Forums are not Dead !!! Change your vision, this is needed

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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now-defunct NodeBB
It’s so defunct that 2.0 beta was announced in February (with code) and GitHub shows the last human code contribution was Friday. It does make it hard to take you seriously with such egregiously wrong (and easily disprovable) statements.

Also one generally assumes the adjective “innovative” is related to “improved”. If you are asserting that you too feel it is a backward step, it would be wise to not refer to it as innovative and instead as “attempting to be disruptive”.

Note that it pushed very hard for change then was surprised to find its customers didn’t actually want the changes and since back-pedalled on a number of them.

I will give you that it is trying. It tries my patience every time I have to engage with a Discourse.

But I guess the thesis serves its purpose to show that forums truly are dead, they just haven’t stopped moving yet, and so let’s not even bother trying to improve what is already evolutionarily dead, let’s find some other corner to hide in while the market matures and everything being run for profit at scale takes over, amid everyone complaining that there’s no hobbyists any more. You don’t even know what you had until it’s gone.
 

mysiteguy

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Discourse is the only forum provider truly pushing the envelope and "innovating" for the entire forum platform, but they aren't the only forum software that has tried new things (like the now-defunct NodeBB, or the ever simplistic Flarum BB). Do you know of another forum provider who is truly "innovating"? I'm not saying that their moves are a good thing (to the contrary - I have many issues with how Discourse has actually made forums less approachable, not more so).

Again, you presume your opinions are fact and everyone agrees with you. Their "innovations" do not impress me, and do not make using forums any easier. I find their usability to be a step backwards. They took a bunch of things others had already innovated, slapped them together and called it new. It's always come across as "busy" mishmash to me.

I think you'll better communicate by leaving out words like "we all agree". This thread illustrates we do not.
 

Blanco

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Apr 8, 2019
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76
Discourse is the only forum provider truly pushing the envelope and "innovating" for the entire forum platform, but they aren't the only forum software that has tried new things (like the now-defunct NodeBB, or the ever simplistic Flarum BB). Do you know of another forum provider who is truly "innovating"? I'm not saying that their moves are a good thing (to the contrary - I have many issues with how Discourse has actually made forums less approachable, not more so).
NodeBB is not defunct, they're still there.

I think V2 is in beta or coming soon as beta, there is a link to their forum - http://community.nodebb.org
 

Nev_Dull

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Apr 27, 2010
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Facebook Parent groups are the best ways to connect with fellow parents attending your kids' schools, to network about extracurricular events or babysitting, or plan things in your local community. Despite there being a direct alternative to Facebook's parent/neighborhood vector (Nextdoor), it hasn't even remotely penetrated the ubiquity of Facebook's parent groups. If I need an immediate response, I go to one of the dozens of parent groups to which I belong. In the early 2000s, there used to be dozens of forums that served a similar purpose, but I would have to wait days, sometimes weeks, for detailed information from other participants to get answers to my questions (or, I would run the risk of having to search and find outdated information in the archived content). With Facebook, I generally know I can get an answer within a few minutes.
This is a good point. Facebook has indeed supplanted the parenting forum and mom blog as the primary place for parents to meet and share experiences and advice. It is an area that well suits Facebook's demographic.
For news and current events, Reddit offers the true one-stop clearinghouse and it boasts of itself (rightly so) as the "front page of the Internet." I can join any number of hyper-specialized subreddits, and immediately find very detailed, timely, and relevant information pertaining to my micro-topic of interest. Alternatively, if I am looking for hyper-local real-time news, Twitter is the place to go. If a storm threatens to close roads in my town, I just have to run a quick search on Twitter or post a question to my Facebook group, and within seconds, I get photos from neighbors who are looking out their windows.
I'll admit, this is a revelation to me. I would never imagine Reddit as the place to go for news and current events. Opinions, reactions, rants, ravings, or alternative views to news and current events, sure. Perhaps I am getting too old. I still view professional news outlets as a better source for verified facts.

The point about Twitter is valid. Whenever something happens locally, like a power cut, I reach for Twitter. I don't learn anything about the reasons for the cut or when the power is likely to be restored, but I can sit in the dark and be amused by the angry tweets from my neighbours about cold dinners or missing their favourite program.
The hardest lesson about building online communities is one that we -- all of us -- as forum owners know: this is not the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they surely won't come. You need to identify an audience's needs, and then cater to those needs. Niche forums will always have a place because there will always be niche groups interested in deeper conversations around specific topics, and will want dedicated pockets of the internet for their quaint and provincial discussions. But there is no audience for large-scale convening grounds of a forum with hundreds of thousands of active users and millions of posts every year. Not any more.
That tired Field of Dreams concept has never been the case, despite all the "good old days" type faulty memories. Of course there was a time when forums flourished as the only place for online discussions, but even then, bad forums died quickly and frequently. We all know the current landscape is different. Building a forum audience takes hard work and a lot of time, if you don't have a ready-made one. I don't think that's a bad thing. In a lot of ways, it serves to elevate forum communities because we do need a better understanding of our topics and our audiences.

Forums have always been the realm of niche interests. Even those old general chat forums were always kept alive by one or two sub-forums that took off. That's why I find the concern over the social media giants largely irrelevant. I have no interest in being a one stop shop or for catering to those seeking instant gratification. I'm quite happy to enjoy the company of my forum members and our "quaint and provincial" discussions. I'd rather spend my evening in the local around a table with a few folks than in a conference hall as part of huge crowd.
 

DarthVader

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Nov 12, 2017
Messages
50
Forums are dead... Most of the folks claiming that forums are not dead are too invested in the eco system or they offer services for that specific software that would make it counter productive to say "that industry is dying out".

Take a look at this forum... take a look at the official XF (I used to frequent both forums multiple times a day) forum... they are "simmering down".
I mean just look at the XenForo 3rd party developers. There are what 3-4 of them worth mentioning... Look at the XF2 add-ons and its a sign.


Please review the showcase and you will see that most of the forums listed are no longer around (I even found some that just started up this year in 2022 that are no longer around anymore - looks like the founders realized its not worth investing the time and money.

Also if anyone is curious you can probably compare message count and member could over the years to see if there are any trends =D https://web.archive.org/web/20170801000000*/https://xenforo.com/community/

Look - this is not just my opinion - 3rd party developers who were heavily invested in XF have left because they think its a dying market and cannot make money off of it.

Forgot to mention the XenForo showcase - https://xenforo.com/customers/showcase/
All the excitement and here we are a year after and nothing really happening with it - customers are even complaining in the thread that its not being updated.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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looks like the founders realized its not worth investing the time and money.
There’s *always* been forums that started and disappeared when they didn’t get instant traction and success, this is nothing new.
 

Kaelon

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I'll admit, this is a revelation to me. I would never imagine Reddit as the place to go for news and current events. Opinions, reactions, rants, ravings, or alternative views to news and current events, sure. Perhaps I am getting too old. I still view professional news outlets as a better source for verified facts.

Reddit is, without a doubt, the place to go for news and news conversations. This isn't to say that it's the place to go for general, mainstream, sanitized news - and certainly, "professional news outlets" (which have all essentially gone very vanilla and are chasing ad-clicks and streaming media revenue) still offer a generalized view of basic events. But if you want expert analysis, detailed discussion, and timely, relevant perspectives on current events, Reddit is hard to beat. With a subreddit for essentially any imaginable topic, and an interface that prioritizes cross-posting, content syndication, and trending topics across its entire network and the Internet as a whole, I find that I get more relevant and timely details than news, or even official government websites.

For example, if you want to know the latest information about Covid-19's Omicron BA.2.11.2 variant and guidance for how many days someone who tests positive should quarantine before potentially exposing others, a network of scientists, doctors, researchers, and policy makers have detailed conversations on Reddit that then get both auto (robotically) and moderatively (humanly) curated into its Wiki, giving you timely and prompt guidance that beats what you might get on the news. The same is true with pretty much any topic, from Ukuleles to Ukraine.

Building a forum audience takes hard work and a lot of time, if you don't have a ready-made one. I don't think that's a bad thing. In a lot of ways, it serves to elevate forum communities because we do need a better understanding of our topics and our audiences.

The level of effort to build an online community has always been worth the squeeze. Cultivating a community, understanding their needs and demands, and then fostering a sense of belonging is a labor of love and fuels our passions as creators. My view, however, is that the forum medium adds a huge obstacle for new audiences purely due to the platform and its increasingly inaccessible, counter-intuitive, and unfriendly modalities. For old timers like us, not an issue, for sure; but we're a dying breed (both metaphorically, and in some age demographics, quite literally). It isn't a recipe for anything more than an inevitable echo chamber, and, at least in my case, it's not why I got into the forum business to begin with. I wanted to appeal to new ideas, younger audiences, and experimentation. The platform, by and large, alienates such audiences today and is in desperate need of reinvention.

Forums have always been the realm of niche interests. Even those old general chat forums were always kept alive by one or two sub-forums that took off. That's why I find the concern over the social media giants largely irrelevant. I have no interest in being a one stop shop or for catering to those seeking instant gratification. I'm quite happy to enjoy the company of my forum members and our "quaint and provincial" discussions. I'd rather spend my evening in the local around a table with a few folks than in a conference hall as part of huge crowd.

I do think there's ultimately a question of what sort of establishment creators want to create -- do you want a local cafe or tavern, a social club with a small group of regulars? Or do you want to open the doors for new ideas, diverse audiences, and younger, fresher perspectives? My biggest concern with the death of forums has less to do with the decline of activity and more to do with the increasingly monolithic echo-chamber that every forum becomes. They become a reflection of the status quo of entrenched userbases, become openly hostile (if not simply dismissive and ignorant) of divergent views, and ultimately, die off. It's for that reason that many people on this forum, and across the web, lament the closure of forums of old, despite their innumerable flavors that have been consigned to the dustbin of archival history.

For those of us who want new audiences, we should experiment with new platforms. I'm not a fan of short-form, image-and-video-only content, and I think there is space for nuanced, detailed, engaging asynchronous conversation. But the interface of forums hasn't evolved to make this content engaging or accessible given how technology has evolved to the mobile-first (if not mobile-exclusive) avenue of young people. If you look at decentralized, federative (aka, the Fediverse) social media, you will see there has been a lot of experimentation over the past decade, and it portends to a possible new model for the future, but it remains far too immature and, like everything on Web 2.5 / Web 3.0, extremely technical with a high barrier for administrative entry. As soon as this is addressed, I think you will see more creators experimenting with these alternative models and perhaps we'll see a true successor to the Forum - something that is asynchronous, nuanced, detailed, and engaging.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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I'm not a fan of short-form, image-and-video-only content, and I think there is space for nuanced, detailed, engaging asynchronous conversation.

Really? You were doing a pretty good job of trying to convince me that such things couldn't possibly exist any more and that those who wanted/needed such things were a dying, legacy breed.
 

Kaelon

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Really? You were doing a pretty good job of trying to convince me that such things couldn't possibly exist any more and that those who wanted/needed such things were a dying, legacy breed.

I'm not being inconsistent here. Both are true.

1. Forums, as they exist today, have been and are being displaced by synchronous and short-form communication models, like Discord and Social Media as a whole.

2. The primary mode that new audiences experience the Internet is through mobile-first (if not mobile-exclusive) short-form image-and-video content, primarily, which has been a boon for social media and has been much to the tremendous detriment of forums.

3. The Creator economy, which has proliferated over the past decade, shows that there is tremendous demand for nuanced, detailed, engaging asynchronous content; right now, it is primarily video-driven. I believe in the promise of the narrative text. But there are no platforms that are driving text as a collaborative craft - beyond existential wikis, shared documentation projects, and shorter-form text reactions, like on Reddit or Facebook Groups.

If forums have essentially all folded into a single clearinghouse (i.e., subreddits and Facebook Groups by topic), I can completely understand and accept this. But it won't prevent me from trying to call out opportunities to improve upon the dead platform of forums by finding a more innovative alternative that isn't short-form social media.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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Funny. You spent quite some energy to assure me that anything less than synchronous and short-form is dead, and that we should all move on already. This is apparently a change of direction.
 

Kaelon

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Funny. You spent quite some energy to assure me that anything less than synchronous and short-form is dead, and that we should all move on already. This is apparently a change of direction.

There is no platform, today, that is helping asynchronous community-driven long-form text content survive, let alone thrive. To that end, asynchronous long-form content is, in essence, dead. And unless if we're innovating a new platform or model beyond the undeniably failed state of forums, we should certainly all move on already. No change in direction.

That said, we should be looking at new models if we want asynchronous long-form content to emerge as mainstays of collaborative and community creator economies. Forums are not it. They remain relegated to very tiny niche communities that are being thwarted and undermined left and right by social media, which can deliver audiences and interfaces that render forums grotesquely obsolete. I think it's hilarious that the dwindling regulars on this forum are both complaining about the death of their forums and communities and concurrently busy ranting and rejecting anything new as dangerous or unintuitive when it's clear that Discourse was one of the very few entities trying something new to get audiences feeling like there was more interactivity, speed, and accessibility in what is otherwise a very stale and unengaging platform in forums.
 

Nev_Dull

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I think you will see more creators experimenting with these alternative models and perhaps we'll see a true successor to the Forum
I absolutely agree with this. We will see something new arising that offers what forum do and likely more, in a new shiny package. But it isn't here now, so we work with what we have.
For example, if you want to know the latest information about Covid-19's Omicron BA.2.11.2 variant and guidance for how many days someone who tests positive should quarantine before potentially exposing others, a network of scientists, doctors, researchers, and policy makers have detailed conversations on Reddit
And that is great -- assuming those are all scientists, doctors, researchers, and policy makers. We can find other subReddits full of 'scientists' and 'doctors' explaining why we should drink our own urine and put it in our eyes. Without validation, all user-generated content should be suspect.

I'm not arguing that many media outlets aren't watered down to pablum. That doesn't make user generated content more reliable. What it shows is that we need more reliable, less compromised, credible news sources.
My view, however, is that the forum medium adds a huge obstacle for new audiences purely due to the platform and its increasingly inaccessible, counter-intuitive, and unfriendly modalities.
Is that opinion or objective fact? There have been plenty of studies which demonstrate people are willing to work through and learn quite complex procedures if they feel the reward is worth the effort. Many of the studies have involved younger users and the complexities of both game interfaces and in-game tasks.

I don't put using forums as a difficult task. Certainly it isn't any more difficult than learning to navigate most social media sites, if you are looking for something specific. Could they be made better? Sure, though that is largely up to the forum manager.

I think it is more accurate to place the blame on the "me too" effect. Younger users want to be where their friends and peers are. That tends to be the platform of the moment, be it discord or reddit or tiktok. It could just as easily be a forum community. The platform and it's ease of use is, in my opinion, far less important to younger users than who is on it.

My biggest concern with the death of forums has less to do with the decline of activity and more to do with the increasingly monolithic echo-chamber that every forum becomes. They become a reflection of the status quo of entrenched userbases, become openly hostile (if not simply dismissive and ignorant) of divergent views, and ultimately, die off.
Absolutely true, although your blame is misdirected. It isn't the software that leads to this condition. Rather, it's the management of the community. This is basic social psychology. We like our cliques; they're comfortable. New people and new ideas can shake things up, even change the balance of the group dynamic. We are generally resistant to change. It is up to the forum manager to ensure her community remains open and welcoming to new members and new concepts.

If we're talking echo-chambers, we have to look no further than facebook. It is the ultimate silo creator, where people can sit on their home step and have only content that agrees with their outlook delivered to them, day after day. Reddit is another good example. As you've said yourself, there are sub-reddits for everything, where you will only encounter those who share your ideas and beliefs. A well-run forum community seeks to eliminate silos and welcomes discussion of opposing views. Indeed, that is often what makes it survive and grow.
 

DigNap15

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I absolutely agree with this. We will see something new arising that offers what forum do and likely more, in a new shiny package. But it isn't here now, so we work with what we have.

If we're talking echo-chambers, we have to look no further than facebook. It is the ultimate silo creator, where people can sit on their home step and have only content that agrees with their outlook delivered to them, day after day. Reddit is another good example. As you've said yourself, there are sub-reddits for everything, where you will only encounter those who share your ideas and beliefs. A well-run forum community seeks to eliminate silos and welcomes discussion of opposing views. Indeed, that is often what makes it survive and grow.

My forum is a general forum in a small country.
Most of our posts are about Politics or Covid.
It does get quite heated and there is a lot of member absue, even though I try to reduce it.

My forum is very highly skewed to the right wing.
Left wingers that join often get bashed out of existence, as they don't seem able to put up good arguments

Should I do what Nev_Dull says - try to make my forum - continue to welcome discussion from all sides.
or should I turn it into a right wing echo chamber? and thereby remove all the drama
 
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zappaDPJ

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Should I do what Nev_Dull says - try to make my forum - ctnue to welcome discussion from all sides.
or should I turn it into a right wing echo chamber? and thereby remove all the drama
It's your forum, I think you should do whatever you feel comfortable with.

Personally I make a point of leaving my more general views outside the forum door and take to the middle ground. That however is a hard road to tread because everybody hates you so you need to have a pretty thick skin.
 

Kaelon

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I appreciate the thoughtful perspectives, Nev_Dull. Definitely see myself agreeing with a lot of your nuance.

I absolutely agree with this. We will see something new arising that offers what forum do and likely more, in a new shiny package. But it isn't here now, so we work with what we have.

I think "working with what we have" needs a healthy degree of challenging the status quo, purely from a platform perspective. There is far too much complacency among veteran forum admins, all of whom have seen their audiences dwindle and their traffic evaporate, over the past decade. It's ironic, considering that many admins continue to defend a platform that is non-performant. There are, however, many examples out there of user engagement models - both from a fundamental technology perspective, as well as from a much more nuanced user interface / human factors design perspective - that should be more seriously considered rather than so arrogantly dismissed. This is my key issue: there is widespread scorn and ridicule re: social media, synchronous forms of communication (like Discord), or even the tiniest incremental experiments (like Discourse), as deeply undesirable. But inaction in the face of undeniable decline and a general undeniable collapse of forum-based websites is foolish - and it’s just the dial-up BBS decline of the early 1990s repeating itself, especially in the face of very clear signals of what new generations of audiences want.

Is that opinion or objective fact? There have been plenty of studies which demonstrate people are willing to work through and learn quite complex procedures if they feel the reward is worth the effort. Many of the studies have involved younger users and the complexities of both game interfaces and in-game tasks.

There are many studies on both sides of the equation for this, but I think it boils down to something very basic: you need to design for what the audiences want, and the audiences want things to be simple.

Modern UX design started in the wake of the iPhone’s release in 2007, and really began to accelerate around 2012. Much of the app ecosystem and user interface innovation of social media eschews “working through and learning“ systems and have instead argued that websites, applications, and systems in general need to be intuitive - namely, requiring minimal to no learning curve. In order for this design philosophy to hold true, radical accessibility through implicit and self-evident interface design requires that everything be radically simplified. M+R Benchmarks just completed its annual study showing that interface-free video and image-only content dominates over 75% of the channels of engagement for non-profit fundraising; these are usually lagging indicators behind usability factors.

Absolutely true, although your blame is misdirected. It isn't the software that leads to this condition. Rather, it's the management of the community.

In my opinion, both are responsible culprits of the current condition.

I think systems and processes are natural expressions of the people who have to deal with both; moderators build community management principles based upon the tools that they have. There’s extensive conversation about this on the Fediverse right now, where moderation on Mastodon and Pleroma instances varies greatly based upon the front-end being made available to mods. Forums have long struggled with moderation models in large part because the tools available require a certain degree of both proactive and reactive nurturing of the community. Social media contends with a much more algorithmic approach, which has led to the very echo chambers that we all want to prevent in our own communities; so, newer platforms are taking a much more human-centric approach. In either of these scenarios, though, forums lag terribly behind even basic standards designed for synchronous communication - whether you’re talking about the semantic bots that scan and intervene on the use of certain language in Internet Relay Chat, or if you’re talking about reputation management for your user base which is well established in centralized / defederated chat systems, like Discord.
 

DigNap15

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It's your forum, I think you should do whatever you feel comfortable with.

Personally I make a point of leaving my more general views outside the forum door and take to the middle ground. That however is a hard road to tread because everybody hates you so you need to have a pretty thick skin.
Yes everyone hates me!
But I dont take any editorial side on my fourm, and never make any comments
That way I remain strcly neutral
 

DigNap15

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I do wish someone would explain what synchonous and asynhconhous means in this context
 

Kaelon

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I do wish someone would explain what synchonous and asynhconhous means in this context

Asynchronous = not in real-time; forums are generally asynchronous because there is a post-and-response dynamic and there is time that elapses between contributions.

Synchronous = more or less in real-time; chat, in contrast to forums, is real-time, as is video conferencing and streaming with followers.

Social Media is increasingly accelerating the line of synchronicity by making commenting, contributions, and conversations happen with greater frequency and acceleration; forums have borrowed some of the social media norms (such as notifications, which help drive speed-in-response and power-posting), but they haven’t been able to lean in to the ’killer app’ of short-form content, images, and video - all of which are still handled inelegantly (at best) or incompetently (at worst) on forum systems. Forums are best suited for long-form, asynchronous text-based communication, which is not the preferred interaction modality of most new audiences on the Internet, which have been influenced and introduced to the Internet through mobile devices, primarily if not exclusively.
 

DigNap15

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Asynchronous = not in real-time; forums are generally asynchronous because there is a post-and-response dynamic and there is time that elapses between contributions.

Synchronous = more or less in real-time; chat, in contrast to forums, is real-time, as is video conferencing and streaming with followers.

Social Media is increasingly accelerating the line of synchronicity by making commenting, contributions, and conversations happen with greater frequency and acceleration; forums have borrowed some of the social media norms (such as notifications, which help drive speed-in-response and power-posting), but they haven’t been able to lean in to the ’killer app’ of short-form content, images, and video - all of which are still handled inelegantly (at best) or incompetently (at worst) on forum systems. Forums are best suited for long-form, asynchronous text-based communication, which is not the preferred interaction modality of most new audiences on the Internet, which have been influenced and introduced to the Internet through mobile devices, primarily if not exclusively.
I don't really want short comments, memes and links to songs on my forum.
I prefer long form debate
I hope to be able to attract and retain enough members who feel like that, to make my forum viable.
 

Kaelon

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I don't really want short comments, memes and links to songs on my forum.
I prefer long form debate
I hope to be able to attract and retain enough members who feel like that, to make my forum viable.

I think that Reddit's popularity has shown that if you attract a mix of content forms - both long-form text and short-form images and video - you can sustain niche communities more easily than if you drive only long-form debate content. That said, I think that forums as a platform - which have never been able to handle short-form video or image content particularly well - can continue to appeal to long-form text audiences, but this remains a dwindling population that is relegated to very specific niches. And there's nothing wrong with that, but it's getting increasingly harder to attract newer, younger audiences to the platform. And my core argument is that the platform is at least partly (if not primarily) to blame.
 
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