For all you webmasters out there, ask yourself these questions. What role should a forum play in a pokemon fan site? What makes a good forum? What makes a successful forum?
Sadly, forums tend to be more often than not overlooked and used as just another feature on pokemon sites. It's just something to put up to compliment the main site. Unfortunately, because little work is generally put into the administration, construction, and maintenance of forums; they tend to fail or attract just a couple friends of the webmaster. There are of course a number of forums which have been around for a long time and have garnered plenty of members, such as PokeCommunity.
Realistically speaking, there are two kinds of pokemon site and forum relationships, and it's almost a chicken or the egg debate. Either the site is the dominant force in the relationship and dictates growth, traffic, and popularity of the forum, or it's the other way around and the strength of the forum allows the site to flourish. One thing being successful does not necessarily dictate that the other will be. Just because you have a great site and gets 500 unique hits a day, doesn't necessarily mean that your forum will thrive; and conversely just because your forum has 1000 members, doesn't mean your site will do well either. In an odd way, this is more of a reflection of the skills of the webmaster than any patterns in traffic or the type of user base that your site/forum attracts. Webmasters tend to fall into a category where they are either going to be strong webmasters or strong administrators, it's less common for one to be both. I suspect, that it is due to the strength of the webmaster that more often than not a forum fails when a site stays strong, or a forum is strong but the administrator fails to get a site off the ground.
Before we go into answering those intitial questions, we should first ask the most basic of questions: "Why should we care?"
After all, there are about a hundred milion, trillion different pokemon forums! :O Not to mention the numerous ones that operate off of mega sites such as ign, gamefaqs, gamespot, neoseeker, etc. All of them end up rehashing the same threads, the same discussions, the same things being done. Why should anyone even bother trying to make a new forum, other than to chat with a couple of friends? After all, there will be no unseating of the top forums out there, certainly not by the average webmaster. We should care because there are big forums out there. After all, just as there are different levels of sites (based upon traffic), so are there different levels of forums. Realistically speaking this is about competition. If one of us figures out a great use for something, then others will start doing it. (Please do NOT think of the haitus trend that was started and beaten the crap out of)
So, what role should a forum play in a pokemon fan site? This really is pretty subjective, because even just in the pokemon fan site world of the internet, there is significant disparity between the purposes of different pokemon sites to necessitate different roles for a forum. I've seen some forums where the site consisted of a portal and was thus merged with the forum. The last forum I ran, Cerise Island, I operated something very similar. Basically though, in my opinion, a forum should run in support of a website. You can certainly try and create a site if you have a pre-existing forum, and that does work sometimes. Generally speaking though, site traffic is going to be greater than a forums. While this isn't true for all types of forums, search engines don't necessarily do as good a job of properly indexing forums as they do sites. Sites also will also be more attractive to other sites for affiliation purposes, which can help drive traffic to a forum. Secondly, with a site you can establish a mood based upon your layout, your content, and the way you update your site. The whole manner in which you present your site can help in giving focus and direction to building a forum.
One thing I've found with forums though is that it's tough to build a good, competent, and effective staff. In addition to this, a small handful of top notch administrators is essential. The final thing that makes a good forum is probably the hardest thing to find and build; create a member base which is willing to contribute to creating a community. After all, a forum is only as good as it's members and contributing time to the forum and helping it grow is one of the single most important attributes of a good forum and one of the hardest to obtain. A couple years ago now, one of the forums I frequented was http://forums.nintendo.com. While there were large numbers of stupid users and outright noobs, there were also a good number of people who would contribute their time to generating content on the forum, guides, tutorials, contests, etc. All generated by members of the user base, many of whom weren't even staff members. It was this that I feel made the forum great. I suppose I've really answered both of the last two questions really. We'll also touch up on the notion of a staff. For a staff to be truly effective it needs to have guidelines as well as members who instinctively know how to be a good staff member, to moderate and to administrate and to balance their role as both as staff member and a fellow member of the community. In some of the smaller pokemon forums there is a trend to simply "ask and receive" moderator or administrator status. I strongly suggest that this is a terrible method of creating a staff and already guarantees that a forum will be of poor quality. Members of a site need to have confidence in their moderators. Spam is all too prevalent on many forums, and as if this wasn't bad enough, you have to worry about auth abuse as well. It's these two concerns which can be solved through the careful selection of effective moderators from a pool of senior members on the forum. Selection automatically elevates the level of a forum to make it look more professional and organized. It also encourages better behavior among the average member because people WANT to become a moderator. Defining criteria for selection will make this even more effective. A strong staff though, lest this look easy, is difficult to obtain; as is evidenced by the number of forums which suffer from a lack of an effective staff. Conflicts of interest between staff members, clashes of authority, and bias towards certain members all contribute to a staff which is hampered and ineffective. A final thought about staff members is that you should never have too many. The number of staff members you have should reflect the level of traffic your forum has.
Building a forum's a lot of fun, and has been a bit of a hobby of mine for several years. It's a tough job though, and the role of an administrator is not always a straight path.