🟧 Forums Do Need Some Love

I’m all for showing bbPress some love here’s a few brief thoughts:

Matt Mullenweg marking the occasion of WordPress’ 21st birthday posted some thoughts.Β 

There’s been many milestones and highlights along the way, and many more to come. I’ve been thinking a lot about elements that made WordPress successful in its early years that we should keep in mind as we build this year and beyond. Here’s 11 opinions:

I think all the proposals in post are great – it seems like the sabbatical from Automattic has done him some good – but its point 4 that caught my eye.

4. Forums should be front and center in the community. bbPress and BuddyPress need some love.

Forums Need Some Love

In my post marking this humble blogs 14th anniversary I wrote about how forums were my first experience of a social environment online.

I picked up the same theme earlier this year on the pod about Internet communities reaching ‘Escape Velocity’ and manifesting things IRL.

For my part, I’ve largely eschewed setting up any kind of community space for subscribers or people interested in my work. Because managing a community is hard, and quite frankly, sucks.

I spent much of my online teenage years as an admin on a PHPBB forum attached to a website dedicated to the local DIY punk music scene. This was around 2001 and this experience shaped my idea of what online communities are.

The forum was inhabited by people who all knew each other in real life. We would see each other every Friday at the local punk venue. Being tied to a real-world place, time, and scene meant that the worst of the forum flame war drama was bound up with real-world interpersonal conflicts and beef. 

Whilst I have eschewed setting up an online community for thejaymo.net mostly because managing them is a lot of work – but I have looked into it and i wanted to start a forum. But after doing some testing in my sandbox I came to the conclusion that webforums really do need some love.

The basic idea of a virtual ‘place’ where you could leave messages and return later to see if anyone has commented have been around since the early 70’s. They have been reinvented multiple times inside of mainframes and on open networks. Which means that BBS systems and later web forum’s are virtual organisational structures deeply embedded in the Internet’s collective psyche. The public squares for Geocities neighbourhoods also a web forums. And of course the most antisocial of all social networks is also forum based.

In 2024 we are seeing a resurgence of forums as a model. Off the top of my head:

  1. They are increasingly becoming popular tools as a place to build community around power users and gather product feedback. Lots of folks I know use Featurebase
  2. Zoom launched an old school intranat that has a forum feature at its hart: Workvivo
  3. Discord launched forum channels – with mixed success tbh

We also have the dark forest discourse. Forums are a sort of half way house. High context communities that support pseudo-anonymity, but like a group chat or a mailing list must be actively checked and contributed to. Publicly accessible for people to find their way into but high friction enough that most people won’t bother.

I’ve been saying for years on here that realtime chat on slack is bad – its an open plan office. and Discord when it was picked up by DAO’s turned ‘community’ into a 24/7/365 rolling AGM hellscape. The turn away from algorithmic feeds is also in part due to real time info-overload but also the dislocation that occurs when you have no idea where you are in relation to the things you want to interact with.

Forums on the other hand are much slower, sedate places. Their primary UX metaphor is of course ‘bulletin board’. They are their little own world. Somewhere semi-public you can return to over and over agin to see whats new – this is the major thing they have going for them. On Slack or Discord you have to be there all the time to catch whats going on. On a forum you can check in and see whats new at your own pace, when ever you choose to swing by.

So I’m all for showing bbPress some love, here’s a few brief thoughts:

  • We need much better mobile UX
    • A forum reader app dedicated to bbPress
    • A unified way of managing multiple identities across forums in one app.
  • Better emoji reaction features to bring the experience inline with discord or featurebase.
  • We need better governance tools beyond polls
  • I’d also like to see better x-posting between forum threads and blog comments etc. pingbacks etc
  • For better or worse I think forums also need a feed for 140 character like thoughts – whilst discouraging real time interaction.
  • Fuck it. With stripe and other Alms Race financial plumbing why not make forums content gated for a dollar?

We’re all collectively working out what web is for in 2024. I said after (the first time) my identity got stolen by an AI sludge farm that:

The only place we may be able to trust the quality and usefulness of an article is by subscribing to and following real content from real people. And those of us who are still going to keep publishing in public, on the wider web, will need to keep those real people close.

Discussions between ‘humans who publish things‘ in the back channels I’m in are constantly drifting back toward webrings. And it occurs to me that a forum at the centre of a web ring is the ideal way of approaching community right now. Keeping real people close.

Substack notes is terrible and has turned the site into Twitter and its awful. The problem is the central feed. It would have been much better to create neighbours on Substack that the authors could have joined, bringing their comment communities with them. Forums seem ideal for this sort of thing.

I love forums and dislike realtime chat. It eats up too much of my time and attention. Forums should be like hangout spots. People who read blogs and newsletters i suspect would rather swing by a place than than be there all the time.

Forum software where groups of likeminded bloggers can curate a community by seems like it could be a fun idea?

This has been an 🟧 RSS Club post.
Syndicated to you, really simply, from thejaymo.net

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2 responses to “🟧 Forums Do Need Some Love”

  1. […] Jay Springett did a piece earlier today about the current state of forum software. It’s interesting just as a “state of the art” gathering of information. Looks like Vanilla is still going, in some form, too. I’d rather murder myself than ever go near any kind of online forum again. But a return to forum life for people who actually want to think and talk would fit with the current tone of the dark-forest-y online discourse I’ve seen. […]

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