Price hike, no more ticket support - enough signals from Invision

zappaDPJ

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I’m not sure I’d count SMF though. Given that 2.1 is now more than 10 years in development, anyway.

Although I'm often critical of SMF, especially the decade based development cycle :ROFLMAO: it does still have an impressive user base.

It's hard to get real world comparison figures but SMF appears to have more installations than almost any similar product and many of them are active, million post+ forums. Being free there are obviously going to be a huge number of barely active installations but the same can be said these days for paid solutions.

I'm not entirely sure if this has any relevance to whatever it is we are counting or not counting SMF towards but I felt the need to throw in a few words of support :)
 

whitetigergrowl

Participant
Joined
Aug 11, 2006
Messages
64
This is such a Miss America answer. Give the man his crown.

What's your greatest weakness Matt?

Well Joel, I raised prices because - gosh! - I care too much about the community industry.


giphy-3.gif

(Real picture of Matt wearing his diamond tiara, paid for by the extra $0.83 / mo renewal fee)

On a serious note, IPS is the most forward-looking out of the legacy 3 forum companies. I honestly believe XF is a full generation behind in terms of their design and thinking (they just rolled out an overpriced cloud - sound familiar??). IPS is shifting its market - whether or not you like the changes, can pay for the changes, or evolve with the changes is going to be up to each forum owner's personal circumstances. It may be difficult for some of you to adjust, but it's a necessary shift that is happening.

I hear a lot of complaining and griping by some forum owners in this topic. Why are you complaining? Why are you not proactively taking steps, such as:
  • If your board only has 2 active members, why are you paying for premium community software that costs hundreds of dollars a year, then complaining when it costs even more hundreds of dollars a year for premium development? No one will begrudge you for using free forum software like SMF, which is an oldie but goodie, and will probably outlast all of us.
  • If you don't like the new pricing scheme, then ... don't pay it. You have options: stay on the last available version of IPS, and / or migrate to another software that is appropriate for your level of budget and community. Better yet, pick up a hobby that you might be good at.
  • Stop worrying about the platform so much. The more I educated myself on community strategy, the more I realized the countless things I could do on content / engagement / membership / promotion. Even if you had money to pay the new rates for IPS, your success won't be driven or dictated by the IPS platform. It will be driven by your community strategy, or lack thereof.
IPS might take more flack in the market because it's the first to move, but the shift of the hobbyist forum market is no longer coming, it's here.

Yeah. Here's the thing. Do you see people making more money using social media (Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) or from forums? People tend to go where the money is to keep their hobby alive, not where it's becoming a financial drain just to spend time in an effort to gain 5 people. Only 1 of who is active.

Even though IPS is more 'forward thinking' it's also clear, like most forum software these days, to still be stuck in the trappings of forum software from 10 and 20 years ago. The design, which is still relatively the same design and layout from the past 2 decades, still persists.

For me, I used to visit forums frequently years ago. Used to run a popular one even. But in more recent years I visit Reddit, Discord, Facebook Groups, Tik Tok, and others more frequently. In a given month I maybe visit one or 2 forums for a few minutes. That's about it. And even then it's sometimes not even that much.

I closed the forum down years ago I used to run because people are fickle. They come and go. The forum activity dropped and cost versus benefit just ended up not being worth it. Even with a free option. Unless you offer something new and radically different to the table, you're likely going to be largely ignored and buried. There are just too many options online these days that allow for more immediate responses and finding of things.

Also, just because a forum software offers more, doesn't mean it offers better or that the 'more' is useful to most people. If that was the case, some plug-ins wouldn't be necessary. Instead they are used to try and fill in some of those gaps. The downside is when support for those end and if you do not remove it, it could break the forum during an upgrade. That can cause problems for owners and members.

IPS is shifting its market. That's their choice. Long term I'm not sure if it's a good or smart one with the world and corporations generally moving away from forums in general. It's a certain way to shrink your market, and thus revenue. Especially in a world right now where cost is everything and spending less for most businesses and for personal use is more important than ever.

-------------------------------------------------------

As an example, recently Eurogamer closed their forums. Bethesda have too. (To name a few.):

I am sorry to say that we are going to turn off access to the forum on 10th September 2021. The forum has been a long-standing part of Eurogamer, and at its peak welcomed thousands of active contributors each day.

Sadly, times change and the way people communicate also has changed. Traditional forums are no longer a popular place for people to come together to talk, and have been replaced in popularity with more modern community platforms like Discord, Twitter, and Twitch.

Due to this, our forum community has declined over the years to the point where there are only a handful of people left actively using the forum. This makes it difficult for us to spend resources keeping the forum running. You will have noticed how little attention the forum has had in terms of updates and changes over the past few years, which is a direct result of them not being used so much.

Bethesdas notice of forum closure:

------------------------------------------------------

While some may move to forums from places like Facebook for whatever reasons they have, it's clear they have been the exception rather than the rule.

Reading through the comments from the article above I came across this one:

// I’ve moderated forums in the past and now I actually run an organization’s social media as part of my job, and indeed the differences between a forum and virtually anything else social media-driven cannot be stated enough.

What has really “killed” off a lot of forums is that so many individuals are used to immediate information and feedback. They can’t be bothered to search or dig for whatever it is they’re inquiring about - and that’s honestly a pretty big problem. When you don’t take the time to search and you repeat a lot that has already been reiterated, all you’re doing is effectively adding to the crap pile. This is why real well-run forums would always tell it’s users “better to bump something than start anew;” all a new post or thread adds is just more to a crap pile that comes up in search.

What I will say is possibly unfortunate for forums is that many have been around for so long that they have had difficulty property adapting or simply have laid “dormant.” A good example is with Photobucket. Remember when everyone used to use Photobucket to get past a lot of forum restrictions on photos? Nowadays if you go back to any of those posts you’ll see watermarks and inability to actually see what was posted in most cases. That situation has likely ruined many threads. //

And another comment worth noting:

// Then maybe encourage people to use forums

The problem is that people have stopped using forums, in favor of Discord and Facebook... and both are awful for doing what forums do: allowing extended conversations on diverse topics. There’s no way to search and organize categories, and unless The Algorithm decides you should see a post, posts often get buried - including “that one I just saw and can’t find again.”

The thing is... since people don’t have to register separately for each Facebook group or Discord community, it’s easier to get in and use. Maintaining separate logins to forums is a nightmare after a while (I have hundreds), so maybe the trick is to get more forum communities to use single signon systems, so we don’t need to keep track of hundreds of different passwords and URLs. //

And another good comment in that comment section:

// Part of the issue is there aren’t a lot of active good forum solutions anymore. Some of the updates also have some big trade-offs. I’m going from foggy memory, but even around 6 years ago I had situation with a forum that a client wanted to update and the upgrade path was going to remove some things that were critical to the forum experience.

The problem was there was a lot of overseas scripts injecting garbage into the forum because it had old outdated security. The solution we settled on was to pay a 3rd party service that allowed us to “turn off” traffic from some countries to stop the scripts. Not great either. Maybe there are some newer forum solutions out there, but some of the ones that are long in the tooth are security nightmares. //

Regardless of what reasons one has for forums vs social media, there is zero doubt forums have long standing issues they can't seem to overcome which then lends themselves to people leaving them and going elsewhere.

Personally right now I see no reason to run a forum. For either personal or business. The cost has outweighed the benefit with better and cheaper options out there. But that's just me I guess.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
Joined
Sep 9, 2013
Messages
2,588
There's a lot of thoughts there.

I will say that I disagree with some of the premises, but not entirely. Yes, a significant chunk of the forum experience of old has gone, there's no arguing or pretending that. And yes, we can't pretend or ignore that the rapid response cycle that is now the rhythm of Facebook or Discord has done a real number on it.

The thing is, making the forum experience more like the social media experience doesn't fix that. There's a lot of discussion about making the forum experience more like Facebook - but that undermines what forums are good at, as you point out.

The Photobucket problem is simply one of changing economic realities; the reason Photobucket's watermarks are everywhere is because Photobucket saw how much all the hotlinked images were costing it and started trying to get people to pay instead. Willing to bet Imgur is going to go the same way now they've been bought out. It is, admittedly, very convenient on Facebook etc. to not have to worry about image hosting.

Takeaway 1: make it easier to get media into forums. Make it easier to embed, put into posts.

Takeaway 1a: make it easier to spin that out to bulk hosting, e.g. S3, where the costs scale much less painfully than scaling it on the primary hosting. If it's not tragic a consideration to have media flowing into the forum because it's cheaply hosted, we can be more blase about encouraging people posting media.



Then there's the general question about content discovery. Facebook shows you the content you've opted into: the latest from your friends, from your interests and the pages you follow. But good luck finding anything older. Yes, tools do exist to find older content but it is hard to do, because they're not interested in you having the historical content. This is antithetical to social media's fear of missing out triggering.

Now, we know forums have the strength of being able to find things, after the fact. This means having meaningful metadata, useful tagging and so on. Yes, forums have thread prefixes and thread tagging, but I feel like this isn't enough. Being able to identify what content connects to what other content is hard, it's legitimately hard (and is why 'suggested topics' plugins etc. are generally rubbish), but we need to have some way to be able to find threads again.

We do have the tools for such things - prefixes, tags, custom fields, whatever - but I'm not sure relying on the people making the threads to necessarily tag things in useful ways. People don't use tags usefully in this respect (just as people using hashtags is hit and miss, though slightly more hit than miss compared to forum tags), so I think that needs to be a task that forum admins might need to start thinking about. Finding ways to categorise content so it can be found again later.



Takeaway 2: we need to encourage people to tag topics so that the useful topics, the informative topics and so on can be found again. It doesn't matter whether this is done by manual lists of topics, or something more automated, but it needs to happen. And it needs to be done by a common core group rather than left to everyone because this only works if it is used consistently.

Takeaway 3: we need to be able to tag things not only at topic level but at post level too. Threadmarks for example is a fantastic usecase for longer threads to navigate inside the thread and highlight relevant content.

Takeaway 4: not every style of community can or will use these features the same way. Other styles of forum, for example, rely on their own divergent behaviours to produce threads of interest and other methods of tagging content will be needed. For example, I have in my corner of the world facilities for tagging 'participants in a thread', through to 'common threads with these participants', followed by 'other threads with one or more of these participants that are also related', and offering features to organise these threads into some kind of order. But that's a function of knowing my corner of the world, knowing how it behaves and building more specialised tools for the job.

Takeaway 5: something I've been banging on about for a while: flavours of forums. Some communities need tools that aren't the same as what the forum provides. It's one of the great strengths of being independent as a site operator, you can tailor the features to the use case. In my case, it's surfacing topics that expect a response from you in a meaningful way and clustering topics together using metadata about them (automatic basis, human curation on top). It is possible to make do with what is offered but so much more is possible with little effort.



Fully agreed on the whole single-sign-on deal. XF and IPS have this built in to use the obvious big candidates, with the ability to add more with limited effort. The free solutions are lagging behind here for certain.

But even with SSO for logging in, that doesn't help you re-find a forum you already had, but that's a problem for any site that isn't one of the behemoths.



But I think your biggest takeaway, "getting people to use forums". They are often perceived as clunky and outdated. For a number of them this is undoubtedly true.

This however does not deter people in the ways you'd think. I sit in a corner that has a thriving turnover of new forums built on the old InvisionFree platform that's mostly about 20 years old. For what they do, forums are by far the best platform to do it on, especially if you build out features to support the use case a bit better. Yes, there's a crossover presence with Discord - but very often it is complementary, doing planning and discussion on Discord and then turning that into content.

But I recognise this is a quiet corner of the world, even if within its own borders it is busy and exciting. But they see the world rather differently; the main platforms gave them up as a fringe use case years ago.



Takeaway 6: Just like Linux and a lot of the open source community as a whole, there are many diverse options and the effort is spread between them. Perhaps what we need to do is pool our efforts rather than go our own way *quite* so much. Build fewer but better options for things.
 

zappaDPJ

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Messages
8,017
Then there's the general question about content discovery.

Something that sets forums apart from virtually any of type of social media and yet it's so badly served by every platform. I can't even search images here. I've been banging on about this for years but I rarely see improvements.
 

Pete

Flavours of Forums Forever
Joined
Sep 9, 2013
Messages
2,588
What would you even search for? If an image is inline in a post, are you going to be searching for “find me a containing an image, near these words”?

Google has tried this with some degree of success but it’s far from infallible.
 

Matt M

Developer
Joined
Apr 28, 2005
Messages
471
Yeah. Here's the thing. Do you see people making more money using social media (Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) or from forums? People tend to go where the money is to keep their hobby alive, not where it's becoming a financial drain just to spend time in an effort to gain 5 people. Only 1 of who is active.

Even though IPS is more 'forward thinking' it's also clear, like most forum software these days, to still be stuck in the trappings of forum software from 10 and 20 years ago. The design, which is still relatively the same design and layout from the past 2 decades, still persists.

For me, I used to visit forums frequently years ago. Used to run a popular one even. But in more recent years I visit Reddit, Discord, Facebook Groups, Tik Tok, and others more frequently. In a given month I maybe visit one or 2 forums for a few minutes. That's about it. And even then it's sometimes not even that much.

I closed the forum down years ago I used to run because people are fickle. They come and go. The forum activity dropped and cost versus benefit just ended up not being worth it. Even with a free option. Unless you offer something new and radically different to the table, you're likely going to be largely ignored and buried. There are just too many options online these days that allow for more immediate responses and finding of things.

Also, just because a forum software offers more, doesn't mean it offers better or that the 'more' is useful to most people. If that was the case, some plug-ins wouldn't be necessary. Instead they are used to try and fill in some of those gaps. The downside is when support for those end and if you do not remove it, it could break the forum during an upgrade. That can cause problems for owners and members.

IPS is shifting its market. That's their choice. Long term I'm not sure if it's a good or smart one with the world and corporations generally moving away from forums in general. It's a certain way to shrink your market, and thus revenue. Especially in a world right now where cost is everything and spending less for most businesses and for personal use is more important than ever.

-------------------------------------------------------

As an example, recently Eurogamer closed their forums. Bethesda have too. (To name a few.):




Bethesdas notice of forum closure:

------------------------------------------------------

While some may move to forums from places like Facebook for whatever reasons they have, it's clear they have been the exception rather than the rule.

Reading through the comments from the article above I came across this one:

// I’ve moderated forums in the past and now I actually run an organization’s social media as part of my job, and indeed the differences between a forum and virtually anything else social media-driven cannot be stated enough.

What has really “killed” off a lot of forums is that so many individuals are used to immediate information and feedback. They can’t be bothered to search or dig for whatever it is they’re inquiring about - and that’s honestly a pretty big problem. When you don’t take the time to search and you repeat a lot that has already been reiterated, all you’re doing is effectively adding to the crap pile. This is why real well-run forums would always tell it’s users “better to bump something than start anew;” all a new post or thread adds is just more to a crap pile that comes up in search.

What I will say is possibly unfortunate for forums is that many have been around for so long that they have had difficulty property adapting or simply have laid “dormant.” A good example is with Photobucket. Remember when everyone used to use Photobucket to get past a lot of forum restrictions on photos? Nowadays if you go back to any of those posts you’ll see watermarks and inability to actually see what was posted in most cases. That situation has likely ruined many threads. //

And another comment worth noting:

// Then maybe encourage people to use forums

The problem is that people have stopped using forums, in favor of Discord and Facebook... and both are awful for doing what forums do: allowing extended conversations on diverse topics. There’s no way to search and organize categories, and unless The Algorithm decides you should see a post, posts often get buried - including “that one I just saw and can’t find again.”

The thing is... since people don’t have to register separately for each Facebook group or Discord community, it’s easier to get in and use. Maintaining separate logins to forums is a nightmare after a while (I have hundreds), so maybe the trick is to get more forum communities to use single signon systems, so we don’t need to keep track of hundreds of different passwords and URLs. //

And another good comment in that comment section:

// Part of the issue is there aren’t a lot of active good forum solutions anymore. Some of the updates also have some big trade-offs. I’m going from foggy memory, but even around 6 years ago I had situation with a forum that a client wanted to update and the upgrade path was going to remove some things that were critical to the forum experience.

The problem was there was a lot of overseas scripts injecting garbage into the forum because it had old outdated security. The solution we settled on was to pay a 3rd party service that allowed us to “turn off” traffic from some countries to stop the scripts. Not great either. Maybe there are some newer forum solutions out there, but some of the ones that are long in the tooth are security nightmares. //

Regardless of what reasons one has for forums vs social media, there is zero doubt forums have long standing issues they can't seem to overcome which then lends themselves to people leaving them and going elsewhere.

Personally right now I see no reason to run a forum. For either personal or business. The cost has outweighed the benefit with better and cheaper options out there. But that's just me I guess.
Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at work 😬
 

zappaDPJ

Administrator
Joined
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Messages
8,017
What would you even search for?
Images posted by me. I may want to use an image again or re-post it elsewhere.
Images posted by another user for a multitude of reasons e.g. to refer to their custom theme or for moderation issues.
Images posted in a forum software subsection to demonstrate the on-going development of the software's default theme or to build a showcase of custom themes.
Images posted within a certain time frame.
An image search containing certain text.

While it might be useful to search for images containing a 'triple facepalm' I don't expect the majority would bother filling in an alt text field but then again perhaps it should be mandatory to cater for the blind and visually impaired.

I'm sure there are other reasons but I'm not feeling fully functional this morning :sleep:
 

Nev_Dull

Anachronism
Joined
Apr 27, 2010
Messages
2,370
Even though IPS is more 'forward thinking' it's also clear, like most forum software these days, to still be stuck in the trappings of forum software from 10 and 20 years ago. The design, which is still relatively the same design and layout from the past 2 decades, still persists.
You say this as if it's a bad thing. As I've done before, I point to the book. They haven't changed since the first bindery, yet people still use them regularly. Forums aren't stuck in the past as much as they are built around a tried and tested structure that works for the type of content they contain.

What has really “killed” off a lot of forums is that so many individuals are used to immediate information and feedback. They can’t be bothered to search or dig for whatever it is they’re inquiring about - and that’s honestly a pretty big problem.
I agree completely. This debunks the entire argument. There is nothing wrong with the concept or structure of the forum. The problem originates from the changing attitude of people. Shallowness and instant gratification seem to be the constants for many, and that doesn't suit forums (or wikis, novels, and many other content forms). This is also a problem for social media as these people's loyalty is only to the new and trendy. Platforms must constantly chase the shrinking attention span to maintain their users.

Social media provides that ability to instantly respond to some inanity with another for that quick endorphin hit of having your say. But the fact remains that at some point, everyone needs to find some actual useful information. And despite their best efforts, almost everyone will eventually develop a more than superficial interest in something. Social media can't help them there, but other content forms, like forums, can. Even the top dog of shallow content, facebook, recognized that when it started groups.

Regardless of what reasons one has for forums vs social media, there is zero doubt forums have long standing issues they can't seem to overcome which then lends themselves to people leaving them and going elsewhere.
Forums do have issues, none of which can be solved by trying to emulate or chase social media platforms. One of the biggest problems to me is the lack of standards and portability. We should be able to easily move our data between forum software, rather than being locked into one.
Takeaway 2: we need to encourage people to tag topics so that the useful topics, the informative topics and so on can be found again. It doesn't matter whether this is done by manual lists of topics, or something more automated, but it needs to happen. And it needs to be done by a common core group rather than left to everyone because this only works if it is used consistently.
Findability is the other primary issue, as others have said. Tagging is useful, providing the forum managers have skills to develop a decent taxonomy to make them meaningful, and we have the tools to use those tags to offer alternate paths and views through the content. And I agree tagging content isn't something you want to leave up to the users, if possible.

Search isn't all that useful for forums because of the nature of the database. The add-on advanced search options are better, but still fall short compared to navigating the content in different ways to suit the users needs.
 

Matt M

Developer
Joined
Apr 28, 2005
Messages
471
You can describe the differences between social media and forum platforms in a few words:

Social media:
Passively consume, personality driven.

Forum platforms:
Actively contribute, content driven.

Social media is a personality driven monolithic newsfeed which most passively scroll to consume content.

Forum platforms are content driven organised streams which most actively seek information rather than wait for it to be served.
 

Matt M

Developer
Joined
Apr 28, 2005
Messages
471
To expand on this:

You can run a community on social media, and you can create a social media-style community on a forum but you are playing against the platform strengths.

The future of forums is not in making it more like social media, it's about making our strengths stronger. This will increase the divide from social media platforms, not decrease it.

It is easy to create a community on social media, but it is harder to keep it on social media.

Oh, and while some businesses do not understand the value of a forum and close them, the members certainly do.

QVC recently announced the closure of their forum and their plan to move it to Facebook (via a hashtag?), and the members revolted until:

FEzQmQUWUAENRfL
 

Uncrowned

Participant
Joined
Dec 31, 2012
Messages
54
To expand on this:

You can run a community on social media, and you can create a social media-style community on a forum but you are playing against the platform strengths.

The future of forums is not in making it more like social media, it's about making our strengths stronger. This will increase the divide from social media platforms, not decrease it.

It is easy to create a community on social media, but it is harder to keep it on social media.

Oh, and while some businesses do not understand the value of a forum and close them, the members certainly do.

QVC recently announced the closure of their forum and their plan to move it to Facebook (via a hashtag?), and the members revolted until:

FEzQmQUWUAENRfL
I agree with this completely. I love IPS as it gives a nice social touch and while it could certainly use more social tools due to so many users being on social media, it should not be chasing to be Facebook v2. As there is no calling for 100s on niche Facebook-like websites to exist and there is no way IPS is going to beat FB or Twitter at being FB or Twitter.

Forums and Social media serve different purposes and usages and even as the user base for forums goes down, the use for them is not going anywhere. IPS has the products to avoid the "forum first" concept in web design that hasn't really been what users have wanted for years, but still allows for powerful and capable forums to exist on the site. This is where I personally believe a forum should be at this point in time as you need a reason for people to be on the forum, to begin with, and there are numerous forums with more content on the exact topic you are focused on due to how aged the market is.
 

sanction9

Adherent
Joined
Feb 19, 2015
Messages
298
Just a thought. We see these big companies closing their forums to ostensibly save money, but if you're going to gut years of archived knowledge, aren't you likely setting yourself up to have to spend more on live support, to address all those problems that users might have previously been able to find the answers to themselves...? Yeah, sure, some of this can be addressed with bigger, more extensive knowledge bases, but in reality those are almost always of limited use.
 

Matt M

Developer
Joined
Apr 28, 2005
Messages
471
Just a thought. We see these big companies closing their forums to ostensibly save money, but if you're going to gut years of archived knowledge, aren't you likely setting yourself up to have to spend more on live support, to address all those problems that users might have previously been able to find the answers to themselves...? Yeah, sure, some of this can be addressed with bigger, more extensive knowledge bases, but in reality those are almost always of limited use.
There's a few things here for sure.

The platforms popular with enterprise tend to cost around $150k/year so it's a fair chunk of change for even the biggest org. A lot of the communities that are getting shut down don't have a community manager in a position of authority within the company to argue for it's upkeep and the value it brings.

Often the board will get wind of a few complaints on the forum and their reaction is "well, we don't need it, just shut it down."
 

sanction9

Adherent
Joined
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Messages
298
There's a few things here for sure.

The platforms popular with enterprise tend to cost around $150k/year so it's a fair chunk of change for even the biggest org. A lot of the communities that are getting shut down don't have a community manager in a position of authority within the company to argue for it's upkeep and the value it brings.

Often the board will get wind of a few complaints on the forum and their reaction is "well, we don't need it, just shut it down."
No doubt large companies like that have accountants to figure out the cost benefits of either approach, forums or some other platform, but I wonder if in some cases they're really able to reliably predict just how much it might possibly cost them in the long run when they axe their forums.
 
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