Just wanted to add here, BTW... I've been doing this "forum" thing for a LONG time - since before most people had even heard of this "internet" thing. In the early 90s I helped build and co-sysop'd one of the biggest and best-know music-oriented BBS systems of the day (we had people actually dialing in from around the world). When the system outgrew the Atari 520ST it originally ran on and we wanted to go multiline, we moved to a PC (massive 386SX!) running Maximus BBS on a new thing called OS/2 2.0.
In seeking out support for both Max and OS/2, I came across and then became involved with IBM's own support BBS. Their system was running the same software, and while not an "official" support channel, had been started and was run by an actual IBM employee who managed their OS/2 support department in the Vancouver office, and was highly active in the local OS/2 community. Fortunately, IBM Canada recognized this as a valuable tool and they quickly grew the system to having local nodes in all their Canadian offices (meaning people in those areas could get online support with a local call), using FTN (Fido Technology Network) to link all their message bases and file repositories. I don't think IBM USA had anything even remotely similar at the time.
When IBM released OS/2 Warp 3 to much fanfare and actual MARKETING *gasp* (remember the famous "Nuns" TV spot??), the BBS network became a very popular resource for a lot of newbies, in part because IBM Canada actually listed the BBS numbers in the Warp documentation(!!), showing that even then, an "official" support forum COULD work, and work well.
Of course, like my examples above, the IBM BBS was "staffed" mainly by a number of us "advanced users" who offered help on our own time (by way of thanks, we'd often get swag from IBM, even some free software now and then), although there were a couple of IBM staffers who were on regularly as well, including one guy who was a genius in his own right - the main part of his day job with IBM was touring to their various development offices and giving seminars on debugging OS/2 software. Dude could look at any crash screen (picture the Windows BSOD) and tell you instantly where a crash occurred and why. *shaking head*
Funny thing about it was, since installing a new OS is not quite the same thing as installing a word processor, IBM's support phone lines were being slammed, to the point that (as the story was told to us) IBM Toronto went out to a couple temp agencies, asked for people with "computer experience" (usually meaning they had training in MS Office or Lotus), gave them a couple hours' quick training on Warp, an hour or so on PROFS (IBM's massive internal support database that contained information on *EVERY IBM PRODUCT* since about the 60s), and then threw them on the phone... which almost immediately made the situation worse.
At that point, someone in the Vancouver office pointed out that they already had a bunch of self-taught OS/2 experts on their BBS... so they called us up, and asked, "How would you like to do what you do for free now on the BBS, but do it on the phone, and we'll pay you $25/hr?". Took a half dozen of us about three weeks to clear up the backlog of callbacks, many of which had already been touched once (and badly muddled) by those other original temps :).
Anyway, that's getting a little off the subject... point is, yeah, the manufacturer forum is not a new concept; it's been done since the dialup-BBS days, and done very successfully by one of the biggest names in technology (sorry, Microsoft).