The slow and painful death of community forums

Community forums were once the number one destination for millions around the world to engage with one another in discussions that span a number of topics, depending on that specific website. I’ve been involved with community management and forum software for more than a decade, but I feel it’s time to take a quick look at how forums continue to be en-route a slow death.

If you’re thinking about starting up a new board on a topic that has already been covered, or perhaps a newly discovered niche, you’re going to have a hard time. Period. Even well-established forums are suffering from lack of activity, which is the result of a number of factors.

Why are forums a dying breed?

Forums came to be as a replacement to newsgroups, offering more advanced and streamlined features to end users. Web-based forums date back to the mid-90s and many large websites today still rely on commercial software installations. But things aren’t looking too good for many, and it’s almost impossible to get a new community going. What gives?

Revive your forum
If only it were that easy.

The main issue with software used for forums is the lack of compatibility with humans of today and shorter attention spans. Social media (notably Twitter), real life, and smartphones have made it more and more important to have content available in fast, digestible chunks for users. This is something that forums simply aren’t equipped for.

While more people spend a solid number of hours each day connected to others online, they’re actually being really sociable — too social for forums. People of today prefer to communicate with others without history or documented context. Take Snapchat, WhatsApp and other apps that are all about instant content. Couple this with forum software appearing to be rather ancient and you now have a recipe for a disaster.

Gimme, gimme, gimme

The problem, I think, forum software developers have is with forum owners. “Wait, are you suggesting administrators are partly to blame here?!” Yes, actually. Yes, I am. The issue with forum owners is they’ve seemingly lost sight of running a community effectively. Instead of focusing on content creation, they’re too busy checking statistics, analytics, and other tools.

Just take a look at how many clicks are required of the user to get anywhere. Need to manage their forum profile? Multiple clicks. Go into a category? Another click. Visit a forum? Click. Read through a thread? Click. I’m sure you’ve already caught on. Why isn’t this all fast loading or on single pages? Why do users have to go through multiple links to get anywhere?

IPB

Some food for thought would be even easier mobile browsing and notifications. Instead of having members directed to social media platforms, forum owners would much prefer their fellow comrades to open up the forum and quickly add a reply or start a new thread. Developers have made some ground on solidifying the mobile experience for forums natively, but we’re still relying on the smartphone browser for the time being.

Where forums shine

Here are some highlights one needs to point out about forum suites:

  • Allows for anonymity.
  • More efficient moderation.
  • Much cleaner navigation.
  • Not Facebook.
  • Room for more in-depth conversations between multiple people.

Forums are in a rough period and it’s down to software makers and community administrators to pull through. The world is changing, humanity is changing, and forums simply cannot remain the same and stay relevant.