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Bringing back the forum - the good, the bad, the ugly

Shiny Grimer

Active member
Pronoun
she/her, they/them
It's been a long time since I participated in a forum like this. This place, as you can tell from my -ahem- embarrassing post history, was somewhere I used to go on a lot. But small forums just haven't been in vogue for a while. Subsumed under giants like Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr, and "dark forest" social media like Discord, the idea of a forum can seem quaint and luddite-like. I've been thinking, what were some of the great things about a forum... and what were some things that weren't so great?

To start with, forums are great at creating community. Even though I haven't been on here in years, I remember usernames, signatures, and profile pictures. A lot of modern social media "cuts out the fat" in some way - signatures seem like a relic from email-based communication, profile pics aren't entirely necessary and sites like Reddit happily get rid of them, and Twitter gives you extremely limited forms of customizing your experience. But these little things helped me recognize who was here and what they were going through. I'm on a number of Reddit communities and I can barely tell who's who half the time!

Things I don't miss? Forums have a tendency to be much more insular, which can help strengthen a community but also lead to the much-loathed drama. If you're on Twitter or Tumblr, your social webs are more fluid and therefore while drama happens, it's... pretty different, and harder to keep track of. The "community" exists to the extent that you're willing to keep interacting with people. Forums are more self-contained and it's harder to ignore or turn away from people. I don't know how you could remedy something like this - robust blocking tools? Intelligent and compassionate moderation? Leaving a forum is less like ignoring a loud voice and more like leaving a family altogether.
 

Murkrow

Says "also" and "or something" a lot
Pronoun
he
I could rant for ages about problems with specific social media sites. But by and large, they all focus on what is new and what is relevant. If something happened a couple of days ago it's either too far down your timeline to be able to reach it, or the algorithm removes it from the front page. Bumping ancient threads is still frowned upon on forums, but you can come back to conversations a few days later without it being too late. The default ordering of posts in a thread oldest first is also a stark contrast to most social media sites.

Social media is more impersonal, with accounts being much more disposable and anonymous. You can keep to one account and become recognisable if you want but it's more of a brand that you're building there rather than a reputation. Forums are more community focused. You recognise people by their names and avatars, you can make your posts as long or short as you want.

I find social media brings out the worst in people because it incentivises attention-seeking and conditions you to not give people the benefit of the doubt and such. The community feeling in forums are a breath of fresh air imo. It's something the internet is at risk of losing despite it being a much more chill atmosphere.

profile pics aren't entirely necessary and sites like Reddit happily get rid of them
Usernames barely matter on reddit either, they're tiny! They're only useful for checking if the same person is commenting in a comment thread, or maybe they're a gimmick account. I rarely check names in general so you could be reading the same account's posts multiple times on different posts and not realise it.
 

Murkrow

Says "also" and "or something" a lot
Pronoun
he
Also forums are insanely effective time capsules, especially well-maintained ones like this.
I would have agreed with this, but I just found out a forum that had been around since the mid-00s which was my second home after here was shut down about a year ago, and now I feel sad thinking about all that was lost.

The community could be toxic at times, and there's probably a lot of posts of mine I'd be embarassed to find again, but it's still sad :(
 

Ysabel

#Adulting
Pronoun
She
SO true lol. Forums are time capsules until the founder decides to sell the forum for whatever reason and they can indeed be toxic at times.

But either way, I do prefer forums to the other forms of social media. Like Reddit isn't organized at all and I definitely dislike the downvote system. Forums are more organized and self-contained. And only in forums can you play forum Mafia hehe. As for the sense of community, it can go either way. It's true that you get to know people better, but it's also true that it can turn a bit elitist if the 'in' people ignore those outside their circle.

But this specific forum is great and I'm really happy with the atmosphere and the people here. So glad I joined. :3
 

Murkrow

Says "also" and "or something" a lot
Pronoun
he
I don't want to be the guy who posts every other post in this thread but I do think about how unsocial social media is a lot, especially recently.

But by and large, they all focus on what is new and what is relevant. If something happened a couple of days ago it's either too far down your timeline to be able to reach it, or the algorithm removes it from the front page. Bumping ancient threads is still frowned upon on forums, but you can come back to conversations a few days later without it being too late. The default ordering of posts in a thread oldest first is also a stark contrast to most social media sites.
This especially, again. It's hard to maintain interest in specific things because they don't stay relevant long enough, you know? On forums a thread could last months even semi-actively about a TV show for example. If the forum was dedicated to the TV show, the thread might be about a specific episode. Where else can you do that now? Twitter isn't the best place for actual discussion (even though people still do, to the detriment of society as a whole), so the first place a lot of people will look is for a subreddit about the TV show. But if the show finished airing, chances are the threads about specific episodes aren't active any more and posting in an old one would be useless. You could try to make your own but chances are it won't get any activity either. Or perhaps even worse, the post could be removed for being a "repost" - something else that annoys me. There's this attitude of only being allowed to discuss things once, too bad if you didn't catch it the first time around.

There's youtube of course - and I do love a good video essay about things I enjoy. But on the other hand, it's an asymmetric relationship there. There's the content creator and the viewer, it's not a place to socialise so much as a soapbox for whoever makes the videos. Youtube also suffers from the same plague of relevancy. If a youtuber has many interests, chances are they'll talk more about what's currently relevant rather than older things, so there's very little new content coming out about those older things. There are a few niche channels which focus on very specific interests of course, but not all interests might be lucky enough to have such people - and even those that do might only have one or two channels.
That's of course in addition to the other issues with youtube, such as your time being wasted by videos that are padded out to be 10 minutes longer than they need to be because of ad revenue.

Tumblr was marginally better than the others because of the tagging system applying to individual blogs as well as being sitewide, making special interest blogs super viable. Generally, being more anonymous helped - no verified accounts and most people didn't link it to their IRL identities. Unfortunately it's been slowly dying ever since the NSFW ban. (I check Tumblr every day but there's pretty much only one person I follow who posts with any regularity and if I didn't follow them I would probably only be seeing new posts once every couple of days. Note that I didn't even follow any NSFW blogs, lots of people just abandoned it.)

Discord does sort of provide the same community-like feel as forums used to but there's the issue of finding servers for you in the first place. Servers that are easy to find can often have thousands of members, which to be honest I can't understand how they function at all. You also can't go back to old discussions like you can on forums.

One thing discord and forums have in common is the ability to actually moderate? Most social media sites are incredibly laid back when it comes to what is and isn't allowed. This leads to trolls and the like basically adopting the attitude that if they're not getting banned for what they're doing, it's acceptable (and if they do get banned, they cry "free speech!"). I don't think it can be understated how much good moderation can lend to community cohesion.

I'll try not to post again as soon as I think of more ways to rant about social media :P
 

Arylett Charnoa

Barely existent.
Pronoun
Ever since forums have largely died off, I have felt incredibly lost in life. Perhaps this will sound incredibly pathetic, but it was this place that defined my teenage years, and the forum I joined after it defined my early young adulthood. As someone who has had immense trouble socializing with others in real life, this was where I truly lived. Where all my friends were, what my actual real life actually was, rather than the strangers at my local high school. This place and its people changed my life. Sometimes for the worse, but mostly for the better.

In the smaller community of a forum, you post, and people are so much more likely to notice you. If you become a regular? You'll be remembered. The community has personality, it has specific people with specific roles. People who speak a certain way, people who look a certain way with their taste in avatar customization. You won't be lost in the crowd. It feels closer to what I imagine making friends at a real life workplace or school would be.

You post in Facebook or Twitter or one of those places? You're just one of the countless of millions there. You're nobody special unless you are lucky enough to already amass a following from doing something else. And even if you do great things, there's no guarantee anyone will notice you, because there are so many people to compete with. Social media isn't a community to me, it's a competition for numbers. I didn't have to compete to be noticed on a forum like this one. I just had to keep posting, had to be myself, and eventually, I made friends. I became a part of the community.

I find this fact alone to be so painful that it massively unmotivates me from using social media at all. I frankly don't see a point. Why post if there are millions of others, drowning you out, constantly? It moves so quickly, there's no time to breathe or to think. Discussions are often terse and unconstructive. Whereas places like here, I'd find well-written, thought-out posts that made me feel something. That made me want to contribute to the conversation.

Yes, there was definitely drama. But I honestly see it as no different than the drama in real life between groups of people. Wherever there is a community, there will be some type of drama. And yes, forum drama can definitely be more painful than social media if you're as invested as I was. Getting away from it was difficult, but you have to sit down and deal with it at some point. Either that or just avoid all human interaction period.

I guess what I'm saying is that, in my absolutely biased opinion, forums are 100% better than social media. Because they felt human, not like a machine of numbers and chattering that never shuts up. And I'm really quite sad that we'll never get that back.
 
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Zoroark

Illusionist
(...)

Yes, there was definitely drama. But I honestly see it as no different than the drama in real life between groups of people. Wherever there is a community, there will be some type of drama. (...)

I guess what I'm saying is that, in my absolutely biased opinion, forums are 100% better than social media. Because they felt human, not like a machine of numbers and chattering that never shuts up. And I'm really quite sad that we'll never get that back.
The parts I agree with are not included. My reason for doing it like this is that a discussion should be more than saying 'Yes, absolutely', and nodding along.

On Drama
In my opinion, drama of any form is the result of some badly-thought-out attempt at either attention-seeking, self-gratification, or trying to cause a distraction in order to avoid blame. I'm not saying that either thing is bad on its own, except for the 'avoiding blame' part, although most cultures do paint it as 'bad', but the resulting fallout and public displays of childish whining tend to set my teeth on edge. Were it up to me, people who cause drama would be placed on the naughty step for a week.

Civilisation would crumble at that point, because a full two thirds of humanity would be on the naughty step for at least a month.

My point is this: drama is completely unnecessary, and could be completely replaced by having an adult conversation. This will never happen in the current cultural climate of never admitting that you're at fault to anyone, least of all to yourself, as though every member of humanity is a paragon of perfect virtue.

On Forums
There are still forums. People are already finding that social media isn't as good as it's advertised, mostly because it has all of the management problems as forums. Facebook is full of racism, that the admin in charge refuses to censor or ban. Reddit is a confusing morass of photos and song lyrics. Tiktok is almost a knockoff version of Youtube, although both platforms don't appear to let you post a topic without making a video.

My point is this: There's never 'no chance' of something coming back. Forums are currently seen as 'old-fashioned' and 'quaint', but the fact of the matter is that it's simply a change in fashion. Some things do fall out of favour as perceptions change, but if they're available and well-crafted they'll always have an audience ready for a comeback. It took years for Facebook to gain popularity, but now it's seen as the place where your racist grampa goes to shriek and scream his loathing of people's skin colour into the electronic void. Forums have never had that drawback.

Give it a decade or so and places with this design will be back in vogue. After all, facebook, reddit, youtube and forums all have mostly the same code. The only difference is a few design choices and aesthetic changes to alter the media displayed.

TikTok is mostly Java. Definitely not a forum.
 

Arylett Charnoa

Barely existent.
Pronoun
On Drama
In my opinion, drama of any form is the result of some badly-thought-out attempt at either attention-seeking, self-gratification, or trying to cause a distraction in order to avoid blame. I'm not saying that either thing is bad on its own, except for the 'avoiding blame' part, although most cultures do paint it as 'bad', but the resulting fallout and public displays of childish whining tend to set my teeth on edge. Were it up to me, people who cause drama would be placed on the naughty step for a week.

Civilisation would crumble at that point, because a full two thirds of humanity would be on the naughty step for at least a month.

My point is this: drama is completely unnecessary, and could be completely replaced by having an adult conversation. This will never happen in the current cultural climate of never admitting that you're at fault to anyone, least of all to yourself, as though every member of humanity is a paragon of perfect virtue.
If I'm honest, I believe that drama will never go away, and has always been intense and around regardless of the cultural climate. To me, drama is moreso the result of the negative emotions that run through us all. It isn't just about attention-seeking, but sometimes can result from genuine misunderstandings, or ideological differences that groups can never reconcile. As long as we all are different and have different opinions, there will always be friction between people.

Honestly, the best thing to do about drama is to just calm down the best you can and let it pass you by. Pointing it out tends to make it worse. I guess that's the true problem here though - people can't just walk away, and it does only become more difficult with the current climate.[/quote]

On Forums
There are still forums. People are already finding that social media isn't as good as it's advertised, mostly because it has all of the management problems as forums. Facebook is full of racism, that the admin in charge refuses to censor or ban. Reddit is a confusing morass of photos and song lyrics. Tiktok is almost a knockoff version of Youtube, although both platforms don't appear to let you post a topic without making a video.

My point is this: There's never 'no chance' of something coming back. Forums are currently seen as 'old-fashioned' and 'quaint', but the fact of the matter is that it's simply a change in fashion. Some things do fall out of favour as perceptions change, but if they're available and well-crafted they'll always have an audience ready for a comeback. It took years for Facebook to gain popularity, but now it's seen as the place where your racist grampa goes to shriek and scream his loathing of people's skin colour into the electronic void. Forums have never had that drawback.

Give it a decade or so and places with this design will be back in vogue. After all, facebook, reddit, youtube and forums all have mostly the same code. The only difference is a few design choices and aesthetic changes to alter the media displayed.

TikTok is mostly Java. Definitely not a forum.
I have seen surviving forums, but most of them are in a state of half-death, similarly to this one. Immensely inactive, relics of the past. There are some that still survive, but it isn't the same as their heyday. Social media has taken over their niche, for the most part.

What I meant by there being "no chance" of them coming back is that they'll never be the same as they were back then. Too much has changed for forums to just make a sudden comeback exactly as they were. If they do return in a big way, they'll likely have elements of social media integrated cloyingly into them. Like Reddit, for instance. I imagine a modern resurgence of forums would just be more Reddit. and I honestly can't make heads or tails of that place just as you said. It's just all about getting upvotes, assigning value to people's posts with arbitrary numbers is a huge part of the culture there, just like all social media nowadays.

There's no telling what the future holds, but some trends will likely continue regardless. People have been changed greatly by social media. The way they communicate online is fundamentally different. Even if the code is the same, the communities won't be. You can't go back once you've stepped forward.
 

IndigoEmmy

Comes here more often then she says she does.
Pronoun
She/Her or They/Them
I will always be a humongous fan of forums. Social media is like walking into a huge building with hundreds of people who are wildly different from you, (some people are mea) and then just trying to talk to them. Forums are like going into a club with people who have relatively similar interests.

I don't care if forums are rarely used. When everyone forgets their existance, I will be the last one to post on forums goddammit :P
 

Zoroark

Illusionist
If I'm honest, I believe that drama will never go away, and has always been intense and around regardless of the cultural climate. To me, drama is moreso the result of the negative emotions that run through us all. It isn't just about attention-seeking, but sometimes can result from genuine misunderstandings, or ideological differences that groups can never reconcile. As long as we all are different and have different opinions, there will always be friction between people.

Honestly, the best thing to do about drama is to just calm down the best you can and let it pass you by. Pointing it out tends to make it worse. I guess that's the true problem here though - people can't just walk away, and it does only become more difficult with the current climate.

I see. It appears that we have both been subject to very different types of drama. For me, the drama I face is the one that results from people deliberately lying in order to obfuscate their mistakes and appear perfect. For you, the drama appears to be centred around ignorance and misunderstandings more than dishonesty.

Another probable culprit is our own perceptions. I tend to immediately believe that no-one is stupid enough to think that the things they say are true when they are causing drama. Perhaps it is different for yourself?


I have seen surviving forums, but most of them are in a state of half-death, similarly to this one. Immensely inactive, relics of the past. There are some that still survive, but it isn't the same as their heyday. Social media has taken over their niche, for the most part.

What I meant by there being "no chance" of them coming back is that they'll never be the same as they were back then. Too much has changed for forums to just make a sudden comeback exactly as they were. If they do return in a big way, they'll likely have elements of social media integrated cloyingly into them. Like Reddit, for instance. I imagine a modern resurgence of forums would just be more Reddit. and I honestly can't make heads or tails of that place just as you said. It's just all about getting upvotes, assigning value to people's posts with arbitrary numbers is a huge part of the culture there, just like all social media nowadays.

There's no telling what the future holds, but some trends will likely continue regardless. People have been changed greatly by social media. The way they communicate online is fundamentally different. Even if the code is the same, the communities won't be. You can't go back once you've stepped forward.
To be fair, that saying "You can't go back once you've stepped forward" is only true with knowledge and, crucially, certain biological things like growing up. It's not true if technology remains the same for both things. The only thing truly driving this divide between forums and social media is fashion. This, in turn, is driven by advertising, brand awareness and cultural conditioning.

A similar thing happens with clothing, brands of perfume and housing styles. Since the technology between forums and social media is largely the same, this means that the move away from places like this is nowhere near as cut and dried as you think.

The important thing with fashion is that similar trends come around again every few decades. I am sure that sooner or later some rebellious teens will decide that TikTok is for old people, just as they did for Facebook, and will begin flooding into forums again. I imagine that this will likely be driven by the lack of microtransactions on the platform.
 

kyeugh

Well-known member
Pronoun
she/her
maybe forums as we know them—vbulletin-style boards for instance—are languishing, but smaller, interest-based, thread-based communities aren't going anywhere. amino, for example, is an extremely popular app among young people and it's basically just a fresh iteration of the forum model imo. i'd liken it to the way discord resuscitated the online chatroom. i wouldn't worry about spaces like this vanishing forever, but they will start (and have started) taking somewhat unfamiliar forms. if you're really interested in finding new ones, you might have to adapt to the changes the model is undergoing. the model persists though.
 
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