If you’ve been on the internet for a while, chances are you’ve come across online forums in the past. The late 2000s and early 2010s were the heydays of online forums. While many are still online and enjoy an active user base, it’s fair to say that they have much less popularity than before.
The rise of social media killed online forums for a multitude of reasons; some you can probably guess, and others will be a surprise.
1. A Lack of Innovation From Forum Owners
Online is a fast-moving place, and while social media tends to adapt and change with the times, forums remain fairly static. Most forums that continue to see regular use still run on myBB or phpBB (amongst other software), which—while solid and likely familiar to you—is fairly old software.
While you may be happy with the familiarity that comes from forums, a lot of people expect much more innovation than these platforms typically get. Even if social media platforms are sometimes slow to implement changes that their user base wants, you’re probably less likely to stick around for changes to happen on a forum that already falls short of many features that social media offers.
Social media, by design, knows how to grab your attention and then hold it. You likely find yourself scrolling for a while on Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media before realizing you’ve lost track of time. While you could have the same experience on a forum, social media platforms are more adept at maintaining users’ attention. This is because they run on an attention economy model, as your sustained usage makes these platforms money.
The fast-moving nature, mixed media types (text, image, and video), and design principle of scrolling through a “timeline” encourage you to “catch up” are all examples of social media trying to keep you on the platform for longer. On a forum, you have many subsections—each with their own threads. They tend to be a bit more narrow in focus and long-form and predominately text-based, which is easier to pull yourself out of because it takes more sustained focus to navigate.
3. Forums Seem Outdated
Forums have been a part of the web for over two decades, so it’s no surprise if you find them outdated. In many areas of life, not just technology, people tend to gravitate toward the newest thing. With social media becoming the dominant form of communication years ago, forums will fade further into obscurity as time goes on.
This is because young internet users will learn from people around them that are older about social media, and the less they see forums, the less chance they’ll think to sign up for one. As time goes on, forums will likely become more obscure and more outdated—leading to fewer signups.
4. Forums Tend to Be Dedicated Around One Subject
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, of course, but forums typically are dedicated to one subject—even if the actual boards have sections for many topics. Examples include mothers for MumsNet, gamers for IGN boards, and so on.
Forums commonly have a subsection where you can talk about everyday life stuff, films, TV shows, games, anything that isn’t related to the primary subject it was created for. However, because of this dedication to a single subject, it can lead to you thinking that they’re very niche. This may not be favorable compared to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, all of which cover pretty much anything—and connect you to people based on a comprehensive algorithm or your manual searches.
5. Apps Are More User-Friendly
You likely have dozens of apps on your phone. It’s possible you even regularly use most of them, even if it’s pretty common for most apps on a users’ phone to go ignored for months at a time. In any case, you probably agree that apps are more user-friendly than simply using a browser. Even though social media can negatively affect you, you’re more likely to prioritize the convenience that apps and social media provide rather than the negative impacts that usage can cause.
This is a big reason social media killed online forums because they typically can be used on a mobile app as well as a browser, whereas forums can only be used on browsers. While you can access most forums via your mobile browser, it’ll be clunky and less responsive than an app—and almost definitely less friendly to navigate. The accessibility that apps provide makes people more likely to stick to them rather than go out of their way to use a forum on a browser to connect with people.
6. The Rise of Facebook Groups
Facebook Groups are extremely popular, with over 1.8 billion people using them monthly. It’s no surprise; they are well-designed and make it simple to keep up with conversations. As they are typically narrowly focused on a certain subject, it means that you can get information or conversation on specific subjects without even having to leave the Facebook app.
While you may find that it’s still harder to find older conversations on Facebook Groups than on a forum, the accessibility that they offer is undeniable. No other social media really has a competing feature, with LinkedIn Groups often littered with self-promotion, non-moderated conversations, and a lack of presence compared to Facebook Groups. This, combined with the popularity of Facebook’s platform on the whole, means that their Groups feature is extremely popular—and these were also big reasons that online forums fell by the wayside over the past decade.
While you can still find active online forums and perhaps even miss them if you used them back in their glory days, it’s fairly clear that social media has dominated the way we talk to each other online for many years.
While there’s a lot to love about forums, they simply don’t have the same pull they used to. Gaming forums typically tend to perform well still, and you can find a lot of great discussion on them on a platform that promotes more long-form discussion than social media typically tends to.
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