Are forums dead? Some say yes. Others say no. Maybe it just depends.
FORUMS CAN’T BE DEAD
It just doesn’t make sense. Where else are we going to find curated information on specific topics distilled into usable knowledge? Facebook? Ugh. C’mon. Facebook groups – at least for gearheads like us – tend to be filled with illiterate idiots sharing a picture, meme, random link, or snide comment. These are places where unvetted misinformation takes root and spreads – assuming any real information is actually shared at all. More often than not, Facebook groups feel more like little pockets of we’re-all-experts-and-fucking-comedians than communities of practice where learning takes place.
Granted, forums aren’t immune to the stupid and wrong, either. It’s just that forum participation requires more than someone clicking a button to automatically add every “friend” they’ve got to the group. You have to seek out the information, create an account, agree to some rules, and prove yourself not a douchebag before you’re handed keys to the city.
THEN AGAIN, IF WE’RE NOT USING THEM…
There was a time when I’d spend hours – hours – every day on forums. The allure of all that knowledge, so relevant to my particular vehicle was inescapable. I’d get in trouble for it at work. Didn’t care. So many other gearheads sharing news and information on subjects of interest to me was just too much to resist. I learned how vehicle systems work, interact, and can be modified. I learned how other people like me were doing so, running into new problems, and solving them with the help of the community. I got to know many of these people, to the point where I now consider them family.
Forums are where I learned to build engines, transmissions, and more. It’s where I learned how to build computers, websites, and businesses. I went through a nasty divorce on a car forum. I’ve met gearheads all over the world through forums. Forums have turned $1500, international plane tickets into priceless memories abroad and missed flights into $1500 domestic plane tickets. And though forums likely inspired the tens of thousand of dollars I’ve pissed away on cars and trucks over the years, they’ve saved me tens of thousands more in maintenance and repair costs. I am who I am today because of forums.
I still tend to check 3-4 forums every day, though I don’t really participate much anymore. ExPo, 4x4wire, GalantVR4.org, round out the dailies, and others, like 4x4ham, Delica.ca, and maybe MLR round out the alternates once or twice a week. If I’m honest with myself, I know I spend more time on Facebook in a single day than I do on all those forums combined. Add Google+ (it really is better) and Reddit, and I feel like maybe forums are dead.
One forum admin I know recently sent out an email asking members who post things on Facebook to also post them on the forum. I can see his point, but that’s encouraging double posting, and most of us aren’t going to bother. As a former admin and guy who’d like to see more traffic on his own website, I could sense his desperation.
Another admin I know recently stated he couldn’t remember the last time he actually logged into the forum he runs. Though he was pretty nonchalant about it, the rest of us in the group – all moderators or admins of said community at one point – went on to share how long we thought it had been since we’d logged in. There was an unspoken disappointment in that conversation and we quickly grabbed another round from the cooler.
Pretty damning case against forums. If people like me who really believe in them aren’t really using them anymore, maybe they are dead. I’d hate to think that, though. Facebook exists to track your online activity and sell that data to – you guessed it – advertisers – so they can push more worthless garbage into your world. All under the banner of “relevance,” of course.
THE FACEBOOK EFFECT
It’s interesting to think about how Facebook has impacted society, though. I mean, We’ve come to expect news and information served up to us with the ability to like or share it with our own networks. In many ways, social media is shaping our expectations of what we want to see and when. If you’ve ever clicked a thread on your favorite forum, been disappointed in what you saw, and wished there was a down vote button, you know what I mean.
In the beginning, forums quenched our thirst for automotive knowledge and our hunger for gearhead family. Where we might have had one or two local gearhead buddies who drove other makes and models, forums gave us dozens of people with the same make, model, and interests. We learned much. We gained strength in numbers. Our lives got better as a result.
Today, we have this kind of access to information on just about any topic. I’ve long said we are not our resumes or job titles. In the same vein, we are not our post, follower, or friend counts, either. And we’re certainly not our makes/models/platforms/places/pursuits. We might identify with the latter to some degree, but the human condition is changing.
The forum’s strength is also its weakness. Build a community around a single topic, however broad, and it’s still a single topic. You really cannot match an active community for quality information on a single subject. At the same time, our interests are as varied as our machines. We live different places, drive different vehicles differently – and have different interests beyond the machines.
The machines bring us together, but it’s the people to which we stay connected. Social media, through its often randomness, allows us to discover new connections, explore random interests, and waste a metric shit-ton of time. Kind of like forums once did. The difference is, while some average Joe like you might have run a couple ads or sold shirts and stickers to cover his hosting costs and a beer or two, Social media exists solely to sell advertising. I don’t know about you, but that just seems like a shitty reason to exist.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
So where do we go from here? What do we need? Quality information. Mature, respectable community. The ability to explore ideas beyond platform/place/pursuit. A place where gearheads can help gearheads build better machines and live better lives. I, for one, think it’s high time we had substantive, edifying stuff for gearheads. And damn if it doesn’t bug me that I haven’t been more productive at delivering that to you.
You know how busy I’ve been lately. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up anytime soon, either. Still, the itch to do something that matters, something related to cars and trucks – and the gearheads like us who love doing things with them – is strong. Not gonna lie, I regularly have thoughts of pulling the plug on this site. Do it right or don’t do it at all, I guess, but I have no idea what else I’d rather do.
So, until I’ve got a story or two or three ready to publish – or some random, deep thought I think might be worth sharing here – keep going fast with class and press on regardless.
What’s bugging you lately?