Ah, Internet messages boards, a place where vociferous talk, endless debate and anonymity fuse to create a global community out of millions of passionate, somewhat obsessive people.
Almost everybody who has been on the Internet at least perused a message board, if not posted to one. Hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world visit message board communities every day.
Board topics range from religion to sports to almost any topic you can think of. If you have a love for a subject, and you want your voice to be heard, there is a place for you on the Internet.
One such community can be found at BeaverFootball.com, where thousands of fans post daily about Oregon State University athletics, broader sporting news and everyday activities. The BeaverFootball.com message board provides an opportunity for like-minded people who live thousands of miles away from each other to talk.
The board community was founded in 1997. It started out small, with just a handful of loyal posters, but has grown into a community with more than 1,200 registered users.
Fans from all over the United States - and, indeed, the world - stop by the boards to check in on the Beavers or talk with Beaver fans before and after games.
"It's nice to be able to 'talk' to other people about a common interest," said BaldGuy, a regular poster. "It can be hard to find knowledgeable people to talk to about Beaver football. That is never a problem on the message board."
Sometimes message board conversations are serious. Other times they are lighthearted. From time to time, they turn vicious.
"I find the banter between fans entertaining," said the Washington Husky fan who posts as HuskyFaithful. "You'll find yourself agreeing with fans from other schools and arguing with some folks from your own fan base."
"You can say what you want, call any names that you want, taunt who you want, make any claims that you want and so on without having to worry about meeting your victims in person," Baldguy said. "It's kind of like making a prank call on the telephone, except you get to do it to the same people more often."
Message boards serve multiple purposes.
Some people view the boards as pure entertainment. Others view them as a vast source of information. Still others view them as a place to tick people off, or, on a more positive note, meet people with common interests.
Longtime Duck fan and Beaver antagonist JimsaDuck sees the boards as a way to garner information that a fan doesn't get from the mainstream press. "I try to view the message boards as entertainment mostly, although the reason I started showing up at these boards was to try and get information you couldn't get elsewhere - i.e., The Oregonian, etc."
Many friendships have been forged on message boards. Some consider regular posters their friends, even though they have never met in the flesh.
"I routinely trade e-mails and/or phone calls with several message board regulars," said BeaverFootball.com posting legend Believer Tim.
"I have developed relationships with these people. I have gotten to know them enough without actually meeting them in person - yet - that I would call them friends."
Some posters have even formed friendships with opposition fans they met through message boards.
OSU fans have invited Husky, Cougar and Duck fans to tailgate parties with them when their teams come to Corvallis. The favor is returned when the Beaver fans travel to away games.
"I have met many fans on the message boards from Oregon, OSU and UW," said Gordo, an Oregon fan. "I have never met anyone in person I didn't like. For example, I used to always feud with Section14a, but when we met in person, we had a good laugh."
Often, message boards are used to give other team's fans a hard time. The practice is commonly known as "flaming."
But many veteran posters know that can come back to haunt you.
"I don't like going over to other boards spouting off ahead of the games, like I used to when I first started posting," BelieverTim said. "I've been burned too many times and got tired of looking silly.
"Nowadays, I see people trying to flame before a game, and the Beavs go out and throttle them that Saturday and I am thinking, 'Did I look that stupid when I used to do that stuff?'"
"Oh yeah," he said. "Definitely.
"That is, unless another team does better than mine. When that happens, the other teams fans will come and visit."
Due to the fact that most people are posting anonymously, readers and members of message board communities need to take posts with a grain of salt.
"People have to remember that body language and tone don't come through over the Internet," BelieverTim said. "You'd better be able to laugh at yourself, because you can just about bet that someone else is."
"People need to remember not to take things personally," he said. "There are quite a few people on message boards who post just to aggravate others. They are pretty happy when their posts make you mad."
Sometimes it gets a little crazy on the boards. Emotions run high and many individuals post a thread without thinking about what they are saying.
Gordo advises, "If you are mad, walk away. If you take it too seriously, walk away."
Huskyfaithful acknowledged, "If you take things too seriously, you've lost track of why you're following your team and why you're posting in the first place."
Message boards provide people with entertainment, information and electronic connection with like-minded people. Anyone with an Internet connection can be part of a message board community.
Try it yourself. You might like it.
Just remember. Don't spew flame unless you can take the heat you're sure to
get in return.