The web is a treasure trove of useful information created by people just like you. And contrary to popular opinion, not all of that information is on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and the other big social networking sites. In fact, those large, general-purpose sites are fairly useless when it comes to finding answers to questions you might have on specialised topics, such as computers, digital photography, audio visual equipment, notebooks, and web-based bargains, to name just a few. That’s where the thriving world of web forums comes in.

While not as easy to find as the Twitters of the web world, user-to-user forums provide an invaluable medium through which like-minded individuals the world over can share their enthusiasm and expertise about topics that interest them. Virtually all forums today are free, easy to use, and chock full of people who can expand your knowledge and your horizons. All you need to do is show up and start participating.

Computers

What’s wrong with your computer? What’s the best processor to buy? Are glossy screens better than matte? Who makes a better notebook - Dell or Toshiba? Search Google for answers to such questions, and you’ll likely come up with a very long list of links that may or may not help.

Visit one of the major tech forums to ask the question yourself, and you’ll probably get dozens of targeted answers quickly.

But which tech forums stand out? Tech Support Guy (http://forums.techguy.org) has over half a million members and over 7 million posts - or topics - that have been covered. The regular volunteers here offer advice on everything from common software applications to do-it-yourself computer system builds.

Other tech forums worthy of consideration include Computer Hope (http://www.computerhope.com/forum), Tech Support Forum (http://www.techsupportforum.com), and, for more technical advice on individual components, Computer Forum (http://www.computerforum.com).

Notebook owners will definitely want to bookmark Notebook Review.com (http://forum.notebookreview.com), where you can get answers to questions about laptops, netbooks, and other portable computing devices.

Digital photography

Almost everyone these days has a digital camera - even if it’s only the one integrated into your mobile phone. With all that photographic potential at your fingertips, where do you go when you have questions? The web is filled with rich and vibrant camera user communities, where thousands of questions are posted - and answered and debated - each day. There are so many forums devoted to photography, in fact, that it’s convenient to divide the best into two tiers - tier 1 and tier 2. Tier 1 sites are tremendously useful but, due to their sheer size and populations, can be intimidating. Dpreview (http://forums.dpreview.com/forums), Photo.net (http://photo.net/community), and Flickr Groups (http://www.flickr.com/groups) certainly fall into this category.

The tier 2 photography forums are smaller while still being active. They tend to have more of a community atmosphere, and participants become known enough to one another that friendships or even real-world meetups can result. Photography on the net (http://photography-on-the.net/forum), PhotoCamel (http://photocamel.com/forum), and Fred Miranda (http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum) fall into this category.

Digital video

Thanks to YouTube, video is now a staple of the web. And it’s also probably a subject you’d like to know more about, since camcorders have gotten inexpensive enough for almost everyone to own. Where should you go for answers? DVInfo (http://www.dvinfo.net/forum) is probably the web’s best forum for all things video. Here, you’ll find discussion boards devoted to specific brands and models of camcorders for when you’re trying to decide which model to buy. And once you’ve made your purchase, you’ll find other boards covering video editing software, techniques, lighting, and microphones. DVXUser (http://www.dvxuser.com) and DV.com (http://www.dv-forums.com/forums) are two other digital video forums worth visiting, with the former being the more active of the two.

Home theatre

If you’ve ever tried to outfit your home with an entertainment system - whether television, audio, dvd, or gaming platform - you know that the options available can be bewildering. Where do you go to find out what other people have chosen - and why? The AVS Forum (http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb), with almost a million members and over 18 million posts, is one of the web’s largest devoted to this subject. If you need the latest opinions on that attractive new LCD television from Sony or need to know what people think of that speaker system you’re considering, here is the place to ask your questions. Plasmas, LCDs, rear projection units, display calibration, home theatre computer, Blu-ray, and car audio are just a few of the dozens of categories in which users relate their experiences and provide input to others’ questions.

The AV Forums (http://www.avforums.com/forums) and Audioholics (http://forums.audioholics.com/forums) are good alternatives to try.

Deals and freebies

Some of the web’s most populous forums are devoted to discussions of where to find the best deals online and elsewhere. FatWallet (http://www.fatwallet.com/forums) stands out among a large group of such sites. Here you’ll find members clueing each other in about sale prices, contests, sweepstakes, and travel bargains. SlickDeals (http://slickdeals.net/forums), DealCatcher (http://www.dealcatcher.com/forums), and Ben’s Bargains (http://bensbargains.net/forum) are similar, active bargain-hunting forums.

Where to find groups

The forums mentioned here are only a handful of the thousands that exist on the web, forums that cover almost any topic you can imagine.

A good way to find forums that might interest you is to type a topic or subject into Google, followed by the word “forum” or “community,” and click the Groups link above the Google search filed. You might have to click the “more” link in Google to access a dropdown that contains the word Groups. Doing this will restrict your search to the web’s communities and forums, and your search will probably help you find a community that can answer your specific questions.