A Burgundy and Gold Obsession

    • The Death of the Internet Forum (aka ... the 'McDonaldization of the World Wide Web')

      Hi.

      My name is John.

      And along with some other wonderful guys and gals, I run an internet forum.

      Running gag between me and Brother Om. One day, we were discussing the crazy obsessions and behaviors of those peculiar cats known as 'internet geeks'. 'Mark...' I said, pausing for maximum dramatic effect. 'We ARE internet geeks.'

      And so we are.

      Something is happening on the web today though that saddens me. It's been going on for quite some time now. One of the most amazing vehicles ever invented to spawn discussion, conversation, argument, and passionate dialogue - the internet forum - is dying a slow but inevitable death.

      Go to any messageboard, discussion forum, or internet board and the death spiral is obvious for anyone to see. Small boards, medium boards, even large forums. It doesn't matter. They're being abandoned at a dizzying rate. What's behind the exodus away from what used to be the backbone of internet conversation? It's a simple question with a complex anwer.

      A decade or more ago, I was forced to read a textbook for some obscure Sociology course I was required to take. It was titled 'The McDonaldization of Society'. The core premise of the text was that our society (and it's uniqueness) is being slowly destroyed by the ideas that drive the popularity of McDonalds. What are those ideas you ask?

      1. Bigger is better.
      2. People don't care about quality - they just want a predictable experience. What they got yesterday, they will get today and tomorrow.
      3. Generic is good.
      4. Getting everything you want in one place is better, even if the product itself is inferior.

      The idea goes far beyond the actual provision of fast food at America's largest chain - it's being applied to everything we experience in America. The author suggests (and I wholeheartedly agree) that it's an entirely negative trend that is robbing all of us of richly unique and satisfying experiences.

      So what's all that got to do with the world wide web and internet discussion forums?

      The same influences that have lead to a number of enormous fast food restaurant chains dominating America's palate and purchasing habits are now fast at work destroying the uniqueness and creativity of what was once the new Wild West - the internet.

      BGO was born because a handful of folks decided that there was a niche need for an internet forum where folks who actually wanted to communicate passionately but civilly about the Washington Redskins would have a place to call home. We wanted to create a place where we could have passionate discussions, even disagreements, but do so respectfully among people we considered friends. And I think we've been pretty successful doing so.

      But this board, like just about every specialized internet forum in existence, seems to be dying a slow death. Go to an internet forum of your choosing, any of them, and you'll see participation and traffic exponentially down, even from a few years ago. It doesn't matter what the quality of the site is, what the composition of it's membership was, or how much energy and effort is going into producing new content or updates. It doesn't matter how much you market a discussion forum. They're dying. Many internet forum and discussion board owners have simply given up and shut their doors. I understand the impulse. It's a lot of work keeping a website like this one open. It's not without expense. When owners and site creators see their member traffic drop to negligible #'s, it starts to become hard to justify the effort.

      I referenced the 'McDonald's' analogy. It fits here as well. Why travel to a more obscure, specialty forum when any idiot can start or join a Facebook Group Page on any topic of their choosing? Why spend the time creating a meaningful or lengthy thread topic on a forum you have to individually log-in to when you can do a driveby post on Twitter or Instagram. The focus on conversation and sharing of ideas is minimized there - it's all about getting the opportunity to share your driveby post with huge numbers of people in just seconds.

      'Listen to what I have to say' is now 'Look at me!'.

      We never expected to have a huge site or membership. Let's face it - as soon as you set a goal to create 'The Most Intelligent Community of Washington Redskins Fans on the Web', you've pretty much ruled out a significant portion of NFL fans. I'm not really sure that most Redskins fans are all that interested in discussing the team we love in a civil, intelligent manner. But the explosion and growing dominance of mindless, driveby, all-topics-welcome megasites is killing the internet discussion board - this one, and thousands more just like us.

      It makes me sad.

      We haven't thrown in the towel yet. We know that if we did shut down, we'd let down the folks here that do still appreciate what we've tried to create, and what is unique about this discussion format. But every year, it gets a little harder to justify the time and expense. In the next 5 years, in order to continue we'll have to change to a new discussion board format, as vBulletin software becomes increasingly obsolete. To continue will essentially require an entire rebuild of the site using a totally new software. It'll be at that decision point that we'll really have to decide 'is there a demand for what we are offering anymore?'

      I don't know if we'll soldier on, or give in to the reality of 'what people want' which increasingly appears to be the internet version of the McDonald's drive-through.

      On the plus side - I do like a Big Mac once in awhile
      This article was originally published in forum thread: The Death of the Internet Forum (aka ... the 'McDonaldization of the World Wide Web') started by Boone View original post
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