The Perfect Pair:
3 Reasons Every Blogger Needs a Forum

online forum

When I started blogging on my own several months ago after leaving the magazine world, there were two platforms I knew I needed to get started: A blog and a forum. I learned from my previous blog for the magazine that the two platforms complement one another perfectly.

I think all bloggers should consider the benefits of having a forum linked to their blog. Here are three of the advantages I’ve found:

1. A forum is a breeding ground for ideas. To be an effective blogger, you need to know what people are chatting about to give them great content, answer their questions, and be of service. Tuning in to the chatter on a forum sparks ideas for blog posts.

For example, I knew from reading my forum threads that finding an agent was a huge concern, so I decided to start interviewing agents for my blog. The blog provides a desirable connection for my forum members, and the forum, in turn, gives the blog a built-in audience.

2. A forum fosters group dialogue. Sure, most blogs allow comments. But comments aren’t really a dialogue, they’re a response to a monologue. The blogger controls the flow of information on a blog. A forum is a far better platform for conversations and relationships to develop—and this is where community building really takes off.

3. A forum is a great place to find guest posters. This is the perfect venue to find people with compelling ideas and an engaging writing style to guest post on your blog.

I’ve had guest posts from my forum members almost since the start of my blog. One forum member posted a thread about getting duped by a shady self-publishing company. I knew that was perfect blog fodder and I asked this writer for a guest post, which he seemed happy to write for me.

Also recently, I asked several forum members to do guest posts on participating in NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an event that’s important to my community, but that I wasn’t participating in. These guest posts were especially well received and commented on. I think first-hand accounts always make for better blog posts than third-person pieces.

If you are interested in starting up your own forum, there are many platforms available including open source software like phpBB. I decided to go with VBulletin, which costs $180 to own outright, because I like the interface and it offers a subscription-based forum service that I’m going to use for classes and workshops.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that a forum is an easy thing to build and manage. In fact, if it seems like too much of a commitment, you may be better off frequenting a well-run forum that caters to your subject matter. A good forum requires almost-daily TLC.

But if you’re a blogger who wants to grow your community—once you do have your own forum, you’ll never want to be without one again.

About the Author: Maria Schneider is a freelance writer and editor who blogs about writing and publishing.

Note from Brian: What do you think gang? Does Copyblogger need forums?

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Comments

  1. Is a Copyblogger forum in the making? I know I’d join. =)

  2. Shaun, I’m thinking about it, but I won’t do it unless it’s something you all really want.

  3. I suggest you think long before adding a forum if you are just starting out. They are a lot of work, moderating, upgrading, replying, etc…

    Instead of reinventing the wheel if a forum already exists why not just join that community?

  4. I really love forums. They are always great for finding ideas. These ideas can be turned into articles. You can also find new people to build relationships with. Building relationships has been one of the perks of becoming a full-time blogger. You would think that it would be all about money but really the best thing has been the relationships and I have found most of them on the forums.

    The amount of time you can get backlinks from forums also which is good for search engine optimization. A lot of people overlook forums and it is a huge mistake.

  5. I would love a copyblogger forum :-)

    I have tried to initiate forums on two of my websites over the years, and have never been successful….most recently, I think that people are so overwhelmed with social networking that they don’t have time for another forum. Or they already belong to a forum and “know” all the people there, so don’t want to branch out. I would love to know the secret of growing a successful forum, though, if anyone has any ideas….

  6. I would really like the forum… I think Gary is right; lots of work but could be worth it. I will certainly participate!

  7. Most forums linked to blogs are very empty and silent and actually hurt the blogger. Adding a forum only has effect when you have a minimum volume of active blog readers.

  8. Brian, honestly I’m surprised you haven’t launched forums yet, you have quite an audience that would love to interact together.

    We launched our Ask Dan and Jennifer – Love & Sex Forums six months ago and the results have been AMAZING.

    And I’m going to give our friend Brian Gardner full credit here, he encouraged us to LAUNCH THE FORUMS ALREADY when we were still putting it off. :-) In retrospect we should have launched that part of the site a year earlier.

    Before launching our forums, we were getting dozens of emails every day asking us direct dating, love, and sex questions – and it’s really impossible to do them all justice. But when you start a community like this people can really start to help one another – it’s no longer just you.

    Like Maria says, you do get great insight into what your audience really wants to know more about – from them! And you build a community that allows your readers to interact and help one another, share ideas, etc.

    Just keep in mind, forums do take a lot of TLC / care and feeding if you want to maintain a quality community that is actually meeting your goals.

    In addition to the video show part of our site, Forums have been an awesome addition.

    Have an awesome day!
    Dan

  9. Yep, totally agreed. We have a blog w/out comments on helpme.com/blog and a forum that each blog posts directs to at helpme.com/forum. While we are only at the beginning of our work, we have already talked with our visitors there and gained ideas for new subjects for the blog and the site in general.

    Mainly, in a forum you can continue a discussion long after the blog post is lost in the archives.

    BUT BEWARE: A forum is a LOT of work. You need real dedication, you can’t just make a post and go away. Already setting it up takes effort, choosing the software, integrating it, picking the right forum subjects, etc. We have put many days and weeks of work into our forum, and still we only feel like having done the first steps.

  10. Think it’s important to point out the flip side of this: that starting a forum only makes sense if you have enough rss subscribers and loyal visitors to sustain one.

    Also, if your blog isn’t already getting a fair amount of discussion in the comments, there’s no reason to believe that the visitors who have thus far remained silent will suddenly commit to being vocal just because you have forums.

    Starting a forum really is a huge commitment — they have whole sites on how to make them successful — and I think that people should make sure that their site their stats are ripe for starting one before jumping off the deep end.

    Disclaimer: I’m saying this even as I’ve started a forum for my own site; I did it a few months ago, with a fair base of users and a sprinkling of existing user interactions through comments. It’s a challenge and has been demanding of my time. I’m not sure yet if it is worth it.

  11. I love forums–it’s where I started out in social media. I also think that as lengthy as the comment strings get here on Copyblogger, a forum makes sense.

    But yeah–from an administrative standpoint, running a forum is a huge undertaking to do well. Patrick O’Keefe has written some great stuff about it.

  12. I’d join! Count my vote a resounding YES. =)

  13. I’m struggling with this a bit myself. Interestingly enough this very topic was going to be my Monday morning post, but then I saw Men With Pens did the exact thing on Monday. I wake up on Tuesday and find this one on Forums… Hmmm. Are all the planets in alignment?

    A blogger in my community generously offered to host a section in her forum that is already up and running. I think I’ll take her up on the idea. I started a Facebook group, but it’s an attractive idea to join something already in place.

    Cheers

    George

  14. Forums are great, but I agree with Gary. If you’re not prepared to handle the full-time job of handling a forum or have a group of people that are willing to spend their time moderating it, then it can get very overwhelming.

    Spam is a major issue as well. If you thought blog spam was bad, wait until you start your own forum. Whoa!

  15. I agree that a forum is great, and that every blogger should be an active member of a forum. But I don’t agree that we all need our own forum.

    I removed my forum about a year ago. It took a lot of time, and I received a lot of spam. I probably did a lot of things the wrong way, but I really wanted to just get ideas for my blog, and to discuss with people with the same interests as mine.

    Instead of using a lot of time to be an administrator of a forum, join one of the biggest forums out there and be active. I find it just as interesting as owning one.

    - jens -

  16. I’m not a big fan of forums, but I know they’re hugely popular. It seems like most of the people who participate have a LOT of time on their hands. um… like me… right now. : )

  17. Copyblogger forum please!

    I don’t have a forum for my blog, but I do use a popular forum in my niche to market and get ideas. It’s been incredibly helpful for a beginner like me.

  18. Hey Maria,
    I agree a forum can compliment any blog, but it takes A LOT of work.
    I had to close my forum because I couldn’t keep up with the spammers.
    @Brian I would join your forum, but you may have to hire someone to maintain it for you (see previous).

  19. Interesting article. My only question is at what stage of the blog maturity do you suggest establishing a forum?

    While it may be a good source for communication, i think that it may be a deterrent if the forum is empty all the time.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  20. This is the first Copyblogger post that I whole-heartedly disagree with. Bloggers should NOT think that they need a forum for any of the reasons listed in this article. I have hosted a forum for over a decade and they are a lot of work. It’s very easy to lose control of the conversation and people create new threads instead of adding to existing ones. Think of a forum as a crowded conference hall with many different conversations going on at the same time. Many times you’ll have smaller groups discussing the same thing in different places. It’s a LOT of work for a lone Blogger to manage.

    On the other hand, a Blog is an intimate dialog (contrary to Maria having you think of them as a monologue) with your readers. I’ve had many interesting conversations in the comment section of a Blog. Think of a Blog as a table of friends at a restaurant. Sure, you may have a couple of stray conversations, but they typically stay on topic.

    If you’re a Blogger, don’t feel you need to have a forum. If you like the intimate dialog that occurs after your Blog posts, stick with a Blog. If you like having multiple unrelated conversations going on – constantly – start a forum.

    I’m not against forums. They definitely have their place. I still have a forum, but I would never think of pairing it with my Blog. They each serve two completely different purposes.

  21. I can see how a forum could be useful, but a lot of users can also just contact the bloggers and ask questions or offer tips to write about. Isn’t that how a lot of bloggers get article ideas?

  22. I also think Brian should start a forum. And he should ask me to run it. :)

    You’re all right that a successful forum takes a tremendous amount of work and dedication. It’s an art in itself. But having a forum creates a much richer blogging and community building experience if you’re willing and able to dedicate the time. I was fortunate that I learned to build and manage a forum in my past magazine editorial position.

    I’m happy to answer any questions on forums if you want to post them here, or you can post questions on my forum: http://editorunleashed.com/forum.

    Thanks for reading.

  23. As a part-time blogger, I nearly have no time to update a blog everyday and keep the social networking, how i have the time to run a forum? How many readers read this blog have time to run a forum in their blog?

    In a forum, you are expected to be in all the time.

  24. Just look what the forum at DIYThemes did for Thesis! Why would anyone following Brian’s Teaching Sells methods not use one?

  25. Hey Ted, good points. But DIY and Teaching Sells are private forums (people have to pay to be there).

    I love private forums, because the quality of content and discourse is so much better. Even Seth Godin required people to buy his a book (a small investment, but still a barrier) before they got in Triiibes.

    Any thoughts on private versus open forums?

  26. Many forums are dominated by a few hardcore members who seem to have nothing else to do but hang about there and post daft “injoke” messages.

    Also I can imagine that when just starting that there might be a bit of an echo due to lack of active members.

  27. What forums can you add to wordpress?
    Lets say your wordpress blog readers can register, can they use the same login on the forum?

  28. Andrus, check out the bbpress forum software from the fine folks at WordPress.

  29. In order for a forum to be a viable option for a blogger, you really have to consider the time investment. For a CopyBlogger, great idea, you’ve got a loyal following :-) For the rest of us, it’s a big consideration that would definitely require serious planning :-) Thanks for the post!

  30. Hi Linda,
    It’s really up to the owner to set the tone for the forum. I think it’s like being a leader in any other setting—if you set a good example, you attract people who rise to the occasion.

    And yes, it can be slow going at first. I started my writers’ forum two months ago and just registered my 100th member last week.

    You have to be willing to push through the slow start-up period and stay at it, just like with a blog. I think any blogger who’s good at getting comments would be good at starting conversations on a forum, as well.

  31. A copyblogger forum- ? that would be heaven on earth! great post and forums are critical in learning from diverse populations and ideas. I see some people disagree- but a forum can be a real place of growth — and blogging is an art- but so is growing in your field of endeavor. It could be a lot of work- if not done properly. But there are forums out there that I am on that the admin is straighforward and simple. So could yours be Brian. Private forums seem to carry more qualty content- for some reason. Open forums are somewhat less-at least I have found. great post!

  32. Brian,
    VBulletin offers the option to include private, subscription- based forums on the same board as public forums. So it’s possible to have both public and private discourse on one board. Think about the built-in audience you have if you offer your private classes in the same spot.

  33. What do you think is the number of blog readers necessary to sustain a forum?

    I’d think that having no forum would be better than having an empty forum, where only the tumbleweeds post.

  34. thanks Brian.

    bbPress does not look to be the best Forum.

    can Vbulletin be integrated with WordPress?

  35. Hi Pace,
    Just a handful of readers/forum members can be a terrific start if they’re engaged in your content. The most important thing is that you’re there to start conversations and keep them flowing. That’s a more important factor than sheer numbers, in my opinion.

  36. Hi Andus,
    I did test drives on some of the open source forums and didn’t care much for any of them. My blog is on WordPress and the forum is on VBulletin—no problems with integration (except that I still need to hack the forum header to get a similar look to the rest of my site). VBulletin is worth the $$.

  37. I have to agree with Maria. Vbulletin is well worth the $100 or so you have to pay for it. The extra features and constant security updates alone make it worth it.

  38. Maria, does it mean users have to sign up only once to be able to comment on the blog and post on the forum(if you have commenting only for registered users)

  39. Actually, you do have to register separately for the forum and to comment on the blog, Andrus. I’m not sure that those functions can be integrated.

  40. Daniele from Italy :

    Interesting idea. But… I think it’s difficult to promote and grow own blog (I have several blogs…) and, so, it will be more difficult to start a forum. We need continously ideas for new topics, we need to get members, active members that write and write every days on forum.
    I think it’s nice if you’ll write some posts like “How to create and manage a forum for bloggers” :)

  41. I feel I’ve got most of the benefits Maria describes from active encouragement of the community at my blog. I don’t have the time or the inclination to do more – if I did create something it would be on paying basis, offering membership benefits (which I guess would make it not a forum).

    I don’t think you need a forum here Brian – you have so many followers and fans you’d be swamped, with no control over quality. You’d need to farm it out to others to manage – then it wouldn’t be the copyblogger experience, would it?

  42. I once ran a relatively small forum, but noticed that the only active users were the people who had immense amounts of respect for me. So there were less than 50 users who posted once every other day or so.

    I ended up closing it down because I didn’t have enough time to manage it — it simply wasn’t big enough to justify the time spent. I think that was a good call.

    In other words, a forum isn’t something every blog should have; a forum is something every blogging rock-star should have.

    Hint Hint. Nudge Nudge. ;-p

  43. Eros-Alegra Clarke :

    Interesting – I have friends who spend alot of time on forums but I have not ventured into that arena yet. I can see the benifits I just have to be careful with potential distractions at the same time.

  44. Copyblogger already has advantages 1 through 3 from above – plenty of fresh ideas, group dialog in the comments, and enough talented guest bloggers.

    “I change by not changing at all.”

  45. We opened a forum for our site back in early November. We love it, we wish people would use it more for discussion, and we feel that unless we’re constantly there prodding and telling people to go visit, few do.

    There’s hope. We’ll be pushing and adding content there that people will miss out on if they don’t become participants.

    But if Copyblogger opens a forum? My honest thoughts are that we might as well shut ours down. The only advantage we had was that ours was free versus Copyblogger’s premium membership. We can’t compete with the numbers Copyblogger has.

    I’m all up for a good challenge, but I’m also smart enough to know when I’m sincerely outnumbered.

    Of course, Brian, your participating at our forum would always be welcome if you choose not to open your own.

  46. I love forums, but for me, paid easily beats free easily. The quality of paid forums is so much greater. I have to consider the value of my time–the bump in quality more than offsets the fee I might be paying.

  47. (paid easily beats free easily? Oy.)

  48. Somebody cue up The Twilight Zone Theme Song because just last night I was wondering why Copyblogger doesn’t have a forum. Lots of traffic and plenty of loyal subscribers – perfect for a forum.

  49. We are in the final steps of creating a Bloggers Mailing List – which is like a forum, only the messages are delivered to your inbox.

    http://bloggersmailinglist.com

  50. The hardest part about a forum is getting it up and running, but why not ask your programmer to merge the blog comments with the forum. All existing comments can go straight on, the first comment on a blog could automatically put a snippet of the blog into the forum and add the comment as the first reply… I’m about to venture into forumland with one of my blog projects

  51. Surely, not EVERY blogger needs a forum-forum.

    If your comments section isn’t a forum, you’re doing it wrong.

  52. “The hardest part about a forum is getting it up and running…”

    I have to disagree with that comment – you can throw up a forum in minutes. The hardest part for me, even harder than getting traffic there, was to manage it once it was running. Spammers, responding to threads, opening new dialogue, etc – it is a lot of work and I finally realized I wasn’t willing to put in that effort and shut it down. I think that’s why a lot of forums actually hire moderators. I do agree forums are great things to compliment blogs, just realize they are a lot of work to maintain.

    John

  53. Another thing to keep in mind—and this is long-term—companies have been known to pay a pretty penny for active forums. Most businesses don’t know how to go about building good forums or won’t allow the resources to do it properly. But they want that engaged audience all the same.

    Just one more big picture thing to think about.

  54. I get the concept of a forum but I guess you need a certain amount of visitor to really unleash the full potential of this tool. How many do you think??

  55. I would join in on the Copyblogger Forum, but I also reccommend taking the time to consider the investment needed to keep it running.

    And whether it would detract from peoples desire to post comments under the posts vs the forums.

    Would it disengage or disrupt your audience?

  56. I’ve often thought about tying a forum to my blog but I’ve always come to the conclusion that you need a really solid base of regular blog readers before contemplating something like that.

    If you don’t have that solid base, your forum is likely to sit there unvisited and very empty..!

    I do use existing forums related to my sites. I put my blog address in my sig file and I also refer readers to specific posts if I’ve already written something that answers their question. That’s working well for me – so that’s where I’m staying for the moment.

    I would also join a CopyBlogger forum if you started one, Brian.

    Cheers,

    Martin.

  57. To forum, or not to forum.

    That is the question.

  58. I was actually thinking of starting a forum in the same niche as my blog but I was planing on making it “separate” from my blog on a whole nother site.

    Think its a good idea?

  59. If you had the chance to learn from Donald Trump one-on-one or from a gathering of peers in a forum, which would you pick?

    Yeah, me too.

    Will anybody pay me to read 57 threads per night in a forum or will I be better off creating content/curriculum?

    Yeah, that’s my answer too.

    Just my .03 cents worth. One size doesn’t fit all. No copywriters were harmed during the writing of this comment.

  60. Hey,

    How did Michel Fortin’s forum crash?

    I read the form letter but I all I gathered was that people were getting their feelings hurt so he closed it down.

    Because I’m new to social media I never even got a chance to get into a conversation there.

    If Maria or Brian could elaborate on how to avoid a forum meltdown that’d be pretty sweet.

    Note Taking Nerd Numba 2
    http://www.mynotetakingnerd.wordpress.com

  61. The idea of a forum has been in the back of my head and yesterday I wondered where, oh where, oh where. Today I received a blogger’s notice that today is Human Rights Day. Lights turned on and I realized Human Rights is my forum.

    Thanks for the suggestion as I move ahead one thought at a time, step by step, moment by moment.

  62. Great to find you hear, Maria. This post led me to your forum and I joined. Great blog, too. I notice you’re using Chris Pearson’s Thesis as your WP theme – and tastefully customized. I use another Pearson theme, Neoclassical, for Write a Better Novel, but Thesis is my choice for the future (Fictionwriters Toolbox, coming soon). Have you checked out Google’s Friend Connect? It’s not a forum, but does allow you to create a community right on your blog.

  63. A few commentors have nailed it:

    1. It’s alot of work
    2. You need an established reader base

    I think forums are a progression along a spectrum of online-community. You start with none (info site), then limited (comments on blog) and then move into a more robust and interactive community with forums and user profiles.

    I might argue that every site is somewhere along this progression, that perhaps, turning a blog into a full-on online community is the ultimate goal? I think its certainly where the most successful sites will be in the next few years.

    This is why I recommend more powerful tools like Joomla for blogging rather than WordPress. Its so much more extensible and powerful, you’ll never be limited!

    Brian, you might want think more strategically of steps to move Copyblogger to an online community rather than “just adding a forum”. Great example? seomoz.org ….

    Of course, at that point, one could argue that you have moved from Blog to ILE.

    ?wonders if anyone here knows about creating ILE’s ;)

  64. I just found what looks like a great forum plugin for WordPress – Simple:Press Forum. The set up was easy. I can’t speak to its functionality, I haven’t used it.

  65. Starting a forum on copyblogger wouldn’t be too hard since the existing readership on the blog can instantly boost the forum if there is one.

    But, a lot of work indeed. Unless we can find ways to completely eliminate spammers all at once then the work of moderating it would be a lot easier :D

  66. This is a very interesting post…

    We already have a forum and a blog, and I am actually starting to wonder if we’re not trying to build two separate communities.

    Since our communities are still in their infancy (we’re barely starting spreading the word), none of them get much user action.

    It seems that to make them both successful, we would need to spend twice as much energy.

    The conclusion I was coming to was that the blog was probably the superior community building tool when starting up – blog posts provides subjects and discussions can actually happen in comments… as we can plainly see here.

    Until we’ve built a good enough readership, our forums are only gathering dust.

    Mind you, I’m not contesting the value of a healthy forum!

    I’m thinking that until the community is strong enough from the blog, perhaps we should consider participating in established forums instead of launching a new one.

  67. Maria,

    I have to agree with Robert: “If your comments section isn’t a forum, you’re doing it wrong.”

    My favorite sites are intelligent, funny, rollicking, rolling, thought-provoking, sigh-inducing, and even fevered, a back-and forth between the author and their fabulous readers, on-topic and off-topic—right in their comment sections. If you’re doing it wrong, what will a forum fix?

    One more way for an overscheduled blogger and business owner to split their remaining five minutes of time… one less hour of sleep… one more place to look dejectedly at your stats… one more thing to feel guilty about not doing well enough.

    Lordy, I so heartily disagree that every blogger needs one, but I enjoyed hearing you out. Interesting point of view.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  68. I have a forum – I think my sections are pretty good. How do you get readers to join/participate after joining? Right now it’s basically me talking to myself. lol

  69. Brian,

    I will be happy to help you in getting a forum established if you choose to go that route. I have built a few forums in my day and think it would be a nice addition to copyblogger.

    Lee Dodd

  70. Lee, to say you’ve built a few forums in your day is the biggest understatement ever. :-)

    For those who don’t know, Lee Dodd is the forum master. Google him for more.

    Lee, I may take you up on that.

  71. @Keira
    Comment:
    “How do you get readers to join/participate after joining?”

    You might find this a useful read:

    http://www.compassdesigns.net/tutorials/17-joomla-tutorials/289-building-online-communities-with-joomla.html

  72. Thanks for the mention, Kat! :)

    I think this is a great post. A forum isn’t for everyone – as you said, they take time to manage and cultivate – but they can be very beneficial if you have an audience that wants it and you can harness it to create the foundation of your forums. :)

    Patrick

  73. Forum is always been a great place to share your stuff, there are several successful blogger like problogger that build forum but i don quite find they really successful with what they did. I mean their forum doesn’t seems to ‘growing up’ as they soend more time with their blog than their forum

    just my 2 cents anyway…

  74. Doesn’t Twitter meet all these needs? Depending on the niche you’re in, Twitter is a great place to keep your ear to the ground, network and find experts. Using search.twitter.com and entering a keyword for the subject that interests you is a good way to follow any conversation and hook up with others who share your interests. In addition, my analytics are telling me that Twitter is one of the main drivers towards my blog, so it helps traffic as well.

    But thanks for the post – I know a lot of great podcasters who swear by forums for all the reasons you’ve outlined and I’ll be looking into them more deeply.

  75. I have a forum on my largest blog and it definitely builds a sense of community. My only suggestion is to do what you can to integrate it with the main blog because otherwise the two parts of your site can be islands to themselves.

  76. I agree with your points about the need for bloggers to have forums to build up that sense of community on their sites. Over at OnePress Community, we have made it easy to accomplish this with our WordPress theme framework. The OnePress theme integrates phpBB and WordPress with a unified login and widgets to show forum activity on your site.

  77. I’ve tried phpBB before and it was good, and even if you choose to upgrade to something better you can, however, personally, vBulletin really can’t be beat – its spam filtering alone puts it ahead of all the rest!

  78. I completely agree about having a forum. Nowadays, surfers like to share and read other poeple ideas and there is better place than a forum. However, a blogger need to have enough user base to make use of a forum. How many forums that I came across that they are completely deserted!

  79. I would really like the forum… I think Gary is right; lots of work but could be worth it. I will certainly participate!

  80. I don’t know If I said it already but …Hey good stuff…keep up the good work! :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,)

    A definite great read….

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