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Are web forums in general on the way out?


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I've been running web forums for over ~12 years. I can recall when a forum community was considered new tech and was one of the best ways to facilitate a thriving web community. During 2005-2009 my web traffic was booming. Circa 2009 I noticed a decline that has grown worse year after year. Each year since 2009 I have lost traffic on every web forum that I own. I've read many theories suggesting that social networks are to blame. The advent of private groups etc. Which is somewhat full circle as forums started to boom when people wanted to expand beyond early private groups such as yahoo groups.

Now days a lot of people visit my forums and are immediately confused. They don't see the familiar social network endless feed and thus don't know what to do. Nested topics inside categories are not easily understood for some reason by the new generation.

I know we are all very excited about the release of IP4, however I wonder, are we embracing technology that is already passe? Is IP4 akin to having the latest and greatest buggy whip in the year 1928?

 

your thoughts please.

Edited by superj707
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I had a long discussion with the developer of another script and they said pretty much - forums are dead.  Some complaints I've heard about my forum, "I wish this was more like Reddit (threaded discussion)."

Overall I think forums get a bad wrap.  Isn't it funny that you almost never hear any references to forums in media.  I can't remember the last time I heard Mashable, TechCrunch, etc. reference something that was posted in a forum.

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I think, the niche is important, too. A "Minecraft" or a "tech" forum or a "photography-board" make no sense, anymore, now.

important can be the design and the language, maybe.

look at taringa.net - it grows every year (and have now 43.000.000 answer, more that 9.000.000 toipcs and now are 249.000 people online....)

talkchelsea or typografie are some IPB communities with a niche too, and i can imagine that they are growing.

but overall - yes, the forums are dead. no chance again fb, twitter and google+

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Facebook has built a great mousetrap.  In under one minute, you can build a Facebook group and add a lot of people too it to create an instant community.  And all of this without the expense of forum software and a host.

We've leaned heavily into creating more Facebook groups rather than forums because not only is the expense much less, you have a much wider audience to gain members from.  Moreover, people can belong to dozens of groups on Facebook at one time and thus receive all kinds of updates at a one stop shop.

Forums still certainly have a place for more niche discussion where different categories are important, however, I think that IPS has not done a good enough job with their software in the past several years.  It's interesting that big forum companies are not choosing IPB, even those migrating away from VB.

I'm sticking with IPB for right now, but the pace of change has been agonizingly slow and that just doesn't help with situation.

Edited by jackflash
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One more thing of interest that I noticed about Facebook.  Companies that used to use place ads via Google and also advertise on Forums have found out that they too can create Facebook groups to engage with their customers.

For example, an automotive parts suppliers started opening Chevrolet "fan sites" on Facebook in order to market to Cruze, Camaro, etc. owners directly.  Pretty clever.

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Yes, and one of the reasons for that is that you can't really use forums on mobile while all the social networks like Facebook, instagram etc. have apps. I tried bringing this to IPS team's attention but they think that a mobile site is the same as an app.

​There are apps for forums, such as Tapatalk. The decline has probably something to do with there being a lot more forums live right now than there was then AND social media is so easy to use to express opinions that some skip the forums entirely. I know my forum will be used, because its niche just is that way. 

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Thanks so much for the topic. I am running forums since 17 years and I can confirm the thoughts from superj707.

I see people creating groups in fb and having in one year more visitors than me after 17 years. I have all the work with the software and the servers and be responsible for everything what's happening on my side including some fights with attorneys. :-). The fb people don't care about copyright and will never face more work than just managing the members.

I like my forum, I like my members.

But I also think about: Do I feed a dinosaur?

I was running the most times a vbulletin board but my worst time started when I switched to IPB.

I had to switch because I saw no future with vbulletin and I think the functionality of IPB is most times better but I lost my ranking in google within two weeks with IPB.

Do I cry, because I changed ? :-)   - No

Do I hate fb? ;-) - Yes :-), but the enemy of a good idea is a better one.

So I will do my best and be happy with my exclusive members now.

I see a chance using my articles which I wrote for generating traffic and that's also my worst problem right now, because I work also in small projects with wordpress and I see that this software is even in the basic functions much better than the cms of IPB.

So to stay on the market in the future I see two major things:

- Being perfect in the mobile view !!!!! or have an own app maybe.

 

- and have a perfect and simple cms for generating content.

Edited by Murmel
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​There are apps for forums, such as Tapatalk. The decline has probably something to do with there being a lot more forums live right now than there was then AND social media is so easy to use to express opinions that some skip the forums entirely. I know my forum will be used, because its niche just is that way. 

​Who would download something like tapatalk though...

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The forum I set up in 2001 is growing steadily ever since. The growth rate didn’t increase, but it didn’t decrease either. Everything is still looking good. 

The web has matured and is now a much more competitive place. Survival of the fittest. If your community can be replaced by Facebook groups, it probably will. 

If you do something unique in your niche or you offer just the number 1 place to go to, you can easily survive. 

 

I tried bringing this to IPS team's attention but they think that a mobile site is the same as an app.

​I doubt that this is the official position. A truly mobile site can replicate a lot of what an app would do. But to make that rather small jump from a responsive web view to a mobile app, it takes a lot of time and money to get it right. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have those resources, but IPS doesn’t play in that league. I wouldn’t mind having an option for an app, but I don’t think it is likely to come in the near future and I think it is understandable and not just a matter of IPS not wanting it or “not getting it”. 

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As far as technology forums go, what do you think about MacRumors? Or a forum that's not related to technology but related to educational discussion such as The Student Room? They're pretty active as far as online users but I don't see many new post activity on MacRumors. :(

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We started in 2004, and the first year or two was slow going. From then it took off exponentially, with a slight dip about 4 years ago, and the last two years it has stabilised, growth wise. This with regard to member numbers.

However, over the last year, traffic has increased by more than 20%, and about 3 weeks ago we overtook, from a ranking POV, the largest site worldwide in our niche, which happens to be a brand site, no forums whatsoever, no possibilities for discussion or commenting either. We do moderate quite strictly, which tends to keep the atmosphere quite nice, and personally I think that that is one of our success factors.

One thing we do need, and what many have been asking us, is a better mobile interface, so we do hope that 4.0 will bring us that. We have considered other options, like TapaTalk, but they are in it only for themselves, and add an extra layer of less security, so a no go as far as we are concerned.

People want to be able to do exactly the same things from their mobile interfaces as they can from full desktop/laptop interfaces, that is something that is rather important, as 40% of our traffic comes from mobile devices these days. IOW, still quite a bit of opportunity to grow.

As to being dinosaurs: I think it just depends on how one looks at it. We're into a collecting niche, and one that is into writing and discussions, so forums are really ideal for that. I do think that one needs to integrate other possibilities as well, and we hope to start working on those very soon, i.e, an approach which more seamlessly integrates every other option possible, f.e., selling their own stuff.

Then there is the fact that users still find navigation the biggest problem, most of the time. This is at least partly caused by the fact that not all options are clear, and that one has to hover in order to see an option. People just don't see those unless you point these out specifically. So, a "slick", minimalistic type design is all very nice, but hiding features is not helping. Things can be improved drastically in this respect, IMO anyway.

Finally, for now anyway, what I think is important is to try and build a coherent community experience, one that revolves around and involves the community. This is really what requires a lot of thinking, to get people involved, and keep them interested, and wanting to come back. It is not just about the area of interest one represents, but the entire set of emotions around it. This is really what in the end binds people, and is the hardest part of making a forum website work.

Just my 2c :).

Kind regards, Wim

 

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Wow, this is one of those questions that is a pandora's box.  I can get 10,000 likes on FB by next week but the issue is most of those fans are only seeing what is popular.  So unless you have a ton of great stuff your fans totally love, like and share, your posts might as well be in stealth mode.  Many of those likes from FB are garbage anyway.

Forums on the other hand seem to work best when centered on a niche.  I find forums more informative because I can see all the threads on a subject and I hope they are not manipulated by an over zealous admin.  If you take care of your forum, people will come to get out of the rat race of FB and speaking of reddit, that place is like a gail force wind.  In my eyes it's about community not quantity when it comes to forums.  Most guest & members troll and never participate but for forums going bye bye, that would have already of happened.  FB's will come and go, no matter how big they seem at the time, just take a look through internet history.  People get tired and move on eventually but with forums they seem to stick around more.

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I really think it depends on the niche as well as your target audience.

For me, I am nearly 20 years old so my niche/target audience are usually within the 14-21 age range...which social media is really big for my age group.

However, for some people that are say 2-3 times my age, they are not as heavy with social networking and therefore they may be more inclined to go to a forum over FB. Of course not every middle age adult is like that, but I do think your niche and target audience makes all the difference in the world.

Creating an anime forum nowadays is utterely insane because it is over saturated. Creating a forum for a popular tv show OR book(like we do), where the competition is lower, is much better.

Also even with the rise of social network, everyone is not going to want to consolidate their REAL LIFE with their online interest. If I am a my little pony fan at the age of 20, I am pretty sure I wouldn't my friends to know that. So I'd be less likely to join groups or like pages. But I will certainly go over to mlpforums(which runs IPB) and join there.


You also have the fact that FB removes a lot of the anonymity that you get with forums. I can call myself whatever I want and not have anything I say or do easily traced back to me. On FB, you can't have the same sense of anonymity.

SO I have to disagree forums aren't on the way out but some people's' forums may be on the way out.

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​Who would download something like tapatalk though...

​Surprisingly a good amount of my members use it when on the go. I like it for the notifications I get when I'm not on my computer. Honestly though I just delete the notification and go to the browser though :laugh: 

I don't believe that every website out there needs an app. I'm a techie and I only download apps for my most frequented websites. A responsive website can provide a lot of the same features that an app can. Once push notifications move fully integrated to mobile browsers and websites, I see no reason for a dedicated app for most sites. An app like Tapatalk is nice because it is not a dedicated app for one website, it is an app for multiple websites.

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​Who would download something like tapatalk though...

I (and a couple of other people) have been working on an alternative. (http://community.invisionpower.com/topic/409475-introducing-forummob-white-label-mobile-apps-for-ipb/). Tapatalk has gone down the tubes, Forum Runner has become so awful, it's barely even an option anymore. The goal here is to provide a GOOD mobile experience for those who need it.

I'm not looking to derail this topic, though, so my personal thoughts on this subject.... I don't have my own forums (although I used to, back in the day), but I do have quite a few clients with active communities. I believe that more than just being a niche forum, you need to offer something more than just discussions. Blogs/Articles are good and important, but not enough. Custom development really is one of the things that can make a site successful, if done properly. You need to think about what your community is about, and then build something your members NEED. A good example (shameless plug) - http://bariatricpal.com/. This is a community for people who have or are considering undergoing weight loss surgery. The site has a directory of all bariatric surgeons in the country, complete with reviews by actual patients (who are members of the community), and a LOT of information for each surgeon. And that's just one example of the features that are available here. I have worked with the owner of this site for 4 years now, and I can tell you that there is a lot of time and effort and thought invested into what the members of the community need and appreciate. Yes, there are some features that are created "because they're cool" but for the most part, it's not just a collection of every mod in the marketplace. The goal of this site is to be THE place to go for information, help, and support for everything related to bariatric surgery, and it works. 

This is a big difference between a successful community and a Facebook group. If all you offer is a place to chat and share your thoughts, then Facebook will beat you every time. Growing a community means making an investment - in your time, and in development of features that will make you unique and give your members a reason to come back.

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General, unfocused forums serve little purpose. Topic-driven communities are busier than ever.

Note the difference between a "forum" and a "community" here. Are "forums" dead? Perhaps. Are online communities? Not at all. Think beyond just the forum :)

 

​But when you look at it they basically are the same just like friends and followers but they have there own niche. They also work the same as well.

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