Super Piston Slap: Fixing an Automotive…Forum?
I started my professional (so to speak) automotive writing career as a moderator of an automotive message forum. Perhaps you, dear reader, are like me: actually giving a crap about the Internet once you realized there were forums to learn more about your car. If so, I need your advice when it comes time to help the place that helps so many.
Piston Slap owes its existence to my 13-year tenure on a forum that’s fading off the map. I’m not interested in astroturfing TTAC for fake interest in this forum, so I’m not naming names…between my corporate gig, my blathering rants here and my [s]idiotic[/s] brilliant automotive projects, I am still the Super Moderator (thanks for that, vBulletin) of this forum. I’m saddened by what I see, 13 years deep in the game.
How do you make a forum vibrant again? Here are the problems, in no particular order:
- Declining number of active members, new posts
- Declining activity of forum moderators, including yours truly.
- Several seemingly superfluous, zombie grade sub-forums of modest utility (Audio, Appearance and Cruise-in Forums)
- No future in sight for newer vehicles of this brand bringing in new fans (personal opinion)
FWIW, this is a “family owned” forum, there is very little advertising…far less than you see here. It shall be that way in the foreseeable future. So money aside, when you get vested in something, you hate to see it in trouble. But here I am.
While I suspect Mr. Kreindler's suggestion might be "Let them eat cake," as a dyed-in-the-wool forum guy, I empathize with your situation, sir. I've been doing this since the late 90s. I've built a few boards, run a couple others, moderated or otherwise been promoted on still others. The problem comes from the strict adherence to the old way of doing things. Most boards seem to be make/model/platform/pursuit/place-specific. These generally have finite timelines. Some people leave to pursue the latest and greatest - their passion is figuring out new platforms. Others leave when the next generation becomes more affordable. Still others leave because they're just tired of dealing with worn-out, consistently neglected vehicles. There's a lot of good advice in the comments here; particularly the suggestions to simplify the board for improved exposure to what remaining activity its got. What I would point out is that you've probably got a contingent of regulars who, although they've since moved on to other models, continue to frequent the site. The machines bring us together. The PEOPLE who keep us coming back. What percentage of your community is empowered to maintain it? It seems you might stick with the now well-used format of a dozen sub-forums for engine, gearbox, suspension, interior, racing, off-topic, for sale, et al.. Do you still have a handful of moderators policing a larger number of regular members? I've been advocating mass promotions for years. Nobody seems to have the balls to give it a shot, but I believe that, if you show the few members you've got how much they mean to you by TRUSTING them to edit, move, and lock threads, you give them a sense of vested ownership in something bigger than themselves. But take it a step further! Give them seats at the table. Speak to the spirit of the community and empower them to make the changes necessary to keep the people there interested and caring about the community. It's about more than just the nth generation Thunderclutch-Whirlydingy. Besides, what do you have to lose?
I don't know about the TTAC editors, but I would like to know the actual URL of the place you're talking about so I can get some perspective of what it's all about. If you're talking about a Pinto or MR2 owner's forum or something like that, I'm just not sure it's a growing market. As the cars die off, so do your users.
Forums were originally about the social aspect of the internet, a community of people with similar interests that you could communicate with. The fact that we could reference the tech information in them was more of an afterthought. Then Facebook/Twitter/Circles/Etc comes along and eliminates the need for social forum. Craigslist replaced For Sale subforums, Ebay and internet commerce replaced Vendor subforums, Tire Rack already runs most of the Wheel and Tire subforums I have ever seen, etc. I used to use forums all the time, but lately they have all pretty much been sucking. The format is just not conducive to finding useful information. Once you figure out how to do a search with the stupid captcha, you end up with hundreds of results, most of which are other people searching for the same thing you searched for, and a hundred responses from the regulars telling them to use the search button. Then you have to weed through all the noobs and wrong answers to find someone who really knows what they are talking about. That's why I said "Let it die". What we need are sites with useful information stored and cataloged in a useful way: a knowledgebase for whatever car you are interested in. As questions are asked in the "forum", then answered, the correct and useful information needs to be moved to the knowledgebase, then DELETED. Why do we need threads of useless crap from 2002? I would guess 95% of a forum's content is completely irrelevant. Anything older than a year should be deleted. That's the entire problem with the internet in general, we now have way too much information stored to sift through and it makes the entire process unmanageable.
A general, but not too general, forum should last a long while, ex Mazda247. More often than not, the best contributors are the ones buying the car new or relatively so. As soon as a particular model reaches less than $10k on the used market, the real idiots show up, and the long-timers with some sense and personal income, go somewhere else. Exceptions are found where the cars have a rather fanatical fan base, example: RX-7. It also helps if the model has active meets and gatherings. For the rotaries, Sevenstock (west) and Deal's Gap (east) provide yearly places to associate faces with screen names and to show off one's latest mods. Same with the Mazda-only areas at GrandAm events.