Forums/Bulletin Boards vs FB Groups/Social Media

Oh!

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Well said
I love fourms, but if I want some computer help I now go to Google or Youtube for instant help
My forum is holding its own, but it is hard to get new members.
We are up against huge corporations with catchy names - Facebook, Reddit, Discuss, Quora.

My advertising budget for www.nzissues.com is not quite as big
Hi DigNap15,

Do you mean that a catchy name is important - part of the reason for their success? Or was your comment about catchy names meant more dismissively/disparagingly?

I think product names are important. And, I do not just mean avoid bad names. I think a good name catches the imagination of potential customers. A name which sticks and imparts good feeling. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, where a very poorly named company still does well. But it takes time, resources and money (advertising).
 

DigNap15

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I mean its much easier to say to someone check this our on Facebook or Tik Tok, rather than "hey go and look look at my NZissues forum".
Whats a forum?
 
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Oh!

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I mean its much easier to say to someone check this our on Facebook or Tik Tok, rather than "hey go and look look at my NZissues forum".
Whats a forum?
Oh, I see - I think. Yes, as I commented to Matt M a few posts back, trying to redirect someone away from one of the big social media platforms to some anonymous forum is probably a fool's errand.
 

Nev_Dull

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I think there's a bit too much emphasis or thought being placed on the application here and not enough consideration being given to the content.
I couldn't agree more. There's nothing inherently wrong with the way forums work, beyond the issues with categorization, search, etc. that have been mentioned before. More effort needs to be put into the content and ensuring it provides the value people need and want. We should embrace the differences between forums and those other platforms, not try to emulate or incorporate them.

If the internet was your local pub or coffeehouse, the social media sites would be the large tables of people all sitting back, staring at their phones and occasionally sharing a tidbit with each other. Forums would be the small tables of animated people getting loud while they argue about the state of things and how to solve them. There is plenty of room for both camps.

When I said earlier that forums need to be enjoyable, I wasn't referring to the need for games or silly banter. What I meant was we need to ensure we've created an environment in our forums that is open, friendly, and accepting. We need to keep on top of cliques and member-moderators and anything else that prevents people from having their say and enjoying their time on the forum.
 

DigNap15

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When I said earlier that forums need to be enjoyable, I wasn't referring to the need for games or silly banter. What I meant was we need to ensure we've created an environment in our forums that is open, friendly, and accepting. We need to keep on top of cliques and member-moderators and anything else that prevents people from having their say and enjoying their time on the forum.
Years ago when I was on other fourms, I used to get annoyed with all the silly banter.
But now I have my own forum, which I started with the idea of being a serious general and political forum, I gets lots of stuipd banter and jokes and memes.
But I have come to realise that many people enjoy it.
Eg Good morning whats the weather like there
What are you having for dinner?
I am trying to enourage good political debate, but I think that if I I banned all the banter, I would loose a lot of members.
I like a good joke as much as the next man.
 
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Oh!

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I couldn't agree more. There's nothing inherently wrong with the way forums work, beyond the issues with categorization, search, etc. that have been mentioned before. More effort needs to be put into the content and ensuring it provides the value people need and want. We should embrace the differences between forums and those other platforms, not try to emulate or incorporate them.

If the internet was your local pub or coffeehouse, the social media sites would be the large tables of people all sitting back, staring at their phones and occasionally sharing a tidbit with each other. Forums would be the small tables of animated people getting loud while they argue about the state of things and how to solve them. There is plenty of room for both camps.

When I said earlier that forums need to be enjoyable, I wasn't referring to the need for games or silly banter. What I meant was we need to ensure we've created an environment in our forums that is open, friendly, and accepting. We need to keep on top of cliques and member-moderators and anything else that prevents people from having their say and enjoying their time on the forum.
Hi Nev,

How what changes, specifically, would you like to see in how forum categories and content are organised?

What changes to how search works? I think it would be difficult (but not impossible) to emulate how a good search engine searches, but from my very limited knowledge on the subject, it would be quite the technical feat (without the resources of Google). Is it predictive text as someone suggested recently here or in another thread (maybe it was you)? Is it smarter searches, rather than simple key word matching? Something else?

I don't think your analogy of the coffeehouse/pub works. There are plenty of very savvy and technical people using Twitter (of all places) to impart their knowledge and expertise. Why? Even Reddit does not work for them. Why? I think they use Twitter, primarily, because of 'reach'. Obviously, if Reddit cannot do it, that's pretty much impossible obstacle for a forum to overcome. So, we need some fresh ideas.

Banter is not inherently silly. Of course, it can be, but it is useful too. For most people, banter is part of forming tighter relationships. I understand that for some forums, silliness is not what most members want, so it probably never formed part of how they operated (no matter how far back the forum goes). But such forums are uncommon. Most older forums had banter, even when their core subject is serious (this is true of my hobby forum). And we have retained banter; we are the last one standing in our niche. There are Facebook groups, but they are not the same. They are a poor substitute for a forum. I don't think anyone here thinks there is anything to learn from that part of Fecebook's operation (except, maybe, how not to do something). But, there might other things we can learn from there. Maybe.

Years ago when I was on other fourms, I used to get annoyed with all the silly banter.
But now I have my own forum, which I started with the idea of being a serious general and political forum, I gets lots of stuipd banter and jokes and memes.
But I have come to realise that many people enjoy it.
Eg Good morning whats the weather like there
What are you having for dinner?
I am trying to enourage good political debate, but I think that if I I banned all the banter, I would loose a lot of members.
I like a good joke as much as the next man.
Hi DigNap

You know, I used to find the banter (more the extreme, puerile stuff) annoying too. But, like you, I have come to realize that different people wish to express themselves in different ways and want different things in a forum from me or anyone else. And if we think about wider society in general (particularly in the US and UK - the two countries I know best), polarization is making not only online interactions increasingly difficult and unproductive., nut real world discourse too. So, it is not only about attacking greater numbers to forums (an probably larger forum platforms to combat the social media giants), but also about finding ways for people to rub along together better.
 

Nev_Dull

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What changes to how search works? I think it would be difficult (but not impossible) to emulate how a good search engine searches, but from my very limited knowledge on the subject, it would be quite the technical feat (without the resources of Google). Is it predictive text as someone suggested recently here or in another thread (maybe it was you)? Is it smarter searches, rather than simple key word matching? Something else?
zappaDPJ covered most of the issue with search a couple posts back. As for categorization, we need improvements there too. We have tags, but they are a poor substitute for an actual taxonomical system that would increase the find-ability of content and provide new possibilities in organizing and presenting content. That would likely require the ability to add meta-content to threads and posts -- unfortunately a tedious manual process that would benefit only certain forums.
I don't think your analogy of the coffeehouse/pub works. There are plenty of very savvy and technical people using Twitter (of all places) to impart their knowledge and expertise.
You can always find some people who will make use of any technology to provide real value. There are some very good facebook groups, and there are still a number of list-servs that are active and contain a wealth of knowledge. But the majority of users flip through social media sites like a magazine, occasionally retweeting or sharing something they find interesting with their friends, very often without adding any useful commentary.

Banter is not inherently silly. Of course, it can be, but it is useful too. For most people, banter is part of forming tighter relationships.
That's not what I said. I love some good banter like most people. However, in a successful forum, that banter shows up within the primary discussion, not in addition to or instead of it. It comes from building communities with people who establish relationships with each other. It isn't something we need to promote to make our forums enjoyable. When I see a forum where the off-topic section is the most visited and most used part of the site, I see a forum that has failed to connect with and engage it's intended audience.
 
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BGObsession

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It's McDonalds vs. that family owned Italian restaurant that's been on the corner for 40 years. I'll give you a sad hint - the family restaurant doesn't survive. Most would admit, the Big Mac can't compare to the made from scratch lasagna. But it's quick, it's mindless, doesn't require any real thought or time commitment, and it's advertised all day long, 24/7, everywhere.

Makes me sad. My own forum is running on fumes, powered only by a small group of passionate early members who love it. But the influx of new members has crawled to a near stop over the years. And it's inevitable that at some point, the time, money, and energy required to sustain a forum won't be justifiable anymore. It doesn't help that the topic my forum revolves around, Washington DC Pro Football, is and has been an unmitigated disaster :)

Of all the forums I have visited over the years, only one of them is thriving. It's a golf site. It benefits from having as its core subject matter one of the most popular games on the planet, and it is funded by nearly every golf-related brand out there. One of their keys to success is that vendor support which allows them to offer ongoing contests, great prizes to members, and generate a lot of fun and excitement that way. Most sites simply can't offer those kinds of incentives. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful community and the forum is run by some great folks. But so are a lot of failing ones.
 
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DigNap15

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It's McDonalds vs. that family owned Italian restaurant that's been on the corner for 40 years. I'll give you a sad hint - the family restaurant doesn't survive. Most would admit, the Big Mac can't compare to the made from scratch lasagna. But it's quick, it's mindless, doesn't require any real thought or time commitment, and it's advertised all day long, 24/7, everywhere.

Makes me sad. My own forum is running on fumes, powered only by a small group of passionate early members who love it. But the influx of new members has crawled to a near stop over the years. And it's inevitable that at some point, the time, money, and energy required to sustain a forum won't be justifiable anymore. It doesn't help that the topic my forum revolves around, Washington DC Pro Football, is and has been an unmitigated disaster :)

Of all the forums I have visited over the years, only one of them is thriving. It's a golf site. It benefits from having as its core subject matter one of the most popular games on the planet, and it is funded by nearly every golf-related brand out there. One of their keys to success is that vendor support which allows them to offer ongoing contests, great prizes to members, and generate a lot of fun and excitement that way. Most sites simply can't offer those kinds of incentives. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful community and the forum is run by some great folks. But so are a lot of failing ones.
McDonalds vs the Family Owned Restaurant
Thats a very good analogy

Couple with the techncial issues of starting and running a forum
There is so much to learn in the backoffice - webshots, email, spam, styles and templates etc
Its no wonder that so many forum owners give up

Your last sentences give us a clue - incentives, fun and excitement.
 
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Oh!

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When I said earlier that forums need to be enjoyable, I wasn't referring to the need for games or silly banter. What I meant was we need to ensure we've created an environment in our forums that is open, friendly, and accepting. We need to keep on top of cliques and member-moderators and anything else that prevents people from having their say and enjoying their time on the forum.
Banter is not inherently silly. Of course, it can be, but it is useful too. For most people, banter is part of forming tighter relationships. I understand that for some forums, silliness is not what most members want, so it probably never formed part of how they operated (no matter how far back the forum goes). But such forums are uncommon. Most older forums had banter, even when their core subject is serious (this is true of my hobby forum). And we have retained banter; we are the last one standing in our niche. There are Facebook groups, but they are not the same. They are a poor substitute for a forum. I don't think anyone here thinks there is anything to learn from that part of Fecebook's operation (except, maybe, how not to do something). But, there might other things we can learn from there. Maybe.
That's not what I said. I love some good banter like most people. However, in a successful forum, that banter shows up within the primary discussion, not in addition to or instead of it. It comes from building communities with people who establish relationships with each other. It isn't something we need to promote to make our forums enjoyable. When I see a forum where the off-topic section is the most visited and most used part of the site, I see a forum that has failed to connect with and engage it's intended audience.
Hi Nev_Dul

Well, it did rather read that way (at least to me).

But no argument. I misunderstood your intent. Thank you for your reply.
 

Oh!

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It's McDonalds vs. that family owned Italian restaurant that's been on the corner for 40 years. I'll give you a sad hint - the family restaurant doesn't survive. Most would admit, the Big Mac can't compare to the made from scratch lasagna. But it's quick, it's mindless, doesn't require any real thought or time commitment, and it's advertised all day long, 24/7, everywhere.
Well, I don't know about that. Surely, both McDonald's and family Italian restaurant can and do survive. The big burger chains and family restaurants are competitors, sure. But they are not direct competitors. Further, there are many independent burger restaurants too; McDonald's are surely direct competitors to them.

Like with competing restaurants, the big social media sites might be offering burgers, but the three-course meals offered by the family forum has its own appeal and has a place. The difference now is that forums no longer have the playing field to themselves - the big social media sites have been hugely disruptive - there is still a correction going on. Things change - some options disappear. But older options sometimes remain, especially if they are willing to adapt.

Makes me sad. My own forum is running on fumes, powered only by a small group of passionate early members who love it. But the influx of new members has crawled to a near stop over the years. And it's inevitable that at some point, the time, money, and energy required to sustain a forum won't be justifiable anymore. It doesn't help that the topic my forum revolves around, Washington DC Pro Football, is and has been an unmitigated disaster :)
Makes me sad too. But a new equilibrium will arise. It takes time. It reminds me of the antiques business (which I know something about). So many dealers were hammered by the rise of ebay. So many stores closed down. Some dealers left the business, some joined the competition (moving online), and some continued with store but supplement with online sales. But, once the trade settled down to a new equilibrium, with fewer high street traders, the remainder could compete better again. It is always like this in business and in life. Social media is only 10 years so old. The forum ecosystem is still adjusting.

Of all the forums I have visited over the years, only one of them is thriving. It's a golf site. It benefits from having as its core subject matter one of the most popular games on the planet, and it is funded by nearly every golf-related brand out there. One of their keys to success is that vendor support which allows them to offer ongoing contests, great prizes to members, and generate a lot of fun and excitement that way. Most sites simply can't offer those kinds of incentives. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful community and the forum is run by some great folks. But so are a lot of failing ones.
Yes, some large specialists will always survive. Nearly all forums are specialists. But few posses the scale of the golf site to directly compete with some of what social media offers. And some truly huge forums remain out there; so forums can definitely compete.

I know - I am not offering anything particularly insightful here. I am just suggesting that we can (and should) retain some optimism.
 

Oh!

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McDonalds vs the Family Owned Restaurant
Thats a very good analogy

Couple with the technial issues of starting and running a forum
There is so much to learn in the backoffice - webshots, email, spam, styles and templates etc
Its no wonder that so many forum owners give up

Your last sentences give us a clue - incentives, fun and excitement.
The technical side is definitely a problem. And, the potential new legal headaches too (GDPR, CCPA, etc.).

It is difficult to retain 'excitement' when so many forums feel under siege. I don't know if I ever felt exactly like that - I think I just more accepted it. But that's a kind of 'giving up', so that's not good either. I've given this a great deal of thought over the past few years - I am convinced that it is not as bleak as it might once have appeared.
 

Nev_Dull

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Well, it did rather read that way (at least to me).
Then it's my fault for not communicating it correctly. However my larger point is still that I don't think forum software needs to change so much as we need to adjust our expectations. We need to accept that most of our forums aren't going to become huge (or money makers). We need to develop better content, and the way to do that is by fostering a community that encourages both new and old members to become more engaged with the forum topic, rather than adding games or contests that only serve to produce low-quality posts. Finally, we have to accept that all this will take a great deal of time and effort on our part, with little chance of big rewards beyond the satisfaction of running the forum.
 

Oh!

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Then it's my fault for not communicating it correctly. However my larger point is still that I don't think forum software needs to change so much as we need to adjust our expectations. We need to accept that most of our forums aren't going to become huge (or money makers). We need to develop better content, and the way to do that is by fostering a community that encourages both new and old members to become more engaged with the forum topic, rather than adding games or contests that only serve to produce low-quality posts. Finally, we have to accept that all this will take a great deal of time and effort on our part, with little chance of big rewards beyond the satisfaction of running the forum.
Oh, I understand from where you are coming there and the content side of things. However, although not my bag, I do not necessarily dismiss more frivolous content. It is not what forums do best and it is not what I am suggesting we she be in the business of actually promoting But as I've argued here before, that side of things is important for most communities too to some degree. Not the extremes though, I agree. I think we are in broad agreement there.

Where I differ more is on the 'expectations' side of things. The reality is that expectations of users have changed, and we cannot magic it back to how it was. We can bumble go on as we are, but (generally speaking) forums will not thrive in the way they did in the past. So, what I am suggesting is that there should more/better large forum-centric platforms. 'Large' forum-platforms exist, it is the 'better' part which seems lacking.

Yes, as owner, you can add (and should) content to drive participation and interest. But for a larger community, the vast majority of good content must come form members - it cannot be any other way. As I am sure you know from experience, there is always a tipping point with a forum - you reach a certain size and it becomes self-sustaining. But it can be a real struggle to get there.
 

Nev_Dull

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The reality is that expectations of users have changed.
Is that really true? What are user's expectations currently and how have they changed from five or ten years ago?

that there should more/better large forum-centric platforms
I'm not sure what a large forum-centric platform is. A forum is a platform that's pretty forum centric. And if forums can't thrive, as you've suggested, how does making them bigger help? I'm confused by this.

Yes, as owner, you can add (and should) content to drive participation and interest. But for a larger community, the vast majority of good content must come form members
Agreed. Large or small, forum content must come primarily from the users. Otherwise you have nothing but a blog. What I was getting at above is that we have to work hard to develop good quality content not simply by contributing threads and posts ourselves, but by curating and cultivating user content through engagement, careful moderation, and community building. It is that combination of the content and the community of members who contribute it that determine whether a forum succeeds or fails.
 
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Oh!

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Is that really true? What are user's expectations currently and how have they changed from five or ten years ago?
Yes, I think it is true. Social media has changed the landscape, but hamlets still exists. Even the occasional old-fashioned town. Older users have seen and utilized alternative ways of interacting. For younger people, many of them have never used anything but new social media sites.

I'm not sure what a large forum-centric platform is. A forum is a platform that's pretty forum centric. And if forums can't thrive, as you've suggested, how does making them bigger help? I'm confused by this.
It is scale which makes the difference. One huge advantage the large social media websites hold is that people join up and they already know people there. Indeed, they probably joined because a friend suggested it to them. They also benefit from being able to offer content on nearly any subject they might wish to discuss. There are some large forums, of course. But they all seem somewhat less dynamic compared to the social media websites. Note, I do not suggest that social media sites are better than forums.

Agreed. Large or small, forum content must come primarily from the users. Otherwise you have nothing but a blog. What I was getting at above is that we have to work hard to develop good quality content not simply by contributing threads and posts ourselves, but by curating and cultivating user content through engagement, careful moderation, and community building. It is that combination of the content and the community of members who contribute it that determine whether a forum succeeds or fails.
I suppose - at its best - being a forum operator is about inspiring others (leaders) to become involved and participate.
 

Nev_Dull

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Yes, I think it is true. Social media has changed the landscape, but hamlets still exists. Even the occasional old-fashioned town. Older users have seen and utilized alternative ways of interacting. For younger people, many of them have never used anything but new social media sites.
That doesn't speak to the question of how users' expectations have changed. I don't think they have. Whether on a forum or facebook, users want to share their opinions or ideas on a topic, or ask question. And in both cases, they expect some sort of useful reply for their efforts. I'd go so far as to say in many cases, social media fails to meet users expectations because social media sites tend to be far less intimate than forums, simply because of the volume of users and content. I know there are some FB Groups that provide that level of connection between members, though I suspect they are the exception rather than the rule.
It is scale which makes the difference. One huge advantage the large social media websites hold is that people join up and they already know people there. Indeed, they probably joined because a friend suggested it to them.
Again that doesn't really address the question. You said we need "more/better large forum-centric platforms" in order to meet users expectations. You didn't explain what you mean by that or how they would differ from a regular forum, which you say isn't working any more. There are plenty of large forums around; some are doing well, some not. So scale alone doesn't seem to be the answer.
 
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DigNap15

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That doesn't speak to the question of how users' expectations have changed. I don't think they have. Whether on a forum or facebook, users want to share their opinions or ideas on a topic, or ask question. And in both cases, they expect some sort of useful reply for their efforts. I'd go so far as to say in many cases, social media fails to meet users expectations because social media sites tend to be far less intimate than forums, simply because of the volume of users and content. I know there are some FB Groups that provide that level of connection between members, though I suspect they are the exception rather than the rule.
I get very upset, when I look at my froum which gives people everything you say above
The ability to make a post and look forward to getting some comments.
Yet on Blogs and Facebook Groups any such comments get hidden under a swathe of off topic comments and memes.
 
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BGObsession

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Well, I don't know about that. Surely, both McDonald's and family Italian restaurant can and do survive. The big burger chains and family restaurants are competitors, sure. But they are not direct competitors. Further, there are many independent burger restaurants too; McDonald's are surely direct competitors to them.

Like with competing restaurants, the big social media sites might be offering burgers, but the three-course meals offered by the family forum has its own appeal and has a place. The difference now is that forums no longer have the playing field to themselves - the big social media sites have been hugely disruptive - there is still a correction going on. Things change - some options disappear. But older options sometimes remain, especially if they are willing to adapt.


Makes me sad too. But a new equilibrium will arise. It takes time. It reminds me of the antiques business (which I know something about). So many dealers were hammered by the rise of ebay. So many stores closed down. Some dealers left the business, some joined the competition (moving online), and some continued with store but supplement with online sales. But, once the trade settled down to a new equilibrium, with fewer high street traders, the remainder could compete better again. It is always like this in business and in life. Social media is only 10 years so old. The forum ecosystem is still adjusting.


Yes, some large specialists will always survive. Nearly all forums are specialists. But few posses the scale of the golf site to directly compete with some of what social media offers. And some truly huge forums remain out there; so forums can definitely compete.

I know - I am not offering anything particularly insightful here. I am just suggesting that we can (and should) retain some optimism.


Thanks for your thoughtful comments - and sorry to make mine and disappear (busy week) - I will return soon with some thoughts relative to yours!
 
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Oh!

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That doesn't speak to the question of how users' expectations have changed. I don't think they have. Whether on a forum or facebook, users want to share their opinions or ideas on a topic, or ask question. And in both cases, they expect some sort of useful reply for their efforts. I'd go so far as to say in many cases, social media fails to meet users expectations because social media sites tend to be far less intimate than forums, simply because of the volume of users and content. I know there are some FB Groups that provide that level of connection between members, though I suspect they are the exception rather than the rule.
Hi Nev_Dul.

I think we are somewhat speaking at cross purposes. I don't think I disagree with you. I think (some) users expect easier access to comment and feedback than is offered by a traditional, moderately-sized forum (where they must join, independently). Yes, there is OpenID (or similar), but these are not widely utilised (and certainly not by your average avid social media user). So, access and the UI are different, but yes, they all want some kind of interaction and/or feedback. Clearly, the large networks enable users to have just a few accounts to maintain and have access to huge amounts of content and easy options to contribute. So, a Facebook group has inherent advantages over nearly all forums (high chance that the person looking for a group already possesses membership) - but offers nowhere near as good user experience compared to any active, well-organized forum (I think we are full agreement there). Facebook also has huge visibility. (Many) people will go with what they know and join a FB group over searching for an independent forum.

Again that doesn't really address the question. You said we need "more/better large forum-centric platforms" in order to meet users expectations. You didn't explain what you mean by that or how they would differ from a regular forum, which you say isn't working any more. There are plenty of large forums around; some are doing well, some not. So scale alone doesn't seem to be the answer.
I have already acknowledged that there are some large or even very large forums out there, and they are clearly managing very well. But, you see, they possess scale and draw. They can be extremely broad in what content they offer. What of all the smaller forum-based communities? How well are they doing? Large forums do not need solutions, but the small ones do.
 
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