"An Open Forum: Unofficially, Anonymously Online"

The Unofficial UB Network Forum, a tightly knit virtual community, provides a place on the Internet for technically savvy UB students to gather and discuss what's on their minds, exchange information or just blow off steam - all at the speed of thought.

Conversations on the forum are typically diverse, with user-generated topics ranging from advanced computer questions to favorite films. Some have a serious tone; others are nothing short of hilarious. Regardless, everyone gets to have his or her say.

"Most of the conversations are very random," stated one student site administrator, who asked that his name be withheld, in an e-mail. "It resembles a group of friends acting out-of-character to have fun or relieve stress."

Ron Douglas, a moderator for the forum, considers it an efficient communication tool.

"I feel the forum is a very effective way to share ideas and information with members of the college community who I might not know directly," said Douglas. "If you have a question or comment, there is no better way than to be able to communicate it with numerous students on campus and receive immediate replies."

The forum was created by two UB students simply to "play around and learn how to run a Web server," said the administrator. Since then, the site has grown far beyond their predictions, claiming 300 registered users posting content that he said garnered about 3.8 million hits in September.

Earlier this month, the forum was shut down at the discretion of the administrators because, they said, "some things got out of hand." Since then, the forum has been reinvented, expanding to six topic categories from its original three.

"The forum evolved from demand," the administrator said. "Higher usage required a more stable design, which needs less upkeep."

The cost of maintaining the forum is determined by the amount of bandwidth the site uses, which has necessitated a number of volunteer moderators monitoring posts for redundancy and irrelevancy. The administrators put up a minimum $25 a month to keep the site running; excess usage from frivolous postings can bring the cost up substantially.

The administrator asked that the site's address not be printed, as "we use as much bandwidth as we pay for, and don't want a flood of new users increasing that bandwidth."

"Whomever finds the site is welcome to use it," the administrator added, "as long as they can get past the verbal hazing that most new users get."

Even though many of the users do not know each other in everyday life, they say they often feel as though they do. Posts are made frequently throughout the day by the more consistent users, and often quickly replied to. In this manner, users have formed close allies and nemeses, without having seen one another's faces.

"I can't speak for everyone," said a regular user who posts as "Legacy," "but for me it's one of the only real senses of community I've felt since I was matriculated at UB."

The community Legacy spoke of, although diverse in membership, shares a common sense of distinction from the rest of the university.

"I like the idea of a meritocracy. Everyone on the board obviously has some sort of knowledge base, otherwise they wouldn't be able to figure out how to post," said Legacy.

According to Douglas, forum administrators have often been apprehensive about being shut down, possibly due to file-sharing and copyright issues. The forum does not allow users to swap files. If two users decide to share files, however, it is at their own discretion.

"The forum is a place for communication and exchange of ideas," said Douglas. "[For a user to] ask someone for a file or music, they would have to communicate outside of the forum to facilitate the exchange."

Above all else, the forum enjoys the "underground" perception surrounding it and values its privacy.

"The members have gotten used to the community on the forum," said the administrator. "It's almost like a form of ethnocentrism - if you haven't found it already, maybe you shouldn't be on it now."