Why it's so hard to start a forum nowadays

Retro

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If you're over age 30 and didn't come to motorcycling late in life, you probably remember at least one of those motorcycle forums, even if you didn't belong to one. In the heyday of the internet forum, you could reliably punch almost any make or model of motorcycle into a search bar (AltaVista, anyone?) and someone, somewhere, had started a forum for it. And now, in 2022, that same forum is likely a wasteland. Why is that?

This article written in June talks specifically about motorcycle forums, but the scenario really applies to just about any long form forum like we have here.

It is more or less like this, unfortunately. I think in the first instance, it's the tyranny* of the smartphone / tablet and the physical limitations they bring to the forum experience as explained in the article. It's just too fiddly to make long posts using these devices. The other is basically Facebook and its huge presence in the social internet space.

In the "good old days", about a decade ago, a forum like this would have been a hive of activity without having to even promote it much. Nowadays, it's hard to get going and many die, stuck in the inherent catch-22 situation of no users and no content attracting no new users.

Thankfully, I've had a bit of a break, even though NZ had a rocky start last year, but I refused to quit. I figured that adding my own personal content, effectively treating it like a blog with comments to keep the content updating daily would stop it dying - and it worked. Friends** would criticise me by saying, "all I see is you everywhere, talking to yourself", completely missing the point of Content is King. Just me "talking to myself" is what a blog is, hence the strategy worked.

I keep adding new content nowadays too and am proud to have over 1000 posts to my name on here now in just over a year, with all my efforts. Especially so, as I naturally like sharing stuff on a forum. :) Due to this effort, I've now got a handful of dedicated forum members who contribute greatly to NZ and to whom I'm very grateful - thankyou, people, you're epic. :cool:

*Ok, a bit hyperbolic that, as I use my iPhone all the time and it's fantastically useful, including to access my forum and others, but it really does hinder long form posts and pictures as it's so fiddly to do on a small touchscreen, no matter how good the design of the forum software. I sometimes wait until I get a chance to use my desktop PC before making a longer post, like this one - if I haven't forgotten about it by then. I think smartphones are the bigger reason that forums are dying rather than Facebook which seems to have found a way to capitalise on the small touchscreen format. Real big shame that. Plus, it's got millions to throw at ensuring it remains high in the minds of users compared to the shoestring budget I'm on, so it's not a fair comparison.

**None of them are interested in forums either and don't contribute. Thanks guys.

Nerd level: it's right up there, might need binoculars to see it.

 

Fait

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This article written in June talks specifically about motorcycle forums, but the scenario really applies to just about any long form forum like we have here.

It is more or less like this, unfortunately. I think in the first instance, it's the tyranny* of the smartphone / tablet and the physical limitations they bring to the forum experience as explained in the article. It's just too fiddly to make long posts using these devices. The other is basically Facebook and its huge presence in the social internet space.

In the "good old days", about a decade ago, a forum like this would have been a hive of activity without having to even promote it much. Nowadays, it's hard to get going and many die, stuck in the inherent catch-22 situation of no users and no content attracting no new users.

Thankfully, I've had a bit of a break, even though NZ had a rocky start last year, but I refused to quit. I figured that adding my own personal content, effectively treating it like a blog with comments to keep the content updating daily would stop it dying - and it worked. Friends** would criticise me by saying, "all I see is you everywhere, talking to yourself", completely missing the point of Content is King. Just me "talking to myself" is what a blog is, hence the strategy worked.

I keep adding new content nowadays too and am proud to have over 1000 posts to my name on here now in just over a year, with all my efforts. Especially so, as I naturally like sharing stuff on a forum. :) Due to this effort, I've now got a handful of dedicated forum members who contribute greatly to NZ and to whom I'm very grateful - thankyou, people, you're epic. :cool:

*Ok, a bit hyperbolic that, as I use my iPhone all the time and it's fantastically useful, including to access my forum and others, but it really does hinder long form posts and pictures as it's so fiddly to do on a small touchscreen, no matter how good the design of the forum software. I sometimes wait until I get a chance to use my desktop PC before making a longer post, like this one - if I haven't forgotten about it by then. I think smartphones are the bigger reason that forums are dying rather than Facebook which seems to have found a way to capitalise on the small touchscreen format. Real big shame that. Plus, it's got millions to throw at ensuring it remains high in the minds of users compared to the shoestring budget I'm on, so it's not a fair comparison.

**None of them are interested in forums either and don't contribute. Thanks guys.

Nerd level: it's right up there, might need binoculars to see it.

It’s sad to see forums die like this, There’s nothing good about Discord or Facebook but the new generations use them because it’s one trendy and two easy to use for lazy people.

Good to see you pushing through it takes a lot of motivation to do that :)
 

Retro

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Yes, it certainly is. At first I felt quite bad about the lack of activity, but when I realised just how difficult the conditions are now, most of that negative feeling went away allowing me to persevere.

Couple of things: I've now taken you off post approval, so you can spam at will. :p

Feel free to promote your forum on here - please see the resource explaining the conditions for that.
 

Fait

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Yes, it certainly is. At first I felt quite bad about the lack of activity, but when I realised just how difficult the conditions are now, most of that negative feeling went away allowing me to persevere.

Couple of things: I've now taken you off post approval, so you can spam at will. :p

Feel free to promote your forum on here - please see the resource explaining the conditions for that.
It’s extremely hard these days, People always prefer the easy options not the decent ones.
You’ve done well considering.

And thank you will do! :D
 

Arantor

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I'm going to be a bit controversial and suggest that 'all of the above' are the reasons forums are somewhat in decline. But there's more. Let's see if we can't unpack them all together.

1. The web is going way more mobile
It's true, there's no denying the facts, the web *has* gone more mobile in the last decade than it ever was. And few of the forum platforms truly excel on mobile. They're adequate, acceptable, usable, but... that's it. They're still designed first for desktop and adapted for mobile. Even Flarum which is probably the nearest thing to a genuinely mobile-first experience (imagine: a forum software that doesn't handle attachments by default because mobile devices don't tend to handle files well), it's not great.

And I don't think it matters which flavour of content you want to look at, forums on mobile specifically are acceptable-at-best for all of them. No-one wants to type lots on mobile, no-one wants to deal with pressing many buttons on mobile especially when other platforms *don't*. You just hit the bare minimum and you're done.

2. The web is quietly migrating control of content away from individuals - and people prefer it that way
Following on from the above, when you upload images to a forum, you usually have some control over how you want to present them in a post - aligned with some text, or in a particular order, perhaps with different formatting for different sections. Whereas with Facebook, Twitter, etc. the control is with the platform; you just shove your content at it and trust the platform to present it for you.

We've moved from people taking pride in not only producing content but producing it in a way they are proud of, to producing content to fit someone else's needs, and at some point we collectively became OK with that.

3. People don't want to DIY
Following on from the above, running a forum/blog/your own thing is hard work. It's one of the things the Web3 people haven't figured out yet: people don't *want* to run their own infrastructure. They want to be able to do the parts they do care about (the content) without dealing with the mess that is, say, the hosting infrastructure. Those of us who want more control than just 'I have a forum platform, I can install plugins' to the point where we write our own plugins... still probably don't want to deal with the servers. I *can* but I certainly don't *want* to.

For many people the question of 'why would I run my own forum' is easily countered with 'use FB Groups' or 'make a subreddit' because this neatly folds away the headache of actually deploying a forum environment, the mess of hardware and hosting is a non-issue, and at that point it's all about the content, the part people actually cared about. *Plus* these places come with something of a built-in audience entrance ramp, in a way forums don't tend to. (Let's put aside the question of whether these places are forums or not; it's not relevant here.)

4. The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many
Social media in particular has a fascinating take on the psychology of creation and sharing, though it's not often discussed. Specifically, time was when people would create sites for their own satisfaction, their own love of whatever it was, and post it - ostensibly for the many. It was a simpler, more innocent time for sure, and monetisation was very much a secondary concern for them, if a concern at all.

Now, though, both of these points have shifted. Social media absolutely encourages a culture of not sharing because you love something but for the dopamine reaction; we're encouraged by design to share our best life and allow others to live vicariously through ours. This is the central conceit of the influencer, if you will. This is where we're at with people sharing the food they're eating: we've successfully encouraged people to overshare about themselves in a bid for that positive hit, rather than sharing what they're interested in.

And, of course, the increasing encroachment of the corporatisation of the internet means that everything is now about money. That blog where you might have posted the odd nature photograph? Now it's a side hustle. The myth being perpetrated that if you're not making money *all the time in your life* you are living your life wrong.

5. Consumption vs creation
Following on from the above... people don't have the time/energy to spend on their hobbies the way they used to because of the broken economic systems discouraging people having hobbies.

Creation takes more effort, and if you're not being rewarded for it economically or emotionally, it's not worth the effort as per current psychological doctrine. As a result, people are switching gears and either reducing their creation output to lowest minimal effort (see Facebook and people just sharing their lives) or simply switching to consumption entirely, with creation being limited to responding.

Forums also used to offer a sort of in-built Q&A/support system; for any forum about a topic, you'd get an area for 'I need help with x' and people who were there anyway to just talk about the hobby, would be able to join in and help. But if you're not creating the forum or the ecosystem in which that happens, you end up with no support vehicle either.

Which means that you get a negative feedback loop of people who want help with x, for whatever x is, and have fewer places to turn - which means you then don't get people making *new* places in response, because that was what used to happen: people would go 'I need help with x, there's no venue for it, so I'll make one' but these days that's just not happening.

Partly because this void is sort of filled between Stack Exchange, Facebook Groups and YouTube tutorials for many things, but none of those are really viable for building communities around; people participate either for the virtual cookies (Stack) or because it's some weird side hustle mechanic.

In this particular angle, people are task-orientated and just want answers, and the venues that traditionally would have supplied, now don't.

6. The pace of life
As a direct follow-on to the 'traditional venues supplying answers', there is also the weird logic that answers to questions should be available on demand, as though support venues exist solely to support people in getting answers as quickly as possible.

The number of times I've seen online that people have posted a question and been annoyed/frustrated/upset/offended that they didn't get an answer inside an hour is... shocking. It's a weird form of entitlement that these people think they can just ask for answers and deserve/are entitled to an answer inside an hour, at any time of day, regardless of anything else.

I think because places like Discord can make it seem like the community is 24/7, that the same instant response is expected elsewhere too.


In conclusion - tl;dr:
I have waffled enough. Social media is (sorta) killing forums, mobile is (sorta) killing forums, people don't have the time/energy to participate in forums, people don't have the patience for forums - and I don't think forums can fix any of those things.
 

Tiffany

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I've been pondering this a lot. Is there another way to re-market the word "forum"? I think forum by itself brings to mind the old message boards.
I have waffled enough. Social media is (sorta) killing forums, mobile is (sorta) killing forums, people don't have the time/energy to participate in forums, people don't have the patience for forums - and I don't think forums can fix any of those things.
If you can rebrand the idea of a forum into a modern forum look and experience, what would you do? I do agree, it has to work on the cell phone. I have two friends and a daughter, that were very regular, as soon as I upgraded and removed the mobile apps from Apple and Google Playstore, (because the PWA worked so well and actually better) all three of them starting posting less to nada. My daughter has an excuse, she's in college, but I've had to re-access based on those three responses and realized that all of my friends are not like me. They only have time to "like" and a quick comment, as with most people these days. We are by far the exception.
 

StojanTim

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I agree the term forum is archaic. Anyone under 30 looks at you blankly and the light only dawns when you say it's like a Facebook group.
 

Arantor

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That‘s why I exist in a forum niche that is more female than male, higher incidence of LGBTQIA+ and also has a very enthusiastic under 30 scene.

The hilarity is that this niche is filled with sites running on a hotrodded version of InvisionFree.
 

Retro

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1. The web is going way more mobile
Agreed, especially your second paragraph and I pointed this out in my OP too, in less detail.

In fact, your long post is exactly the kind of thing that's difficult to express on a mobile, although not impossible, as that little touch screen is so restrictive. I've, ahem, done something like that once or twice. Wasn't quite as long, though.

I agree with the other points too, but I think that this is the big one by a large margin. I still think people like to get on their soapbox and pontificate. It's just so much harder to do on mobile, that it gets reduced to soundbites.
 

Arantor

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The follow-on problem is that if everyone's on mobile, everything's a soundbite. See Twitter for an example of this even with the attempts to work around it with 'threads' of replies.
 

Retro

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Yeah, true, so sad. Makes everything so superficial and empty, doesn't it?
 

Retro

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btw, that long post that I did on my iPhone was on WhatsApp, so the recipient did ask me incredulously if I'd really done it on that. They just couldn't believe it! :ROFLMAO:

I managed to fight off the many stupid typos that autocarrot tried to create, too.
 

Mars

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As you said,Tiffany ".........We are by far the exception".
Very true, and by definition, an exception is just that, something out of the ordinary, so it would not have million followers. There are no "influencers" here, what bliss.
 

Retro

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People tell me to grow up and act like A Millennial that I am when I mention I got a forum 🤦‍♂️
You got a forum? What kinda loser would want that?! :p

Feel free to promote it here and see this resource for further details:

 

Fait

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You got a forum? What kinda loser would want that?! :p

Feel free to promote it here and see this resource for further details:

that’s how they act like it’s the end of the world hahahah

Been sick (think it’s covid because a family member tested positive) but will asap :)
 

Retro

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Sorry to hear you're sick. I had covid last year and it was no laughing matter. Get well soon buddy.

No rush.
 

Fait

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Sorry to hear you're sick. I had covid last year and it was no laughing matter. Get well soon buddy.

No rush.
Thank you! :)
The stuff is going around again think it be another few years before we see the end of it but I should be okay!
 

Arantor

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People tell me to grow up and act like A Millennial that I am when I mention I got a forum 🤦‍♂️
I think it’s hilarious when people especially in the echo chambers like TAZ talk about “them millennials” ruining it for everyone.

Well, uh, I hate to break it to you people but the millennials are people like me - pushing 40, not the people half our age who have different values having grown up in a completely different landscape.

This is why I just stopped posting at TAZ and places like it. It’s unhealthy.
 

Fait

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I think it’s hilarious when people especially in the echo chambers like TAZ talk about “them millennials” ruining it for everyone.

Well, uh, I hate to break it to you people but the millennials are people like me - pushing 40, not the people half our age who have different values having grown up in a completely different landscape.

This is why I just stopped posting at TAZ and places like it. It’s unhealthy.
I’m a Younger Millennial not long after I was born the Gen Z period started and I love forums, As a mid 90s kid I watched my parents use forums.

And couldn’t agree more, Stereotyping people based on their generation is unfair and just stupid, Sure some of the generation stuff is accurate but it doesn’t mean they should stereotype everyone.
 

Mars

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I totally agree with what was said here. The bottom line is this: it is your life, your preferences your emotions.
I actually consider it a compliment not being part of the herd, but instead having your own ideas and preferences.
So many people don't have the courage to stand on their own feet and be individualistic. Some social media serve as a crutch that everyone leans on. The hordes lap up the opinions and 'advice' of the current flavour of the month, elevate them to the position of icons. ICONS? do me a favour, who are they, what have they done besides looking after their own interests an promoting themselves.
Thank you retro for this wonderful forum.
 

Tiffany

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I can recall a friend telling me years ago, "Why would you want to create a forum and deal with all of those trolls?". I tried not to take offense, but I kind of did, because someone that is supposed to be your friend, maybe should do a better job with sharing their opinion other then being purely blunt. Not that someone needs to tread lightly with their opinions around me, because I can handle it, but being harsh about it? For the record, you do have to have a pretty hard shell of a personality to create a forum/website because one day you will deal with tough members that will push you to the very edge and you have to be able to handle it and move on.

@Fait hope you are feeling better. I like your website and have been meaning to respond on TAZ, but I've been sick too with little energy.

@Retro Sorry you had a battle with covid last year. My husband got it the first time around, but neither myself or my daughter got it. It's been very perplexing. On the forum owner stereotype, I think people have a skewed idea of what people must be like to be a website owner. That is also unfair sort of profiling of people because of what they do. On weird websites, I can pick up on creepy pretty fast. I don't even have to know how old admin is to know there's something off.

@Stojan Tim Any ideas on what we could call a forum; how to update? I went to look at synonyms for forums and nothing works, so I came up with these, but they are two word phrases:
Social Venue, Social Channel(s)?

@Arantor Agreed, toxic environments and toxic people (online and real) are unhealthy. I've looked at TAZ daily, but it's the same drum beat with a few dominating members, just not motivated. You can't have a substantive conversation without wondering when members are going to swoop in and disagree like it's a big game.

@Mars Totally, exactly. Written perfectly.... people need to do what pleases them and the heck with what other people think. Once you get to that confidence level in your life, it's very liberating.
 

Arantor

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I have been ruminating about a lot of things lately, not least of which some of the points made by the TAZ denizens. They can’t *all* be wrong; even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Better support for pictures and video shouldn’t be that hard in theory depending on what you’re trying to do. It is of course a delusion to pretend that us with our forums running on shared-scale servers can handle the kind of things Facebook can in terms of volume, and posting video is assuredly on the fringes of that.

It *is* possible to get video files onto a shared server, even, it’s just the playback is a killer.

Here is ultimately the thing though: folks that talk about going mobile first and media first are, whether they like it or not, fundamentally dismissing long form anything. Long form anything is not compatible with a mobile first approach. Can you make long posts? Sure, but it sucks. Often to the point where you might as well not bother.

So can we bridge the gap in other ways? I’ve seen it done to have some kind of prompt (ike a forum topic) that accepted audio-only responses, and this was done entirely in the modern browsers with JavaScript. It also doesn’t seem beyond the pale to find a service that might make a reasonable AI-based attempt at transcribing that.

Meanwhile I see all the discussions about decentralised this and federated that and blockchain the things. People don’t want it. If they actually did, Diaspora, Mastodon and Matrix would be the services we would be complaining about, not Facebook, Twitter and Discord. The *only* way blockchain even works for handling ownership of content the way these people imagine is if you actually bake the content into the chain itself, anything short of that misses the point (owning a URL that points to content is no proof of ownership of content therein, you own a receipt demonstrating… something), and baking it into the chain itself means you have to shuffle around all the actual content with you all the time, eventually anyway.

Having a single “master SSO” is also a fundamentally bad idea because who would you possibly trust as a single central identity broker? It’s a government’s wet dream of having a central identity database. (It also goes against every single “decentralise all the things” the cryptoanarchists talk about but let’s not confuse them too much.) A single master SSO also implies that bans from a community are fundamentally punitive, that regret and remorse can’t exist and folks actually creating spaces aren’t ever creating spaces where pseudonymity or anonymity are actually preferable. Imagine founding a community for abuse victims knowing that your abuser could discover you’re on there with relative ease. It never stands up to actual scrutiny when these things are properly thought about.

Do I think peer to peer forum connections could be good? Sure. In the same way you can “log in with Facebook”, I think “log in with…” could be a really nice feature, especially if forums that are in similar niches with overlap form webrings again. Remember webrings?! Now imagine if you could log into one and travel between them seamlessly. We have all the tech to do this and it isn’t nearly as pie in the sky as what the hip children talk about in terms of blockchain/decentralised/buzzword buzzkill.

I often point out to people that I hang around in the roleplay scene. This place has directories, as well as those 88x31 affiliates images we all used to have 20 years ago. It’s like it’s 2004 again, but you know what? It’s a happier place for it because I guarantee no one in the roleplay scene gives two hoots about SEO, or keyword density or off page marketing in the normal sense. They just make their space, go advertise in the normal places, word of mouth advertising.

Its all honesty a lot healthier even if slower going sometimes.
 

Tiffany

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I agree, I think web-people are trying to reinvent the wheel, with just new words that sound like their product is different beyond reproach; e.g. blockchain, decentralized. I've actually dived into learning about it months ago and just thought ...huh?

Video sharing is indeed where it's at. It does help bring in conversation where the conversation just webs and people really have fun.

I like the audio response for mobile. That is a great idea.
 

Arantor

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My fear about video sharing, technical matters aside (and, really that’s *quite* the caveat) is that actually it’s a barrier to entry for discourse.

Audio only is too, but at least if you’re wrangling that, it’s probably less a technical challenge, just because it’ll be a fraction of the size of video.

That said, neither suit long form responses unless video essaying at each other is where it’s at.

Moreover, this hides the fact that plenty of people - me included - *don’t want to be on video*. I don’t like being on video, I find it unhelpful for trying to put together a coherent train of thought because I recognise that my tone of voice, body language etc are all being subconsciously (if not consciously) observed and I feel pressured to say things that on reflection (and in written form) I simply wouldn’t. I’m one of nature’s born mumblers, too.

The way I see it, this is about providing options and opening doors rather than mandating people have to take those options or walk through those doors.
 
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