A Graveyard of Online Forums

As the Wall Street Journal and other media report that Salon.com might be seeking a buyer or a merger, rumors (and in some cases outright panic) began to spread among the faithful users of Open Salon that the popular online community might be unceremoniously axed.  Talk of the death of OS is premature, but it made me think of worst case scenarios and brought to mind sad memories of other online forums that were near and dear to my heart that are no longer around.

Long before social media became one of the pillars of the Web 2.0, the Internet was full of communities posting on message boards and other online forums.  Before there even was a World Wide Web, people were reading and writing comments and essays on Usenet newsgroups.  Forums like those revolutionized electronic communication, giving the public an option for two-way communication about topics that interested them rather than settle for the one-way messages they were receiving from mainstream media.  The masses began generating and sharing their own content instead of just passively receiving what professional media practitioners were dishing out to them.

Virtual communities were born on every topic imaginable, and some of them had peaks of greatness.  The sad part is that many of my favorite forums fizzled away for various reasons, or outright died -- all those conversations, gone in the ether of cyberspace! 

I learned to backup my writing because one never knows when the Grim Reaper will come calling for a Web site.  While it lasted, I had great discussions about film on America Online's Movie Boards and about screenwriting on Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope.com.  I had a blast for a few years posting and moderating fun topics on EZBoard communities like The Robside and The Forgotten Place Reborn, among others.  Many of those sites are now long gone.  Shadows of some of them can still be glimpsed using Archive.org's Wayback Machine, but many of the words are lost forever, except in the cases where I had the foresight to back them up.

Just like television pioneers failed to save many of their live broadcasts, many early online forums unfortunately did not archive their threads.  The lessons we learned from those early days are plentiful, but the most important was that even seemingly trivial commentary and banal feedback might be worth preserving.  Nostalgia is a good enough motivation, but as I looked over some of the things I wrote and saved from those forums almost ten years ago, much of it was quite entertaining and thought-provoking. 

Some critics call online writing a waste of time.  Some say that blogging is a passing trend.  But those early forums prove that what might be viewed as often unfiltered words by amateur journalists, fanboys, and writers, often feature many gems among the rough, which makes it all worth keeping -- and continuing.