It was about 1997 and I whored forums like many people entering the Internet Age. From MMOs to knitting, forums grew creating communities within even smaller communities. It was only a matter of time before hundreds of Wargaming forums began to sprout. Depending on their appeal, but mostly the dedication of posters keyed their survival. Names like Dakkadakka, Heresy Online, Astronomican, and Warseer dominated the Internet discussion. Even more focused sites grew like Tau Online catered to smaller and smaller portions of our games.
When the forum starts everyone has an equal voice, as time goes on that changes. Today the oldest and largest of forums are filled with people who judge a comments worth by those that simply just respond to any and all threads. Today forums grow more dominated by large personalities and crippled by ego driven moderators. Often newbies find it hard to get responses to even the most basic of questions. As well those that don’t conform quickly to particular eccentricities can end up on the wrong side of the road with the established members. Add “premium features” suddenly you are well on your way to creating the Internet equivalent of a fuel system.
Regardless of the social hurdles, forum interfaces can become dated and cumbersome. From bad lay outs to slow loading times, even forums with the best intentions become eye sores and time sinks. Take a look at Bell of Lost Souls, you can go everyday and look for the latest rumors. With forums you often have to follow a trail of rumor poop leading to more waste management work in order to find anything of value. On top of all this is content. As a forum gets older content becomes harder and harder to manage: often even the labors of Hercules seem mundane when tasked to find something as simple as a painting tutorial. Even with search features the sheer volume is daunting. All these components make forums only useful for those that are already invested.
While many forums are still going strong, you might have noticed these little things called blogs showing up all over the place. This new media has changed the game the same way MySpace originally changed the way we connect with people. Everyone can have a voice and if you work hard enough and have a compelling narrative people will read. Blogs cut through the noise that surrounds many forum posts you see today. A single person is more flexible and not beholden to any policy, but his or her own principles. Blogs have the potential of being more dynamic than most forums.
As a direct reaction to blogs you may have noticed your favorite forums introducing a front page dedicated to news and hot topics they think are important. A forum is only strong if it has a strong purpose and most forums lack this– they simply just throw whatever anyone wants up on the wall and hope it sticks. If there is a hope for forums it is in a focus approached. A site like Bolter & Chainsword does a great job in presentation and promotes a particular MEQ mission. The same can be said about a site like Warseer has it’s webzine hub and other promotions keeping it relevant.
If forums are going to survive they need stay relevant and engaging– something more than a place where egos go to battle or where rumors are posted just before they’re snatched by Bell of Lost Souls.