I didn't see a topic like this posted anywhere so thought to kick it off and share some recent observations and thoughts that I'd assume would be very interesting to a community that is focused on building online communities...
Though I think it would be hard to argue how social media all but stole away the audiences from private / directional online communities found on forum systems, it's been very interesting to now observe what I believe is the decline of the social media era. Obviously social media will not disappear in the near future and who's to say if a new platform or perhaps a killer feature or rethinking of existing social media platforms manage to breath new life into the existing one (though IMHO, I seriously doubt the latter). There's a lot of articles and data around the web talking about engagement levels in steady decline across most demographics, new membership growth flat or in decline and in many areas, existing users that are simply deleting the apps from their mobile devices, if not altogether canceling accounts.
Considering all the various scandals regarding various violations in individual privacy (at best) and some pretty profound implications regarding the manipulation of people and elections (at worst?), it's no wonder that more and more people are growing weary of mega tech companies like Facebook / Instagram, Google and so many others. This morning someone was just commenting on our own forums in regards to the US Government response to the TikTok in regards to their concern that it might be a way of gathering user data about Americans from a Chinese owned social media platform. What was most interesting to me about the response wasn't so much that information was likely being gathered, but rather that it was being gathered by a foreign country in this instance. Anyhow, not to don the tin foil hat or derail my own topic by going down that rabbit hole... I just wanted to lay down some context to my statement that I believe we might very well be seeing the downward side of the social media era. At the very least, I do believe that there is a very real opportunity for people like the community here on Invision to take advantage of the dynamic we're beginning to see and tempt users back towards private and more directional communities as those built and hosted by all of us.
It would seem to me that privacy is much more in the social consciousness and that likewise, the one size fits all approach (in general) to social media, is getting old. The super user friendly, steady stream of bite sized content that replaced the longer form, ongoing discussions found on forum systems has lost a lot of its novelty and that people are yearning for the more satisfying content experience found by deeper explorations of topics and richer showcasing of photo, video and other asset based content. At least on our forum, when we started using our Instagram to point out the flaws of that platform and put out a rallying cry that we were 'moving the conversation back to our forum', we saw a good many users old forum members that were following us get get vocal about being excited about our decision to refocus on our forum, while being exceptionally critical of what the experience on Instagram has become. Being honest, many did express difficulty in transitioning from those tiny bits of steady content to suddenly reading long posts and even longer threads, but most seem to have stuck it out. We managed to double our traffic in a couple weeks, then double it several more times over the following few months. No doubt a lot can be explained simply by the fact that we've been focused on promoting our forum, but I can't ignore how many DM and comments I've seen both on our Instagram, via email and on our forum about how perfect our timing was and that people were looking for an alternative so they could stop going to Instagram.
In any case, I'll be honest... I don't have all this figured out yet, but I am seeing something very interesting (and promising) starting to happen. People seem to be fed up with social media in increasing numbers, yet the desire to interact online, share and discuss with like minded people remains strong. Not to beat a very dead horse, but I really wish IPS had a slick dedicated app as that has become the request I keep hearing. I've been following a few discussion on this forum and elsewhere online in regards to 'progressive web apps' and do believe this is liklely to be the future for mobile usage. Anyhow, I wanted to share some recent occurrences / observations and open it up for discussion with the hopes we might build on the topic and see how we might collectively take better advantage of this situation as I really do believe that now, more than ever, the private directional communities that can be developed by forum systems like IPS have a better chance at success. I'm not saying that any of us pose any significant threat to monster platforms like Instagram and Facebook, but I do believe that collectively, we stand to steal back massive amounts of market share, that could very likely accelerate the dynamic we're seeing of people dropping off them.
In regards to the above, I'm wondering what else could be added to IPS to allow it to become that much more compelling an alternative?
Recently it was brought to my attention that the younger generation, a demographic that makes up the majority of Instagram's users, grew up in a post forum era. As such, they're used to seeing all content in reverse chronological order. I've been on forums since the late 1990s so that format makes no sense in terms of reading on going discussion, but in terms of SEO and in terms of younger viewers, I was recently told that it works against what they've grown accustomed to. I know this can be changed in the Admin CP, but I'd like to propose that a per user setting to adjust this would be of great benefit.
Expanding on the above, having a way to also change the default view of comments to instead show comments that have been highlighted - based upon mod / admin selection or user reactions - could be a third view that is more in line with how a lot of users on social platforms are used to seeing comments. (think of Reddit for example, where you see top comments and can then expand the view to see them expanded into a chronological view).
Another area I would love to see improvement in, or at least a more robust plugin solution for, would be in regards to the emails. Would be awesome to see metrics for the transactional emails and especially with any 'newsletter' type emails. In fact, more control to develop templates for dynamically generated emails and then an ability to track their success would be pretty huge.
And last, but not least... The optimized mobile view of the forum is pretty standard, and expected, at this point. Again, I know this topic has been discussed to death here, but it remains of critical importance considering for most of us, mobile traffic represents the majority of all traffic. With technologies like Progressive Web Apps (PWA) evolving and maturing, I very much hope that we see significant improvements in the mobile experience with IPS. In fact, I think this aspect of the forums will likely make or break, or at the very least accelerate or postpone the opportunity we're likely seeing for a huge resurgence in forums.
For those of you that made it this far into my post... Thank you for reading. I very much look forward to the insights and experiences of other forum owners on this topic and really do hope to hear from IPS staff about whether they've noted the same and what plans they have (that they're willing to share) as to whats in the road map to help capitalize on all of this.