Are Web Design and SEO Forums a Thing of the Past?

First there was “chat”. I typed in a subject I was interested in and AOL took me to a virtual room where people were talking about it. I shyly disguised my name and joined in the discussion. Before long, my screeching modem was a regular household sound.

The year was 1995. I was a newly divorced mom and did I EVER chat with some fascinating dudes, lemme tell ya.

I inhaled those people I met. They argued. They had ideas. Some were naughty, some weren’t used to the sudden freedom of expression and so they told us everything, in detail. They came from everywhere.

How Freedom Felt

I fell in love with the Internet because nobody knew me and frankly, neither did I. I could make up a different me every day. Some days I was so hot and people actually believed that stuff!

The rest of the story is the same thing that happened to hundreds of thousands of other people. I built my first web site and hosted it on AOL until I learned a better way. Chatting led me to email lists, Deja News, instant chat rooms, IM, newsgroups and eventually eGroups, which Yahoo! ate up and spit back out as Yahoo! Clubs. I hosted and moderated email lists early on, having passed my 10th year of moderating in 2006.

I was employed as a webmaster by companies that had no idea what we did, nor any respect for us either.

The year I went independent and stopped working for everybody else was the same year I left the SEO industry, dove into Usability full-time and started Cre8asiteforums.

When Do Forum Owners Get to Leave?

I realized something over the weekend, while recalling the first few years when I kept telling the forums staff I wanted to get off the ship and let them have it. Now I can’t leave.

I’ve married it.

Did Brett Tabke marry his forums? Did Jill Whalen marry her’s? Does anyone who starts these gigantic projects ever consider how to get off the ride?

Why am I still typing and not out planting trees?

In the news today is the now announced decision by Ammon Johns to leave his post as Adminstrator for Cre8asiteforums. He was the famous guy there. It was never me and Bill Slawski, though to our credit, we know five people now.

What is MY purpose as a forums founder? Who has even heard of Cre8asiteforums? Not everyone. Who is it for? Not everyone. That is our thing. We are a tribe that represents quality vs. quantity, holistic vs. tunnel vision and fireside chats with beer or peach schnapps over shot gun duels to the death.

It is one of many, many forums to choose from and yet if it disappeared tomorrow, I don’t think the hole in its place would be that large. The hole in the hearts of the Community, however, is a completely different matter.

It is for them that we remain committed. It is for you, we have a soft spot.

There are days when I lack the desire to keep this up and without fail, the forums staff puts me straight. They tolerate me quite well.

Why A Forums?

With social media being the fad, yet another new and wonderful way is available to chat with people. We still need to be moderated, as a recent ruckus at Sphinn will show. It’s still fun to have a place where we disguise our names and scream out obscenities because we’re far, far better than everyone else.

Search engine marketing blogs communicate, even if one sided and not always in a chatty way. Nowadays, we can hear real voices with podcasts and view real bodies with video. Forums can’t replace the beauty of watching people doing things online they’d NEVER do in your actual living room.

Are forums dying out?

Have they become narrower in their purpose? For example, at Cre8asite, there is a core group of both active Community members and moderators who visit and participate often. That core is shrinking as their expertise grows, making them more attractive to employers. This, in turn, means less time for forums.

Whereas, an outer ring of people visit only when they need something. They take. They don’t give. They don’t remain long enough to be known or trusted.

I’m wondering if this is our future. We’re still talking to one another but instead of a nice long discussion, we’re now down to votes, comments, 500 word limited blog posts, hopscotching links to get from one thought to another and otherwise no longer staying long enough to care about each other.

When the caring totally stops, that’s when I know it’s time for me to get off the ride.

This topic went “Hot” at Sphinn on September 18.

15 thoughts on “Are Web Design and SEO Forums a Thing of the Past?”

  1. I wouldn’t say they are dying out but with blogs and all the social media sites now available, time becomes more of an issue. There are still two forums I still visit quite frequently – one being Robert Clough’s Small Business Brief, probably because I am committed to him and the community there more than anything else, and the other, a forum called which is the online hot spot for the community I live in. Therefore I think there will always be a use for forums that are focused on some type of niche (i.e. a type of marketing, a community, Mustangs, Disneyland, etc.)

    Yes, forums in our industry may lack some of the activity they used to receive due to sites like Sphinn and even SEOmoz, however I don’t see them dying out as they still offer one of the best venues to start and discuss specific topics.

  2. Thanks David. This leads me to my next questions…

    What determines a “hot” forum? Number of posts? Number of members? Who moderates? Community involvement? Years of existence?

    And how much of the responsibility for the vibrancy of a forum belongs to the staff and how much to the Community itself?

  3. :-) I was hardcore Usenet. Groups I participated in were ran from private servers. No-one, and I mean *no-one*, wanted to be found dead or alive on a (insert puking sound) “web board”!

    And now? Usenet is long from dead. There are many, many extremely active groups. And forums won’t go anyplace soon either.

    A public forum has always been needed. It’s only the means and technology that changes. BBS to web board doesn’t mean something went missing…

    Cheer up, these are exciting times! More and more we see people coming in who *grew up* with all this stuff. “Kids” who think browser-dependent HTML is one of grandmom’s myth. Young ones who make web sites build around standards, filled with passionate content.

    No, no — don’t sit back; the game is only now just beginning!

  4. I can’t believe that forums like yours would ever die away. Although I have lots of blogs in my RSS reader, none of them offer practically immediate responses to questions like a forum with such a collection of respected people. Whenever I post a question on the forum, I get answers from the best in the industry – you, Bill Slawski, Ammon Johns… The varied responses and the tolerance to answer any level question is what makes a forum so special. There will always be newbies who need questions answered, and experienced people who don’t know it all, and a blog doesn’t offer that kind of personal help. I learn a ton from blogs, but it’s just not the same – it’s apples and oranges.

  5. I’d have to say that I think it comes down to the number of people who have the time and the inclination to teach. And a lot of patience. I know I get frustrated at not having the time I used to to spend hours on forums, giving advice and so on.

    On the subject of patience, it’s annoying when your opinion as an expert, is shouted down by someone who’s been doing SEO (read: they can stuff keywords tags like a trooper) for all of a week.

    For me, I gravitated (over a period of about 18 months) away from forums over to blogs, and then from blogs to my own blog and writing projects.

    Forums are great for asking questions and getting a load of answers. But I think as a method for learning a la classroom (being taught, as opposed to asking questions), they’re dying off in favour of blogs, such as SEOmoz.

    There will always be a place for them. I’m just not sure what that place will be, and who it’ll serve. I fear it’ll have far too many opinionated idiots in it though, that’ll do a lot of damage.

    Maybe that’s just the cynic in me though.

  6. Hi Kim.

    Its something I have thought of with the advent of social networking, but in truth these types of activities have driven me back into forum participation not out of them.

    You are right there are a lot of takers who do ask some questions that obviously show they cannot be bothered to go do some basic research and testing and just want answers to their problem. Once they’re given the answer or access to tools then they never give anything back to the forum community… just the way SOME people are I guess in this “gimme your info now for free” day and age.

    Keeping hardcore and long term members interested are the key to ANY group be it online or offline. It is hard – I belonged to a business group that almost failed when someone who motivated the group left – but you know what, another member stood up and naturally took their place.

    Blogging does not give a sense of community and Facebook -well thats ok for my mates/buddies but I think its useless at building online relationships with others in this web industry.

    I consider it a privilege to be a member of one fantastic forum (I can’t say which but its not too far away!) and I cannot see the demise of forums for quite some time to come. …. my 2 cents worth anyway…


  7. i dont think forums are a thing of the past… social media sites dont have the same open threaded conversations that make forusm so popular and unlike blogs where the admin sets the topic of each thread, forums are more organic…

  8. Although I don’t think forums are a thing of the past, I personally have not participated in one for over a year now.

    This is probably due to many reasons, including lack of time, better information from blogs, tired of hearing people ask the same questions, inaccurate advice being given out by people who are respected because of their post-count rather than how much they know, and various other little annoyances that I don’t get with blogs and social media.

    Sometimes I think I should go back into the forums every once in awhile, but then I remember I don’t even have time to read all of the blogs I want to read. So going to forums is probably off the agenda.

  9. The means by which we are communicating across the web have changed massively in recent times. Forums were born out of an age of far greater simplicity. These days, with the advent of ‘web 2.0′ we have many new and exciting means by which we can communicate with others who share similar interests. I agree with the point made above that they will serve smaller, more focussed groups but they will by no means die out completely.

  10. Would I pay to participate?

    The demand is there with SEOMoz having premium (paid?) content you can sign up to but it hasn’t got my attention yet…

    Would I pay to be part of a forum?

    Yes and no… depends on the content and members…. plus if it was a small monthly amount that went towards costs and a little profit that would certainly make it a yes…

  11. I don’t distinguish between social networking, forums and email discussion because to me they are all “communities”! The commuunication medium is all that is really different. Blogs are less “community” then all of the above, however, you can see community in the comments.

    Communities sustain themselves because they are based on “common interest” not being the newest thing on the net.

    IMO, rather then spending time on building a presence on one of the big sites like MySpace and Facebook I’d rather build my own “Niche Social networking community” which augments the sites content and stickiness.

    IMO, Social Networking is overhyped and Facebook and MySpace are just waiting to join the GeoCities. They are susceptible to “the new best thing” syndrome that is often seen on the internet.

  12. Hi Kim,

    I’m glad someone is finally writing about the implications of social network sites, like Sphinn, have on forums.

    I really enjoyed reading this discussion and everyones comments.
    While I don’t think you can make an apples to apples comparison between social networking sites (Sphinn) and an ecommerce forum (cre8) – it seems like only physics that all forums will suffer some attenuation in the short run.

    Personally, I think it is survival of the fittest (good). I’m sure the cre8forums, along with the handful of other elite ecommerce forums around, will benefit trememndously, as they will undoubtebly absorb the smaller forums out there that don’t survive the paradigm shift.

    I’m glad that Sphinn came into existence – it has spiced up the online marketing community quite a bit.


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