I am used as a journalism professor to suggesting to my students that for any specialist topic – a disease, a hobby, a location – they should seek out the online discussion forums chat rooms or mailing lists that relate to it. These can act as sources of expertise or places where they can seek out opinions or story ideas. Only when I have suggested they do this recently and have gone to look for them myself… I found surprisingly very little. It used to be that searching for “[topic] messageboard” or “[topic] forum” or “[topic] mailing list” would nearly always find something. I didn’t even find a discussion board by and for Canadian post-secondary students akin to the UK’s Student Room.
Back in 2011, Pew Internet found “65% of the internet users who are active in groups say they use their groups’ websites… 24% of these internet users say they contribute material to their groups’ online bulletin boards and discussions.”
Have the problems of troll management killed most of these off as it seems to be doing to media comments sections? Has Facebook eaten up most of that discussion time? (I am not finding a lot of very active special interest Facebook groups either – at least not proportional in size to what seems to have been lost).
My students seem to see Reddit subreddits as their “go to” source of topic-centred conversation but Reddit is again not big enough to replace all of the little conversation spaces that used to be around (is it?), and ISTR it trends pretty young. Twitter is a) not usually the same as a message board in terms of length, depth and continuity of dialogue and b) my sense is that it is more a discussion tool for elites than for a broader range of participants.
Do you have the sense this is a real trend? Is anyone still tracking discussion board use? (If it isn’t still being tracked that might itself be a sign of something!)
Where else should I be sending my students online to find and solicit citizen views these days?
And with my communication studies hat on, if the internet-using public loses the “habit” of using online discussion forums, would this not undermine one of the important means the internet could function as a potential space of public “sphericules”?
Our experience suggests the forum’s death has been greatly exaggerated. We’re a young and growing company running a modern, real-time forum platform. One of our primary goals is to bring the user experience and aesthetic of the modern social network to the traditional forum model.
I think you can make a good case that the sheer longevity of the forum concept (20 years), makes it a far better proven model for interest-based discussion and community development. Social networks are excellent at exposing ephemeral ideas and trends, but they lack the permanency and depth that a forum allows.
Comment by Adrian Flitcroft — 1 April 2015 @ 2:04 pm