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Conferencing Web Sites

By David Mendosa

Last Modified On: August 1, 1998

Just two things keep people with diabetes going back again and again to a Web site—news and support groups. Several sites specialize in providing the latest news, and I will review them in a subsequent column.

‘Information in the message board is permanent.’

But until recently few diabetes-related sites had the sort of conferencing software that allows interaction among individuals with questions and problems, answers and solutions. In the past few months, however, there has been an explosion in the number of sites offering this sort of support.

I've discovered 10 sites that offer some sort of conferencing. This conferencing goes by various names, most commonly a bulletin board. Sometimes it's called a support group, a discussion group or discussion center, or a forum or message board.

Whatever it's called, it works very much like the popular e-mail mailing lists. Literally thousands of people with diabetes subscribe to one or more of the two dozen lists that I link at On-line Diabetes Resources Part 1: Non-Web Sites.

But as popular as those mailing lists are, the newer Web-based conferencing systems have several advantages. An obvious difference is the Web's ability to present text in a more attractive form than e-mail does.

An even more important difference may be that messages posted on Web sites can be counted on to stay around a lot longer. That's the main advantage that Jeff Hitchcock believes Web sites have, and Jeff is one to know. The webmaster of Children with Diabetes, Jeff is probably the only person who runs both Web message boards and e-mail mailing lists.

"I prefer the message board to e-mail mailing lists because the information in the message board is permanent," Jeff says. "E-mail lists are by nature ephemeral. If you're not there when the message is exchanged, you don't get it. New visitors to the Web site can benefit from the long history of messages in the message board."

Each of the diabetes-related message boards or conferencing systems have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some of them specialize in fairly focused areas, and for many people that will be the primary consideration.

Yet in terms of presentation alone, in my view Jeff's site has the best implementation. It is very active, well organized into 11 conferences, attractive, and quick. The 11 conferences are focused on everything from kids with diabetes to pregnancy to grandparents.

To post a message on one of Jeff's conferences you do have to register and get a password. That can slow you done a bit, but he makes it as painless as possible.

"The question of whether to allow completely anonymous access or to require registration first is a difficult one," Jeff says. "The software requires a user id and password to post a message. Thankfully, the message board will store your userid and password in a cookie on your computer so you don't have to remember it."

Whether a message board is moderated or not is the other major difference among them. Children with Diabetes has one moderated forum: health professionals.

"Everything else is wide open," Jeff says. "Since the whole point of the message board is to provide an open support forum, moderation gets in the way. It takes far less time and effort to delete unacceptable messages than it takes to check each message before it's posted."

One Web site, Diabetes.com, is totally moderated. Because of this it says that you should allow "up to 48 hours before your message will appear." This hinders communication.

There are, however, other sites besides Jeff's that are well worth checking out. Two of my favorites are The Diabetes NetWork (D-Net) and Sapient Health Network. Both require registration that ask lots of questions, but many people find it worth the effort. These are both active and attractive sites.

Most sites provide only the subject line of messages. Mediconsult.com: Diabetes, however, also gives you the first few words of each message—a nice touch.

One of the most active boards is that of The Islet Foundation. If you care about islet cell transplantation, this is the place to be.

The others are The Mining Company: Diabetes, Joslin Diabetes Center, The Diabetes Information Center, and The Family's Guide to Diabetes.

Whatever your interest, if you seek support, you are now no longer limited to e-mail mailing lists. If you take advantage of the interaction they offer, one or more of these Web sites can be your on-line home. 


The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.


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