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

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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Sep 9, 2013
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2,694
1. Most user populations wouldn't have been on forums in the first place, though. The market was aberrant, it is in the process of being corrected.

2. I'm not sure it's "lost revenues", more "a new tier of now-reachable customers" and/or a tier of customer that might formally have run such a thing in-house but would rather outsource to concentrate on their core business. I'm not sure I would suggest that IPS, Discourse, NodeBB et al have 'slowed or halted meaningful development' though.

3. Most search engines penalise UGC for being perceived low value, when authoritativeness is a criteria, true. And that is certainly a factor in ad revenue, the traffic being authoritative. However I see this as the product of the ongoing corporatisation of the internet rather than any other factor - that it's all about pushing where the money is, and forums don't spend en masse in advertising, so there's limited revenue in the pot in the first place. And do note that the corporates are the growth sector for forums. I wonder why that might be.

4. Make your mind up, is Reddit a forum or isn't it? Oh, and Discord, the platform that's been beta-testing a forum implementation inside partnered servers for the last couple of months?
 

Kaelon

Adherent
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Aug 14, 2008
Messages
311
So, what you're saying about the indisputable facts are:

1. Most user populations wouldn't have been on forums in the first place, though. The market was aberrant, it is in the process of being corrected.

Pete: "There were too many users anyway. They weren't real users, so the fact that most of them have left forums, is irrelevant and doesn't matter."

2. I'm not sure it's "lost revenues", more "a new tier of now-reachable customers" and/or a tier of customer that might formally have run such a thing in-house but would rather outsource to concentrate on their core business. I'm not sure I would suggest that IPS, Discourse, NodeBB et al have 'slowed or halted meaningful development' though.

Pete: "They're not earning less money. They're just targeting a new customer segment, and it happens to not be independent admins like you and me. It's corporations."

3. Most search engines penalise UGC for being perceived low value, when authoritativeness is a criteria, true. And that is certainly a factor in ad revenue, the traffic being authoritative. However I see this as the product of the ongoing corporatisation of the internet rather than any other factor - that it's all about pushing where the money is, and forums don't spend en masse in advertising, so there's limited revenue in the pot in the first place. And do note that the corporates are the growth sector for forums. I wonder why that might be.

Pete: "Money has gone towards corporations, and the Internet has become corporatized, so this isn't the fault of forums, it's just because corporations are evil, and it's too bad, but there's nothing we independent forum operators can do about it."

4. Make your mind up, is Reddit a forum or isn't it? Oh, and Discord, the platform that's been beta-testing a forum implementation inside partnered servers for the last couple of months?

Pete: "Reddit? What's that? Discord? They're just pretending to be forums anyways."

Did I get that right? If so, sounds like to me you're just embracing the failure state and accepting the demise of independent forum communities and blaming the "evil corporations." Or, you know, sticking your head in the sand, like pretty much every other nostalgic 1990s-era forum admin who doesn't want to recapture audiences.
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
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Apr 27, 2010
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2,439
The fact is that there is only so much time a person can have onlline and there are so many apps to compete for their time
Yes, this is a fact. There are far more services and sites competing for our attention than there were a decade ago. Combined with other factors, mentioned many times before, this does result in much lower traffic for most forums.

Some people choose to conflate this lower traffic with the end of forums, despite having little empirical evidence to support the position. Now to be fair, there are a lot fewer new forums starting up these days and those that do often fizzle out after a few months. This could indicate forums aren't viable any more. It could also indicate that starting and running a successful forum today takes a lot more time and patience than most new admins are willing to give. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence to support both positions.

I don't consider myself someone stuck in the past, and I have no particular attachment to any forum software. But I do have an interest in the type of long form, in-depth discussion that forums provide.

Technology trends may have moved towards synchronous micro content platforms, pushed largely by increasing revenue demands and desire for data mining. However, we also know that we, as a species, haven't changed. We still want to engage with each other in more meaningful discussions to share and exchange ideas. The current crop of social media platforms either don't provide opportunities for such engagement or don't offer anything that is better than forums.

Until something comes along to actually replace them with something demonstrably better, forums will continue serving the audiences which need them.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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Pete: "There were too many users anyway. They weren't real users, so the fact that most of them have left forums, is irrelevant and doesn't matter."
No, I'm just trying to put some perspective onto the 'forums are dying' debate by pointing out that a large chunk of what-were-forums were only forums because forums were all there were. Thus the amount of what's left looks so much smaller because it's fallen by a larger amount.

If you had 1000 forums before and only 100 now, that's a 90% drop. But if 500 of the original forums wouldn't have existed if better alternatives existed (which is legitimate, not everything that was a forum should have been a forum), the drop isn't *really* from 1000 to 100 but 500 to 100. This is a market correction.

Pete: "They're not earning less money. They're just targeting a new customer segment, and it happens to not be independent admins like you and me. It's corporations."
So you're conflating 'forums are dying' with 'forums by hobbyists are dying' with 'forums by hobbyists for hobbyists are dying'. It makes it hard when you keep moving the goalposts to suit your own arguments.

But the ongoing corporatisation of the internet doesn't just threaten forums. It actually gets up in the space of anyone who wants to have a space they can call their own. Whether that's a podcast or a vlog or a blog or streaming channel, there's much more competition for time and attention - and money commands some of that in ways passion doesn't.
Pete: "Money has gone towards corporations, and the Internet has become corporatized, so this isn't the fault of forums, it's just because corporations are evil, and it's too bad, but there's nothing we independent forum operators can do about it."
Now you're putting some interesting false claims in my mouth. Where, exactly, did I say that we independent forum operators couldn't do anything about it? Or, for that matter, that corporations are evil?

Corporations are just a means to an end - making money. Whether *that*'s evil is a different argument altogether.

However, the underlying point is that if a hobbyist and a company were to compete starting a forum today, the company will win. They have presumably more resources to pour into growing it, getting traffic and so on. And they have a vested interest in it producing an outcome for them monetarily (otherwise they wouldn't do it). Whether that's to balance out the workload of a customer service team, or grassroots marketing or whatever is irrelevant; they're investing money to be able to realise some benefit from it. And that's more investment than a hobbyist could invest on their own.

You're the one telling us that forums are dead (they're not), conflated with forums run by hobbyists are dead (they're not). But no-one will argue that it's now harder than it was. But it's harder now to do *anything* than it used to be, for all the reasons, not just the ones you cherry-pick to suit your argument this time.

Pete: "Reddit? What's that? Discord? They're just pretending to be forums anyways."
Stop it. You're smarter than that.

You keep changing the definition of Reddit as to whether it's a forum or not. Is it a forum? Yes. It is also a social network of sorts, and it has the advantage that it allows people to create a sort of subforum of their very own in the form of subreddits.

In that respect it has the advantage that it's where a number of people are, and it removes the need for people to run their own hosting/service to be able to do things.

You see, that's one of the surprisingly compelling arguments that you keep choosing to ignore - though it's an unfortunate reality we hvae to deal with. Few people *really* want to run their own server or their own hosting. It's one of the Web 1.0 -> 2.0 myths that came out (and will bite Web3 real soon).

It's really not so different from the mass migration from the 1980s style of computing where you could get into everything and learn how everything worked, through the 1990s and to the computing of today where for many people it is an appliance, especially in the mobile sector. You turn it on, you press the button, it does the thing. A far cry from the 1980s era of 'to even start something you had to type a command or several in'.

The situation for self hosting is a huge blocker for people running things (anything, not just forums), and the continued existence of ProBoards, Jcink, Forumotion etc. is part of that: people don't want to actively run something and install patches and do things, they just want to go somewhere, turn the thing on and it works. See also wordpress.com in the blog space, or YouTube or Twitch - because running these things yourself is somewhat less viable for your own content.

Would Reddit have thrived if Reddit's answer to subreddits was 'here you run, install this'? Nah. Same with Discord, it wouldn't have thrived if you had to install it yourself. (Which incidentally is part of the reason Mastodon and Diaspora haven't killed Twitter and Facebook. Other factors exist, such as the technical logistics of the federation, and lack of critical mass, but these are products of having the initial hurdle of 'first I need to install all the things')

If so, sounds like to me you're just embracing the failure state

Then you haven't been paying attention to anything I've been saying for years. Quelle surprise.
 

mysiteguy

Migration Expert
Joined
Feb 20, 2007
Messages
3,408
I've been hearing for over a decade "forums are dead."

If this is dead, it sure is an active death. I started seeing a resurgence many years ago, that accelerated with when privacy concerns on big platforms became an issue, then the pandemic and continues. I'm handling more work with big and small boards with each passing year, and they are thriving. This week I finished a software migration for a 10 year old forum with 45 million posts. My own forums are doing well and continue to grow.

The "if you build it they will come" was never a recipe for long term success. Those that worked hard and smart, thrived (like mine did). The rest either gone or still small fry. They never grew to critical mass before the goldrush gates slowed. (I too had several forums that failed in the "heyday" because I didn't pour my heart into them the way I did with the successful forums.)

In the supposed "heyday" the Internet had less than 1 billion people online, peaked at about 1.2 billion and only 20% of those used forums. We now live in a world where there are 5+ billion people online and it's still growing. It only takes a very small percentage to make a forum wildly successful.

What we have now is more choice, not less, with forums. There are outright massive communities compared to a decade ago.

Platform wise, in addition to self-hosted. and SAAS (which from the end user's point of view is the same as self-hosted) there's Reddit, Quora. Stack Exchange, Stack Overflow, Amazon seller forums, Github forums, Wordpress forums, 4chan and the list of massive commercial forums is immeasurably long. And before someone says "yeah but"... many of these are examples of the exact kind of evolution naysayers claim forums need! These alternative versions of forums work well for some audiences, not so well for others.

Then there's the change in demographics as the barriers to entry dropped. People used to search for the term "forum" because by and large they knew the term. The terms have changed but people are still looking for others to talk to online. Google trends shows the number of searches for discussion has not changed since about 2009. Same for boards. "Help", "portal", "like minded" have grown. "Chat" has been flat for many years, took a jump in April 2020 and plateaued at this level to this day. "Conversation" has been growing for 18 years.

And young people are using forums. Maybe not in the forums some of us hang out in, but the same can be said of social media - they don't want to hang out with older people (never have). Some of the busiest forums out there are gaming, hip-hop, pop culture, etc.

This discussion reminds me of how hot rodders used to lament the demise of car hobbyists, when they had their eyes shut to the booming import car culture.
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
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Apr 27, 2010
Messages
2,439
Which facts are untrue? What evidence does not support which one of these conclusions?
  1. Most user populations have moved on from most forums.

  2. The majority of forums have either closed or gone completely inactive over the past 20 years.

  3. Many forum developers have either slowed or halted meaningful development on their platforms, and are opting for Enterprise-focused SaaS models instead of self-hosted solutions, in an effort to recapture lost revenues.

  4. Advertising revenue for forum-based page-views have plummeted, and most search engines now penalize (down-rank and hide) forum content, further decreasing visibility.

  5. Reddit, Discord, and Facebook have largely supplanted forums as the intended user audiences for news and discussions, community-building, and group engagement.
I think the problem here is that your indisputable facts are just observations, so any conclusions that might be drawn from them are really just hypotheses. That doesn't invalidate them. Rather, I think you've raised some important things that should be examined more fully.
 

DigNap15

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@NevDull

Technology trends may have moved towards synchronous micro content platforms, pushed largely by increasing revenue demands and desire for data mining. However, we also know that we, as a species, haven't changed. We still want to engage with each other in more meaningful discussions to share and exchange ideas. The current crop of social media platforms either don't provide opportunities for such engagement or don't offer anything that is better than forums.

I think you have hit the nail on the head here.
My forum can never compete with Facebook, Reddit or Discord (which I only heard abotu a few months ag)

My goal needs to be to encourage "long form" debate on my forum so that members will want to visit it and come back.

I suppose I am like many of us, I grew up using forums in the 1980's and 90s, I had about 50 on my book mark page for all my interests and hobbiess.

Over the years many of them have dissaapeared but some are still going strong. At that stage there were no alternives to forums other than chat rooms and static websites. - No Youtube.
 

imandings

Neophyte
Joined
Jan 5, 2009
Messages
9
That doesn’t prove that *forums* are dead though, it just proves the current incumbent implementations of the concept need to up their game. This is normal however, just as vBulletin was once top dog, things evolve.
I have been thinking about this for a while now and must admit, you're correct. It's changed my perspective on Forums a bit more, haha.
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
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Apr 27, 2010
Messages
2,439
And what exactly does this have to do with forums? I don't see the relevance at all. China is bad. tiktok is bad. And....?
 

tekboi

XF Student
Joined
May 22, 2014
Messages
68
Forums are not dead, but the use of forums are definitely changing. In 2018 I saw a dramatic shift in user activity and my users practically quit logging onto the forums for general discussion and stuck to our discord server.


At the time I was not prepared for this, and that left me with little use for my forum, so I ultimately shut it down. Fast forward to now, the need for a forum has arisen again because there is static Info and long-form discussions that need to take place and we cannot afford to have it get lost in chatter. So we are indeed bringing it back.

I now see forums as a resource of information for my users to reference, versus a place for casual chat. And we will keep discord as the primary way for our day-to-day chatter, since it is good for that.
 

DigNap15

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Forums are not dead, but the use of forums are definitely changing. In 2018 I saw a dramatic shift in user activity and my users practically quit logging onto the forums for general discussion and stuck to our discord server.


At the time I was not prepared for this, and that left me with little use for my forum, so I ultimately shut it down. Fast forward to now, the need for a forum has arisen again because there is static Info and long-form discussions that need to take place and we cannot afford to have it get lost in chatter. So we are indeed bringing it back.

I now see forums as a resource of information for my users to reference, versus a place for casual chat. And we will keep discord as the primary way for our day-to-day chatter, since it is good for that.
I wonder what happened in 2018?

But your last paraagraph is very interesting.
When my forum first got started it was full of members posting casual chat, I tried to steer them away from that and more to serious discussion.
I now have less posts each day, but I think they are more useful.
Casual chat often develops into abuse and bad language.
 

zappaDPJ

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I now see forums as a resource of information for my users to reference, versus a place for casual chat. And we will keep discord as the primary way for our day-to-day chatter, since it is good for that.
I agree which is why I want to see better developed tools to make that repository of valued information easier for members to access. It's what forums do best and it's something that other types of social media can't compete with. I really do believe forums need to capitalize on their strengths and stop trying to bolster their weaknesses which are better catered for elsewhere.
 

DigNap15

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I agree which is why I want to see better developed tools to make that repository of valued information easier for members to access. It's what forums do best and it's something that other types of social media can't compete with. I really do believe forums need to capitalize on their strengths and stop trying to bolster their weaknesses which are better catered for elsewhere.
Well said, and I agree
But what are some of these tools that you would like to see better developed?
I use the Prefix feature on Xenforo - but that is only a small start
One problem is getting members to use descriptive titles rather than crypic ones, or one word titles!
 

zappaDPJ

Administrator
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Well said, and I agree
But what are some of these tools that you would like to see better developed?
I use the Prefix feature on Xenforo - but that is only a small start
One problem is getting members to use descriptive titles rather than crypic ones, or one word titles!
I think in general, better search tools. We've all seen 'similar threads' and how poor they actually relate. I would like to see a predictive search function. I realize this is a major undertaking but we need tools to easily access relevant threads that are no longer on the first page.

I'd also like to see flexible tools and functionally that allows content to be graded, promoting the best of it to bring it to the member's attention.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
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So I guess we need to figure out AI to *understand the context of threads*? Because all similar threads does in any iteration is to play keyword matching - there’s no understanding there, and until there is understanding, you’re stuck with that fundamental approach.
 

Kaelon

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Aug 14, 2008
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311
So I guess we need to figure out AI to *understand the context of threads*? Because all similar threads does in any iteration is to play keyword matching - there’s no understanding there, and until there is understanding, you’re stuck with that fundamental approach.

Not necessarily about "context," but to the question of relevance -- I actually think that upvoting works very well in this regard. I'm surprised that it hasn't been adopted by forum platforms, when Reddit has been able to use it to surface good content (and drown out bad / irrelevant / off-topic content).
 

zappaDPJ

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So I guess we need to figure out AI to *understand the context of threads*?
I'm pretty sure that work is already done. There are plenty of companies offering APIs that power many thousands of sites. I don't know easily those products can be adapted to suit forums but they work really well from what I've seen on eCommerce sites.
 

Kaelon

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I'm pretty sure that work is already done. There are plenty of companies offering APIs that power many thousands of sites. I don't know easily those products can be adapted to suit forums but they work really well from what I've seen on eCommerce sites.

One of the best products I ever encountered in my forum admin days was Gravity Insights. I don't know how many of you folks used it, but it was a great tool for evaluating trending topics, keywords, and forum activity. I never understood why it was discontinued, but there's never been a forum-specific "business intelligence analytics" product like it ever since.
 
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