future brides.It was easy to get recommendations and many smaller, independent retailers were members giving a greater depth to the knowledge available.

How these suppliers were allowed to use the boards led to member debate and self-policing when rules were broken.

The bad side of boards were here also. I loved using the boards and the people I spoke to regularly on there but never really stopped feeling like the new girl in class. There were definite cliques on each of the boards which sometimes verged on snobbery or rudeness.

Most of the time if you weren’t in the clique or you were a newer member you just got fewer replies to your threads.

Maybe some of this was down to the sheer volume of posts going through the boards. Possibly some of it down to repetition within those threads.Possibly some of it was just pure flaming.

It was a definite community though with some boards being tidal (as weddings passed people tailed off, sometimes to reappear on the off topic or baby boards) others being a more stable forum.

And the communities supported each other…when women were scared or confused on the baby boards there were people there to offer comfort and try to advise (this could have been a real benefit in situations where a woman hadn’t revealed a pregnancy in her real world).

When the 7/7 London bombings happened the off topic community set up an informal and impromptu check in for known London members. They also supported each other in the days after posting about why they thought London was great and shouldn’t be abandoned because of what had happened. A milder but never-the-less modern version of Blitz-spirit.

Much of the etiquette being bandied about today for newer platforms stood back then especially the ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine’ way of community building. If you were an active poster who took time to share and post quality replies you were more likely to get more / higher quality / faster replies when you posted a query.

And the things people wanted to communicate about on the off topic boards haven’t vastly changed either…what they’re wearing, where they’ve been, what they’re eating. All still popping up consistently and frequently on today’s social media landscape.

I learnt a lot even from just lurking on those boards (I can name the designer of a dress at twenty paces and I know more about the signs from your body that baby-making is go than I care to list). I also had a lot of good conversations and genuinely cared about what happened to some of the people I shared offline life journeys with through that forum.

But, like many, I drifted away on the tide. I returned to work after having my son and my daily visits turned to weekly turned to ad hoc. Now (just two year’s after my son’s birth) I can’t even recall which email address I used to register in order to go back and visit those boards.

Just like ICQ and Open Diary before, it seems that the boards of Hitched had served their purpose in my life and I’d once again hit the road in search of a new online space.

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