I've been in multiple debates on what a forum is and if a Q&A site like this one is a forum, so I'm trying to get a real world definition.
The below various actual definitions of "forum" apparently aren't enough to convince some people. (Highlighting added by me for relevant sections.)
- the marketplace or public square of an ancient Roman city, the center of judicial and business affairs and a place of assembly for the people.
- a court or tribunal: the forum of public opinion.
- an assembly, meeting place, television program, etc., for the discussion of questions of public interest.
- Also called online forum, internet forum, web forum . message board.
- the Forum, the forum in the ancient city of Rome.
A forum is an online discussion board where people can ask questions, share their experiences, and discuss topics of mutual interest.
A discussion board (known also by various other names such as discussion group, discussion forum, message board, and online forum) is a general term for any online "bulletin board" where you can leave and expect to see responses to messages you have left. Or you can just read the board. The first discussion boards were available on bulletin board systems. On the Internet, USENET provides thousands of discussion boards; these can now sometimes be viewed from a Web browser.
Many websites offer discussion boards so that users can share and discuss information and opinions. Special software is available that provides discussion board capability for a website.
An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporarily archived.
Stack Exchange itself is listed as a forum on other sites.
Even Robert's Rules of Order has rules specific to Q&A forums. "The Question and Answer forum is place to ask specific questions, or suggest answers to questions posted by others,..."
I've had people say that because a Q&A isn't a discussion, it's not a forum. Some of the same people say Meta is considered a forum, yet it's a Q&A site. I'd agree that a static Q&A list of pre-determines questions and answers isn't a forum, but a site that allows users to ask their own question and get answers from others is a discussion of their problem and how to address it. The very definition of discussion includes asking and answering questions.
1: consideration of a question in open and usually informal debate
// a heated political discussion
2: a formal treatment of a topic in speech or writing
//A discussion on the topic is included in the first chapter.
Looking at a thesaurus, there's a variety of words that work here: investigation, conversation, dialog, consultation, discourse, analysis, exchange, and probably more.
There's also the legal definition of what a forum is:
The use of public forums generally cannot be restricted based on the content of the speech expressed by the user. Use can be restricted based on content, however, if the restriction passes a strict scrutiny test for a traditional and designated forum or the reasonableness test for a limited forum. Also, public forums can be restricted as to the time, place and manner of speech. In the 1972 case Grayned v. City of Rockford, the Supreme Court found that "The nature of a place, the pattern of its normal activities, dictate the kinds of regulations of time, place, and manner that are reasonable." In determining what is reasonable, the Court stated that "[the] crucial question is whether the manner of expression is basically incompatible with the normal activity of a particular place at a particular time."
I get that people think of social media as a forum, but that's only one kind of forum. One definition above says "usually informal", so it specifically doesn't rule out a formal or targeted discussion.
So back to the original question: Do Q&A sites fit the definition of a forum?