The Phorum, Part 5: New Ownership

You’ve been following me on the saga of the online message board known as the Phorum. Though it started with humble beginnings, it grew into a stand-alone website owned by my brother’s friend Josh.

The Phorum had five boards: Off-Topic, Faith, Music, Movies, and Literature. But unbeknownst to most members, there was actually a sixth board: Admins. It was a place for the admin and moderator team to discuss private matters related to running the site.

Originally it was me, my brother Mark, and Josh as admins. My brother stopped being involved fairly early in the Phorum’s life, however, and eventually the workload grew to be so great that Josh and I decided to take on another mod, a long-time member who went by the nickname Schil. The three of us would use the Admin board to run mod actions by each-other when judgment was required and coordinate our responses when necessary. Incidentally, it also served as a “recycle bin” for the Phorum, as deleted posts would wind up there (so if someone messaged us saying “I accidentally deleted my magnum opus” we could recover it, or if someone posted something hateful, thought better of it and deleted it, and then tried to pretend it never happened, we had a record of it).

One day, several years into the life of the Phorum, Josh posted a topic in the Admin board: “Paying for the Phorum.”

In it, he said that the yearly hosting bill was coming due, and though he wasn’t in dire straits he found himself in a position where he needed to ask for help. He was wondering if one of us could cover part or all of the bill for that year.

I gladly volunteered to take it over. Josh’s participation had been waning as of late; he was planning his wedding, and was also focusing more of his time on his professional writing career. I could fully understand that the Phorum would be lower on his budgetary priority list. Meanwhile, I still greatly enjoyed the Phorum and the relationships and conversations it represented, and I was willing to cover the bill. Josh gave me the login details with our host, and boom…I had a website.

In some ways, the site had always been “mine” — though Josh was the president and CEO, I was the Chief Technical Officer. I handled almost all of the site-related duties. But now, I held the reins! Through the power of the purse, it was fully and completely my site! I could do anything with it that I wanted!

As the first move in my new reign, I…changed absolutely nothing. In fact, we didn’t even announce anything, and the average member had no idea anything had taken place.

As Josh gradually faded from the picture, I strove to lead the Phorum with wisdom, fairness, and impartiality, and I think I did OK. Schil continued to help me out with various moderation tasks, and became one of my closest friends on the site as others gradually drifted away.

I happily paid our hosting bill and the domain renewal fee every year. It wasn’t that much, honestly…our hosting company extremely generous, and our rates stayed the same over all the years we were its customer. Their owner sent out a very sporadic newsletter, which I always read — even if most of it wasn’t relevant to me, Chuck’s relentless good cheer was always a mood-booster.

One day, in the newsletter, there was something curious. An opportunity to join the “Founder’s Club.” The terms sounded so good, I figured there must be a catch: if I paid a one-time fee of just $200, I would get free hosting…for life. I’d still have to pay for the domain name, of course (which was something like $10 a year), but I wouldn’t have any other hosting bills…ever.

It seemed ridiculous. $200 a year is probably what I would be paying anyway at a normal hosting company, and the Phorum would have to be around for just three more years for me to come out ahead!

I might not have gone for it, were it not for my personal knowledge of Chuck, the owner and sole employee of the hosting company. I knew he would never do anything to cheat his customers. I also knew that in pursuit of his mission and his ministry to provide cheap hosting to churches and faith-based organizations, he often made decisions that were not…the most financially sound. Reading between the lines, I suspected that he found himself in need of a cash infusion and decided to try borrowing from Peter (i.e. his future self) to pay Paul (his current self).

So I went for it. I felt like I was taking advantage of him, but he was ever so grateful.

Thus, I found myself well-situated: I was the owner of a website with free hosting for life, a place for some old friends and I to hang out and watch the world go by together.

What could go wrong?

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