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Monday, August 16, 2010, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

New Apple Support Communities social network to replace Discussions

Apple has teased a forthcoming "major upgrade" to its online forums, with the existing Apple Discussions set to become the new Apple Support Communities, a social network where users can assist one another.

Revealed last week in a post on the existing Apple Discussions, the forthcoming Apple Support Communities will allow users to have their own personalized profile with a custom picture and avatar. Users will be able to build their homepage with widgets and custom content.

The newly redesigned forums also aim to increase community participation with a reputation system. Members on the site will be able to recognize the contributions of others who are helpful by giving them reputation points, helping to increase their status.

"Apple Support Communities brings together thousands of Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad users from around the world to discuss Apple products and topics," the official introduction reads. "Apple Support communities provides a wealth of information about your favorite Apple hardware and software products to help you get the most out of your purchase. And, in the spirit of community, you can also help other Apple Support Communities' users by answering their questions."

Apple has said that the new online forums will represent a "major change" from the existing Apple Discussions. It also said the launch will take place "very soon," but did not provide a specific date. Users on the forums have indicated that Apple Support Communities is currently in beta testing for some users.

Users with custom profiles will be able to access the "Your View" feature on their homepage, which allows them to view the information they want to see. The new forums will allow users to customize their layout and add, remove or edit widgets.

"Let’s say you want to add a widget for Unanswered Questions," the Personal Homepage introduction reads. "From the Widgets list, click on the widget category from which you’d like to choose. For Unanswered Questions, select Content, and when a list of widgets is displayed, select Unanswered Questions. Now, click on the Drag to Add button and drag the widget to the place you would like it to appear on your My Page (Your View?)."

Over the weekend, the existing Apple Discussions forums were temporarily taken offline after it appeared the site was the victim of a malicious attack. The official forums were unavailable Saturday soon after the pages displayed the message "for fun, by tojen" without any other content.

After that, the site became "temporarily unavailable" and asked users to visit apple.com/support during the downtime. It is believed the attack many have targeted external DNS servers or Apple's content delivery partners, sending users to an incorrect or outdated address of compromised servers that had been taken offline.