When I was a teenager forums were all the rage. I joined the Uplink forum back in February 2002, nearly eleven years ago. From there I was part of other forums to varying extents eventually establishing Wooden Dice in February 2005. There was also the European PSP forum for a while until that was closed down by Sony after a failed merging attempt with their Playstation forums.

With that brief overview of my history you can get the idea that I might know a thing of two about forums and how to build communities with them.

This post isn’t about the slow death of forums as a medium per se but instead is about what community means online as of January 2013.

Recently I wrote about Google Plus and touched on its community features. The core concept was good but the implementation looked too much hassle to administrate, let alone encourage participation from casual users.

So what does one do to establish an online community these days?

Facebook’s ubiquity would be a plus you might think but it my experience it’s practically a walled garden. Some people browse elsewhere and bring it onto FB while others only consume and reshare things.

In terms of setting up a community presence for things I honestly don’t know where to start these days. Some of us on WD used to play Minecraft on our server. It was open to any WD member (rather than anonymous strangers) but ultimately trying to grow that community through forums is virtually pointless. A few of us would talk Minecraft on the forum but ultimately the only way the player count would go is down as there’s no convenient way of bringing new people in.

I would imagine the same is probably true of many online games. They might have their own little forum but unless they’re super popular the community will be at its largest at launch and from then on will dwindle until it finally dies.

Given the accessible nature of the ‘net one might think that reaching critical mass for a community would be easier than in person but I’m finding that these days that’s simply not the case. Meeting people in person creates a stronger bond than online whereas long ago I could get to know someone much better online. These days I feel our attentions are fragmented across social networks of various kinds to the point where there isn’t enough in common on a protocol level for us to share the higher level things we share.

This is what I meant about G+ communities – the barrier to entry is simply too high. What pains me is that I do not know how to fix this, at least at the moment.

I still love forums but I think that they may be too slow for today’s web users. Reddit is excellent in some ways but I find it very difficult to identify people I haven’t conversed with directly; it feels a very lonely place as a result. In /r/Edinburgh I use Reddit Enhancement Suite to tag people I’ve met in person with their real names in an odd reversal of how things used to be. Back in the day one would see usernames, avatars, and a signature and have a mental profile for each person like that. These days I see a small username but it tells me very little about the person, so little as to become essentially anonymous.

I wish I could say whether this is a step forward or back.

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