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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
they or 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
 
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