From what I understand, eHow wants to foster an community environment among the writers so they encourage you to make friends, join groups, and post to forums. It seems like a good idea for me since I'm new to eHow. I've made some friends who have been very encouraging and have provided great feedback on my articles. I haven't really done anything to maximize the potential from having a lot of friends. Comparatively to others, I only have a handful (only 42). I'm not exactly sure what it does for me in terms of earning or writing a lot of articles. If anything, I seem to spend quite a bit of time commenting on other people's articles rather than writing new articles.
As for forums, I'm going to stay out of them for now except to check them periodically for news or tips. There's a lot of good information to be found there, but I feel like it's an easy way to get singled out for negative attention (i.e. johnnymart and his account deletion debacle).