I’m old, not that old, but certainly ‘older’ in the internet based automotive community. I am part of the generation that’s been around long enough to experience first hand how the internet affected the automotive landscape.
When I got my first car it was during a transition period where internet forums/message boards really started to take off and become commonplace. High speed internet finally became affordable (hands up if you remember 56k warnings) and as a result I lived on ‘boards like r3vlimited, e30sport (then e30tech) and Maxbimmer. Later, when I switched vehicles, I became an s10forum member, and then a torontomazda3 and mazda3forums member.
Additionally I was a member of several forums of cars I was just plain interested in. Vip cars, off-roading, kustoms, hot rods, I’ve got memberships to at least one of each.
Forums quickly became an incredibly popular, and more importantly, useful tool. Message boards helped bridge the gap between what was left out of magazines due to space, and what’s glossed over on television in favor of scripted drama. They also helped fill in the blanks between the straight forward maintenance approach of the Haynes manual and what you actually wanted to do, modify your car.
The information I’ve gleaned from vBulletin or phpBB powered scripture has been invaluable to my progression as an enthusiast. I’ve also managed to pinch many a penny through classified sections and made lifelong friends through meets organized on forums.
Yes, I’m a big proponent of the value of forums and honestly have probably spent more hours than I should have on Message boards, grades, sleep, work be damned.
I’m sure that I am not the only one who’s raced inside (or now checked my phone), mid project and fingers greasy, to re-read a post on how to un-clip a stubborn connector, or how to route a part around a steering rack just to side step dealing with rusted bolts.
I’d also wager that I am not the only person who, after reading a build thread felt motivated to start on a project that I previously saw as out of reach. Seeing someone of the same approximate level of skill succeed at a task usually reserved for a shop full of the latest and greatest tools and trained employees, is extremely motivating to the weekend warrior do it yourself enthusiast.
Forums are not of course flawless trolls annoy, spambots irritate, and misinformation is common but for the most part forums bring more to the table than they take away.
Sadly I’ve noticed that many of the forums I used to frequent have become quite inactive. Some of that can be chalked up to life, as familiar faces transition to new platforms, or lose their free hours to responsibility such as 9-5 jobs and children. But, it also seems that in general people are signing up to forums less.
Not being a forum admin I don’t have any numbers to back up my claim, but my gut tells me the clock is ticking on forums as people move to other platforms.
Instant gratification seems to be what people blame a host of the worlds problems on, but in the case of forums I think it has certainly been a contributing factor.
It’s easier to post something on Instagram or Facebook than it is a forum. A few quick taps on a mobile optimized interface and you’ve instantly given people an update on your build or got the answer you were searching for.
Unfortunately those platforms are largely self-serving. Answers don’t live forever and the community aspect is lost. How many of you are in Facebook groups where the same question is asked several times a month? Previously in a forum based community we could refer the user to the search page.
Frustratingly Facebook search returns primarily what Facebook (the company that has share holders to appease) wants you to see, and Instagram search isn’t really designed to pull back any useful information a timely fashion.
YouTube isn’t the worst substitute, but it lacks the easy questioning and answering ability provided by the quoting feature on forums and well, we all know what YouTube comments can be like.
All that said, though the writing has been on the wall for the last few years, forums have still manged to hold their value if nothing more than as archives. That was of course until a few weeks ago when they were put on life support thanks to the unlikeliest of sources, PhotoBucket.
Dead links have always been a problem in older threads, but PhotoBucket’s choice to charge $399 a year for the ability to use their service on third-party websites is a big deal. To put things in perspective I pay less than that to host this site and register the domain year over year.
Thanks to Photobucket’s recent play for the wallets of web users everywhere thousands of useful threads have been rendered nearly useless. This is akin to someone walking into a library and removing the images from 80% of the how to books and about 70% of the inspirational magazines.
It’s a serious blow to a system that is perhaps getting too old to take it. Yes there are alternatives but going back and updating the past is a daunting task that few are going to take up the torch and do.
Am I over-reacting, seeing the world through my doom and gloom glasses once more to romanticize a dead technology? Maybe, but I also think that without these archives, these globally, available caches of knowledge fewer and fewer are going to venture forth under their hoods and try things themselves.
Sure, enthusiasts prior to the advent of the internet had to learn the hard way, and managed to do incredible things when left to their own devices, but we live in a different time now. Auto shop isn’t in every school, and sure as hell isn’t mandatory. Cars are becoming more complicated to service at home, and, with the drive towards automated vehicles who knows what might happen to the modern enthusiast.
The naturally mechanically inclined will continue to make headway on their projects, but the rest of us? Well the rest of us better start saving what we can before forums are gone for good.
We’ve taken them for granted assuming they would be around forever but now more than ever we should cherish the ones that are still alive and active, they are the last of a dying breed.