So firstly I’m really excited about the new forums. But I thought it might be a bit interesting to talk about forums in general, how they seem to have died off a bit, and how I hope they’re making a comeback.
Most of my experience comes from the gaming side of things. I’ve been involved in running gaming communities since the mid 2000s (reading the BBS memories thread makes me realise just how short a time this is!). Back then if you wanted a community, you’d start a forum. Small communities such as clans or guilds would use phpBB (or Simple Machines Forum if they were a bit hipster). Medium sizes ones like larger fansites or helpsites would go for Invision Power Board. And large ones, like the developer’s official forum, would go for vBulletin.
But over the years forums seem to have fallen out of favour with the rise of social media and modern chat options. The big one is the rise of Reeddit. This has turned into the de facto place to discuss many, if not most games. In the past you’d turn to a traditional fan forum, but these have largely died off. Even developers have started using Reddit as the main channel for communication with their fans.
Meanwhile, smaller communities have moved to Discord (a chat application). This was the case for a clan I ran. We had a large, well structured forum, but people preferred to use the discord server. It’s the same for lots of smaller indie games, most use Discord, very few have a forum.
For a while I was starting to feel like forums had gone the way of the Guestbook. A relic of a past internet age forgotten by changing trends and replaced by new technology. I’ve never been particularly happy with this. There’s the obvious concerns with using a third party service and not owning your own content. But they’ve also never seemed like particularly good replacements. The voting system and lack of categories on Reddit means a lot of good discussion is drowned out and it’s difficult to find specific topics. While Discord is fine it’s for synchronous chat only. If you miss a discussion, it’s gone.
This is why I’ve been pleased to see the success of the Twit forums, they’ve given me confidence that forums still have a place in the modern day. I think a lot of this is down to the excellent Discourse software. Software like phpBB has been stagnant for so long - using it feels a bit like stepping back in time 10 years with the lack of new features. Discourse on the other hand feels great to use and modern (in a good way). It just needs to be a bit easier to install I think to see wider adoption.
Has this been the case with any communities you’ve been apart of? I’ve noticed a lot of tech sites for example now have their communities in Slack. Do you prefer forums, or wish they were taken over by a different mode of communication? What features do you think forum software needs to add to help build a strong community? Any stories from running forum based communities?