I have been creating, running, and selling internet forums for close to 8 years now. In this time I was able to learn a great deal about what people are looking for in a forum. Here is a list of four things that make a good forum:
#1 An uncluttered topic/folder list
The worse thing a forum can do is make a million folders all with overlapping topics. When someone comes to a forum they are looking for information 99% of the time. They should easily be able to distinguish between folders, and know just where to look to get their questions answered.
#2 A friendly and Professional Moderator Team
Moderators are there to do 3 primary things. Make sure forum rules are obeyed, remove unwanted content, and help members with questions. You don’t want moderators who are power hungry. This will just confuse members and make them go elsewhere for their discussions. You want your members to feel the moderators are equals, not someone of authority that will just look for a reason to ban them.
#3 An Administrator who will allow all opinions
The worse thing a forum can do is not allow members to speak their own opinions. People come to a forum to discuss issues with others in an open environment, not a communist type atmosphere. Allow your members to give their opinions no matter how controversial they may be. After all, thats what people are their for, differing views from their own. Thats how we all expand our own views.
Be original and unique. Come up with ideas that will encourage people to participate. Whether you have a daily poll, hold contests for prizes or add a virtual money application to your forum, members will surely enjoy the extra entertainment they may get from your site, and this will keep them there instead of other forums about the same topic.
Remember, the harder you work on your forum community, the better it will be. Get to know your community in and out and you will know just what they are looking for.