I’ve been telling the story of the Phorum, an online messageboard. At the end of our last installation, I had (at the request of the previous owner) taken over ownership and full control of the Phorum.
Occasionally, people left.
There was a core group of members who had at that point been around for nearly a decade. But gradually, more and more people stopped posting. The online messageboard, which was snazzy in the 90s and nigh-ubiquitous in the early 2000s, had become outdated. Social media provided a place for people to be the stars of their own show rather than co-participants in a conversation, and it additionally offered a much more media-heavy experience. Meanwhile super-boards like Reddit were becoming popular, offering those with niche interests a global community of like-minded individuals and providing imaginary Internet points in the form of karma to gamify the whole experience. Compared to the allure of these new media, a largely-defunct messageboard consisting of a few online acquaintances posting about whatever could not hope to compete.
I began drafting a letter, titled “The Phuture of the Phorum,” in which I warned the members about the site’s imminent demise. It was a long, rambling affair where I mused on the purpose of online communication media and pondered the question of whether the Phorum was filling its purported purpose any longer. I mention a few problems I saw, problems I was not sure had good solutions. And in the end I…well, I never managed to end the letter satisfactorily. What was I going to do? Was it a plea for someone else to take over? A warning the that the site was shutting down? An invitation to discuss the future together? Even I wasn’t quite sure.
The letter sat unpublished for a few years.
I could never really find a compelling reason to pull the plug. The site cost me basically nothing, and it wasn’t even taking a significant amount of my time. Shutting things down just felt selfish and pointless.
After I moved to New Zealand and began a whole series of new adventures (I took the opportunity of April Fools’ day to announce I was moving to New Zealand. Most members saw it as a fairly low-effort joke on my part. When I posted the next day that it hadn’t actually been a joke, the responses were everything I had hoped), I began feeling less and less invested in the Phorum. I had for a long while resisted starting a blog, because I felt as though a blog was too one-sided: I’m the one writing it, and everyone else is relegated to writing comments. I preferred genuine discussion among equals, hence a messageboard. After starting my own blog, the exact circumstance I predicted came to pass: I invested far more energy into the self-focused medium of blogging than I did in the community-focused medium of the messageboard.
After several years, where the active membership dwindled into the single digits, I began to think more seriously about shutting things down. I had started dating the woman who would one day become my wife, I was living my best life as a world traveler, and I was working hard to build community in the church. Although I didn’t have any big reason to shut things down, I realized I also didn’t have any real compelling reason to keep the Phorum around.
The majority of the letter I’d been drafting for several years went unused. I made a very short post (the contents of which, unfortunately, are lost to time) explaining the above. I explained that there wasn’t anything about the Phorum that made me want to shut it down. It was just that we all have a limited amount of time and mental energy in this world, and I was choosing to spend mine elsewhere.
The members generally agreed. Nobody put up much of a fuss. It was time.
Since we had free lifetime hosting, I could have just left the Phorum up in read-only mode, if I’d wanted to. But I felt that the responsible thing to do was to take it down, as the Great Phorum Hack could happen again and I didn’t want to put the members’ email addresses and passwords at risk.
I replaced the domain with a simple landing page containing a haiku:
Fourteen years of posts
No longer available
But this is not the end of the story. Stick around next time for the (genuinely) startling twist.