Saturday, December 09, 2006


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...


  1. Wow!
    Al, I read this and thought, "Yup, I hear ya". It takes but one fool to spoil the whole flavour of a forum, and sadly we have had one or two recently. All the points you raised are valid and it would be so easy to "let go". But to start again takes way too much effort.
    Call me old fashioned but I believe good will out. By keeping a postive attitude and ignoring the negative I know we can restore a health, positive vibe.
    And your knowledgable, personable input is respected and enjoyed by folk the world over. Believe me!
    Dinosaur? Nah....just experienced ;)
    A Friend

  2. I sincerely hope you will continue to participate, Alf. You are a mine of information and hard-earned experience. I have learnt so much from you and others like you. As Phil said, your input is respected and enjoyed and long may it continue.

    Paul Chapman

  3. Alf,

    It is bad enough that you have stopped reviewing kit after the comments of a few ill-considered and ill-mannered folk, don't go abandoning us entirely please.

    I guess the only way to keep such things entirely without negative feeling would be to apply membership criteria along the lines of a gentlemen's club where membership is by recommendation/invitation only, is limited in number, and can be removed at any time if enough other members agree.

    Noli nothis permittere te terere.

    Oh, and if its me, please accept my sincere apologies.

  4. I have only just found your site.

    What fun! Thanks. Michael.

  5. Alf, as long as you feel you can help a new starter, or accomplished member for that matter, produce an end product then I as a relative newcomer say there is a place for you to fill. I cannot express the gratitude I owe to the forum members who suffered (and still do) my amateurish efforts, they were a life saver to me.

    There are times when there does seem to be a surfeit of those who can afford and promote the glossy end of the tool market, this is one area your ‘galoot’ experience can be of benefit to newcomers to the field to provide a balance, all too often they are lead to purchase exotic tools by magazines etc. which, just because they are the most expensive does not mean that they are the most suitable for the individuals experience, skill level or project.

    To me it is quite frustrating to see ‘discussions’ resorting to brand loyalty levels when a subjective investigation and determination of the cause of any problems and the subsequent challenge to the manufacturer would be more beneficial to future purchasers.

  6. Hi chaps (and welcome, Michael), I wasn't fishing for Alfette devotion and cries of "say it ain't so, Joe", really I wasn't (although they're nice to get, I admit). No, it's not even individuals being difficult that's the problem - I blogged this before the recent unpleasantness, so no blame there, please. Simply that the whole nature of forum life has changed and I'm not convinced I have the energy, or desire, to change with them. In effect I'm like the person yearning for the good old days when you could leave your front door open and everyone knew everyone else's business. It's a nice thought, but things have, quite rightly, evolved to a different stage and you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube - perhaps even if you could you shouldn't anyway.

    Heck, I'm not giving up before I've reached 10000 posts anyway which should take us until about a third of the way into 2007. and I might have got all bullish and what-the-heck about stuff again by then ;)

  7. A touch of the pre-crimbo December blues methinks. You're not that old Alf and it will be many years yet before we start calling you a dinosaur! Don't go giving up on something that you enjoy just because of a select ill mannered few- it's not constructive!

    Hope the back is better,


  8. Hi alf

    as you say sorry to see the old site go.I realy missed your imput and wit when you left and was pleased to find your new place on uk etc. but you had changed your style a bit. Glade to have found your blog, often drop by. sorry never written before but I dont post much these days.
    Keep well


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