The Phorum, Part 6: Not With a Bang, but a Whimper

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 The online messageboard, which was snazzy in the 90s and nigh-ubiquitous in the early 2000s, had become outdated.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The letter sat unpublished for a few years.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
Error 404

But this is not the end of the story. Stick around next time for the (genuinely) startling twist.

One thought on “The Phorum, Part 6: Not With a Bang, but a Whimper

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