Forums in general, or 'Post-2011 content, as rambled by someone who was there'

Arantor

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A goodly number of us here are forumites, long-term forum denizens who hanker after the old ways, so to speak. I think it's time I shared some of my thoughts on the broader goings-on I've seen, in what we can talk about in terms of 'post-x content', but also what some are doing about it.

I think we can credibly make the argument that 'the web forum' or 'the internet forum' reached something of a zenith somewhere in the 2006-2008 period. There's several reasons for that, I think.

I can't speak for the US, only the UK as that's where I'm based, but the early 2000s, the Internet was still a bit 'that thing for geeks only' and it wasn't really until decent enough broadband came along in enough quantity that a) it wasn't hogging the phone line, b) speeds weren't atrocious and c) there was a resulting critical mass of new people trying out this newfangled internet thing.

Suddenly everyone started finding (or making) spaces for sharing their hobbies, and the forum software ecosystem thrived - this was a golden age of phpBB/MyBB/SMF/PunBB/vBulletin/IPB, all the things, and many more smaller platforms whose names are only lost to time. Alongside that it became easier to run these things, as toolchains evolved away from CGI-bin stuff like Perl (and YABB, for example) to PHP where hosting could use it more safely without the same level of cynicism or fear about server abuse.

And it seemed like everyone had a forum. The Oprah moment - you get a forum, you get a forum, everyone gets a forum. But it's interesting because while there's the tools for people to share their hobbies, they're... not particularly sophisticated yet. Uploading images is a bit spotty (partially because digital cameras weren't quite so everywhere, partially because disk space isn't cheap) but all in all, it's achievable.

Then several things happened in unison. Firstly, the smartphone revolution happened. Secondly, social media happened.

These had some weird knock-on effects with people... in no particular order:
* You want a space for your friends to hang out? Sure, only now you don't need to futz around with hosting, you can just use the facilities there.
* You want to have an event and see which of your friends is coming? Done.
* You want to reach out to people with similar hobbies, share thoughts and ideas? Done.
* You want to share pictures of your holiday/life/whatever? Click click (or tap tap), done.
* You have a device that makes it very easy to share pictures and video but not words, in your hand.
* That hand-held device will keep you in touch with everything going on in every corner of your life. You're more connected to everything than you've ever been. You don't have time to look away.
* Scrolling through your timeline to see everyone else being funny/witty/living their best life is easier than being funny/witty/living your best life.

With all that going on, forum contribution has naturally dwindled. And that's with the most positive spin that a number of 'once were forums' were also in a 'were only forums because we didn't have better tools'. There are plenty of cases that a WhatsApp group chat is the single best tool for the job, but that would once have been a forum. There's also plenty of cases of what might have been a forum now becoming a WordPress blog for sharing content with some plugins (to remix and respin the presentation, for maybe some small group of people in a localised hobby setting)

And that's before we get to the digital natives. The people younger than us, who've only ever known the internet as it currently is, where everything's a hustle, where everything is about completing a task and not about forming a deeper connection. I often wonder if this is because there is some seismic shift in society - and there is, but it's the cause not the effect: generation rent is here, and they simply don't have the time to build communities the same way we did ten years before.

It's actually fascinating to watch the last generation of disruptors that have changed the way we look at things, and I don't think history will actually show them to have been as disruptive as they might have thought themselves.

Firstly I give you the latest generation of forums: Discourse, NodeBB, Flarum and friends. These eschew the conventional categories and boards style presentation and focus on primarily showing you the most recent topics first. (Category listings do exist, but they're not quite the default view the way they were historically.)

These platforms also focus on more mobile aware views; they trim the fat off around the user posting content (none of the sidebars that traditional forums have), so the focus really is on the content. They also offer (in some cases reasonably mandatorily) infinite scrolling as a default consumption method. This comes with a whole heap of implementation issues if you have image-heavy content but no surprises there, that's been dramatic throughout the whole of internet time.

They do try new ideas, for example Discourse promotes the philosophy that topics should stay on topic; they should remain shorter and more focused, and as such it is trivially easy to 'reply to new topic', to take any post and not just reply to it as if you were normally replying, but to immediately spin it as a new topic, then build convenient navigation both ways, so you can follow the conversation from the origin topic to the new topic, but also from the new topic backwards. Presentationally, it could be improved, but the concept is sound.

It's also more common now to assume that promotion of moderatiom staff ("trust levels" as a metaphor) is handled semi-automatically, such that people need to contribute an amount of content, they need to both give and receive positive reactions and have kept up with a certain amount of current content. As an attempt to modernise the concept of a moderator and keep them engaged, it's an interesting concept, but it needs refinement, it needs work. It also needs some humanity - these measures (along with other things Discourse does) are very dehumanising. It's all about the content, it's harder to remember it's about a person.

I suppose this is one reason why Discourse seems suited to tech support/customer support encounters where the content is what's important and it's not really about building a community. NodeBB is similar but less awkward about it.

Then of course we have the Slacks and the Discords of the world that manifest everything as streams of chat, streams and streams of the constant now. It, along with social media, reinforces a focus on 'being in the now' and 'being task orientated', both of which are detrimental to building a community, and both of which are prime manifestations of how you create a braindrain.

You see, in times gone by we'd write things in forums, with some awareness that others would come along after us and discover that knowledge and put it to use. That we were leaving artefacts for the next generation's digital archaeologist. Maybe it was grandiose and presumptious, but those of us who contributed on forums about things did so with an earnest belief that it was something more than just answering a question in the here and now.

And that I think is one of the things we are in such danger of sleepwalking into - the push, the incessant drive for the here and now in all things, continually being present, dragged into everything all the time by our devices and their notifications, that the old ways are lost. That we forget why things were so before now, for why things were so is why things are so. We are merely condemning ourselves, our future selves, our successors, to relearning that which we forgot.

I could write more; I have written much already, here, and in other places, my lamentations and warnings about losing what we had, what we were, in pursuit of hollow victories in the name of progress. I fear the battle has already been lost and that I am just the old veteran in the corner reliving the glory days.
 

Crims

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As a former Moonfruit website domain holder and phpbb forum host I salute you!
And it seemed like everyone had a forum. The Oprah moment - you get a forum, you get a forum, everyone gets a forum. But it's interesting because while there's the tools for people to share their hobbies, they're... not particularly sophisticated yet. Uploading images is a bit spotty (partially because digital cameras weren't quite so everywhere, partially because disk space isn't cheap) but all in all, it's achievable.
Which creates a perfect place for storytelling and impassioned anecdotes/evoking better storytelling.

We also used MSN messenger or AIM at the time.

Historically the smartphone and social media integration happened within a year, and the time frame in the 00s was much much quicker than now so it felt significantly late as a student at the time. Several things may occur throughout a year instead of 4 years to see one single noteworthy change. During which time I was watching the reaction style change on the internet from open eyed curiosity to persistent antiskepticism - a dogma of 'why' was starting and it was very much anti imagination or sense of community.

As someone who wants to re-establish the previous forum environment, it's noteworthy to log what from that point onward should be taken into account.

I can speak purely to a US angle as most of my forum use was involved with the main US podcast and forum networks. Several screencaps I might be able to dredge or just archive.org 2009 threads start to show the upvote-downvote system's innate anti-disagreeable filter. On more uncensored forums it shows a rapid need for a centralised anti intellectual viewpoint (to find a consensus). Political issues hinted waay back that cropped up for the last decade and a half (the internet is largely stagnant).

The main currency of the world was people - in terms of humanity and personhood. I believe at the time it really was about cultivating your own intuition for what is actually worth consuming. To give a view, currently the main 2 centralised websites (social media giant and a news one) aren't interested in leech communities and aren't particularly interested in cultivated culture., Which ultimately means no actual human fun connections to be frank about it - just business. Fun requires the ability to actually give no damn.

The end result of that means that the majority of natives are largely writing in the style of "it is a fact, because a fact is unquestionable", a completely unnatural view which could only really be deliberately made, especially to take for a company that was around for like 3 years at the time. Also meant that anyone who was an avid forumite in 2009 could see that politics would largely need to be ignored manually.

Slack is a decent work tool (actually, on reflection it was a terrible, almost call-center level piece of kit. I suppose it could maybe be used for a study group). Forums by contrast are purely passion based, and require a level of actual listening and understanding, something derided by the above in lieu of face value. I would argue above all else it's Americans using the excuse of progressive as a label for degenerate motion forward. Being in the now is a great thing as it provides the ample opportunity to reflect and improve, just seems like a subversive capitalistic and borderline religious message.

Battle was lost in my eyes in 2009 and I simply waited for change by organised groups, in 2012 and 2015. Nothing happened so IMHO it's better to plan entire views that absolutely contrast the system that is used. My hope is that you guys make it much easier to be sharp about actually enacting it.

Cultural landmarks that require manual inclusion:
Memes are inside jokes, ya'll.
You can't get energy from the internet, it's supposed to compliment real life actions. Forums were about some other passion and the energy was then shared.
Subjective = not subjective at all.
Disagreeable opinions.
 
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Retro

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I could write more
Dammit man, you've blown the server! 😲:p

But seriously, in summary, we can say that things evolve and change, but not always for the better. It's become a "quick fix" internet experience where short attention spans rule rather than the thought provoking one that we can have here with long form posts such as in this thread by yourself and Crims.
 

Crims

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I was out at the gym today and remembered this thread. I think the only way something would emulate the <2011 internet is if it complimented the current system and combined fans of a particular thing together. A rock band?
 

Arantor

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But for any thing that has fans, it already has Discord servers, Facebook groups, at least one subreddit. What could a <2011 forum offer those people that they're not already getting - and likely in better ways - with their existing tools?

The answer, as ever, is longevity. If you just want to shoot the breeze and don't have anything historical or archival, Discord/FB/Reddit are fine. You can survive - thrive, even - with the latest, just sharing your fandom.

But when you want to do anything else, such as catalogue resources for the fans, that's a whole different ball game, and one not supported by the aforementioned. Thing is, that was kind of true back then, too, in that the some of the best forums were those who had something to offer beyond just chatting.

I'm currently noodling around with a project idea that may eventually spawn a forum (maybe, maybe not) but the heart of it is still going to be a blog with stuff attached first and foremost - because that's why people would come to the site, for that information, with everything else secondary.
 

Crims

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But for any thing that has fans, it already has Discord servers, Facebook groups, at least one subreddit. What could a <2011 forum offer those people that they're not already getting - and likely in better ways - with their existing tools?
I believe that Reddit and Discord are flawed media in general. Like Facebook, they both have severe groupthink that inhibits the actual depth of conversation versus forums. Completely agree about the historic/archival thing though.

Generally I leave the content for the people to get up to themselves. It's not really my cup of tea trying to manage groups of people versus attracting them with something good. Congrats on the blog idea! Hope it works out, because I found that anything other than a book (and factual presentation regarding these things) didn't really work for me. A lot of good experiences easily put aside the interest in social media formats :p
 

Arantor

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That's the thing about Discord, they can serve as a form of discussion venue, for a smaller number of people who are mostly present at the same time, and/or the quick Q&A format. You can build a community there, but it requires a bit of effort - more than most Discord admins put in. And inevitaby there is some extrinsic motivator to bring all the people together that isn't just 'a Discord server'.

#inconvenienttruth

Larger Discord servers are a nightmare and don't work for the kinds of use cases people swear they do because it's just noise.

As for the blog... if you're into point and click adventure games it might be of interest... but if not...
 

Crims

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Rereading this thread makes sense about the way the whole alternative area of the Internet is set up. It's very specifically 'only information', no room for ourselves - pride, ego, fun or personalised banter. I generally don't associate with it as it's so similar to the front. Still using my phone apologies for short reply.
 

Arantor

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I don't think it's specifically information only, and that's actually my problem with it. It's *things that are monetisable* and since information is a commodity, one can profit off it by curating or duplicating access to it (see, for example, the various hacky scrapes of StackOverflow and Wikipedia with ads and dodgy SEO practices)

The net result is the same: pride, ego, fun or banter is pushed to the side because there isn't money to be made off it, similarly to the way there might be money to be made being an indie game dev but there's significantly more money to be made being a lazy knock-off artist churning out a dozen games a year with no soul and no passion.
 

Crims

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When it comes to storytelling I would disagree; Money is not equivalent to stories, and forums are hotbeds for subjective in-jokes. grapefruit meme insert.

I'm more interested in making a good lazy game - Doesn't mean you can't have your cake and eat it too. I'd actually go for super lazy games that have a lot of pride and ego. Dear Esther when I worked on it was decent until I realised it would stay a source mod and saw it coming.
 

Arantor

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I would not suggest Dear Esther was in any way a lazy game - because it's not. It was when it first came out, something genuinely new and interesting. By the standards... what 14 years later? We have higher standards now than that in terms of storytelling but it needed something like Dear Esther to demonstrate that the passive observer format could actually work.

The kind of thing I mean by being a lazy knock-off artist is literally where they'll push out a dozen games a year that are the same thing reskinned, where there's no soul in it - and it's literally just a blatant cash grab where minimum viable effort for maximum respective return. How often do you see ads on mobile for this year's version of Candy Crush Saga? How many of those titles have King pushed out at this point whether it's Candy Crush Saga or Farm Heroes Saga or whichever other match-3s they have? How many *franchises* have they made with basically the same game reskinned?

I also know that money is not equivalent to stories (or to information) - that was literally my point. The fact is, the internet has spent the last 15 years becoming commoditised, piecemeal. Everyone wants their dime. If a site can't make money, it will very often be sidelined unless it is a passion project.
 

Retro

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Dear Esther when I worked on it was decent

Hey you were one of the developers? Cool. :cool:

It's still available on Steam:

 

Crims

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Hey you were one of the developers? Cool. :cool:
Gracias. Yes, I made some of the maps.
Arantor:

The kind of thing I mean by being a lazy knock-off artist is literally where they'll push out a dozen games a year that are the same thing reskinned, where there's no soul in it - and it's literally just a blatant cash grab where minimum viable effort for maximum respective return. How often do you see ads on mobile for this year's version of Candy Crush Saga? How many of those titles have King pushed out at this point whether it's Candy Crush Saga or Farm Heroes Saga or whichever other match-3s they have? How many *franchises* have they made with basically the same game reskinned?

I also know that money is not equivalent to stories (or to information) - that was literally my point. The fact is, the internet has spent the last 15 years becoming commoditised, piecemeal. Everyone wants their dime. If a site can't make money, it will very often be sidelined unless it is a passion project.
Correct as a consumer. It really becomes a pain to look for something solid amongst the clone and knockoff titles so I kind of look from a creative dimension, I don't really consider the majority of cashgrab works to be noteworthy. A lot of great indie games look absolutely terrible too. I believe if the challenged market is not worth looking at then might as well do all passion projects, even short ones.
 
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