Caution! Nothing to do with real woodworking and everything to do with fora - feel free to skip it.
The final demise of the MSN UKwoodworking group recently got me in reflective mode. This was the early front-runner in the wunnerful world of UK woodworking fora. I joined up five and more years ago, when I was first online and it was hosted on Yahoo Clubs. Anyone remember those?! Yahoo killed the clubs and Yahoo Groups was frankly awful, so after a lot of looking and one abortive try-out on Community Zero, we ended up at MSN. Not ideal, and we lost some members who didn't care for the MS connection, but we toddled along quite nicely with UKwoodworking for a couple of years, give or take. Why did it die the death? Well mainly 'cos of one ill-mannered individual actually, but it would have gone in the end anyway. It was a dinosaur. The membership were almost exclusively amateurs, no axes to grind, no influence to speak of, no self-consciousness about saying silly but funny things, no-one trying to sell anything (except the occasional dodgy bit of porn, which was deleted) and, perhaps most importantly of all, everyone pretty much "knew" everyone else. You could tease someone, make a joke slightly at their expense, have a good old disagreement over something, whatever, but when push came to shove everyone knew where the winking smilies were and that a disagreement over one thing didn't mean a lifetime's alienation. I can't help but feel they were more innocent times.
These days? God help us, internet fora have a degree of influence. Influence equates to power, and power frequently fails to bring out the best in people. Look at all those Roman emperors... And fora have got bigger. Much bigger. Too big for one man and a dog to look after, so you need a body of moderators to look after things. And if the membership is too large to have a hope of all being on the same wavelength you should try half a dozen moderators trying to make a decision. So if those setting the tone of a forum can't agree, and the forum membership is sufficiently large that the range of characters and opinions is such that there are bound to be disagreements, well you start to get trouble. But of course that influence also brings the commercial sector into the equation, and they want to sell stuff and then there's even more pressure on moderators to strike the right balance. And, inevitably, some people won't like one or other aspect so they fall by the wayside.
So it comes to pass that one day you wake up to this, look around you and find you're part of a forum that has virtually nothing in common with the one you joined and many of your old friends have simply faded away. You can't write anything without second guessing what someone else will say and wondering whether it'll result in spending the next three days posting a defence of your legitimate alternative position. So you start to hesitate to post. I've found posting to forums is a habit; once you're in the groove you'll not hesitate to post even a silly comment if you think it may amuse. Get out of the habit, and suddenly a useful and informative post becomes too much effort to type. So inexorably that forum you don't recognise any more becomes less and less recognisable and you post less and less, so it's less and less like the place you used to know and love, so you post even less, and so... ad infinitum.
Just recently there's been a brief flurry of posts that almost restore my faith and make me feel like the forum I know isn't entirely gone away. Almost. But increasingly it feels like just a matter of time before we shall go our separate ways.
The fact is it's dawning on me that the dinosaur is probably me...