Forums Are On Life Support, Won’t Someone Think Of The Build Threads?

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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.

My e30, a car that wouldn’t end up how it was without forums

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.

Image from Heist’s Build Thread – stanceworks.com

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.

Image from 3 piece RPF1’s among other custom parts thread – VWVortex.com

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.

Image from 67 Cutlass Supreme – oldschool lowrider build – Jan 17 – losboulevardos.com

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.

Image from 1949 Chevy 3600 into a daily driver – 67-72trucks.com

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.

22 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been seeing a lot of that damned image on the forums recently and it is a shame…some bean counter(s) at photobucket decided that bumping their bottomline a few thousand (maybe tens of thousands?) is worth taking a very valuable archive of automotive (and a lot of other hobbies I’m not into) knowledge for ransom. I can only hope karma returns the favor to this loathsome group of bean counters…

  2. This change at PB kind of drills home something that’s been bugging me for a while… do we really own our content online? Everyone posts to Facebook/Instagram and Twitter, but any of those could close or change terms of service to the users detriment with no notice, and then all your content has gone. Same with forums really, especially the small ones run on no budget. I don’t have a good suggestion though, short of having your own domain name and paying for hosting.

  3. I’m a forum owner and recently screen scraped all of E30tech and put it on http://www.e30techarchive.com in an attempt to keep the data. Forums take too much time and are too hard to navigate on phones. Instead of seeing this as a negative, some entrepreneur needs to see this as a new market.

    Forums are like carbs. Yea they worked, but they weren’t that great. FB is like direct injection. It’s new and sexy but it has a ton of kinks. BUT it’s still much more useful than carbs.

    Someone needs to fill the gap. Mourn the forum but don’t try to bring it back.

    • Wow, good on you for doing that. That’s a pretty big undertaking.

      I agree that Forums are not great on a phone, but I do browse a few threads on my phone none the less (forum commuter). An app could be made to fill the gap, but it would have to be pretty refined to pull people from Facebook and insta. Though not a bad idea at all.

      • Forums filled 2 purposes, social and informational. We get the social via other means now. It’s the information/build threads that are dying as a result. Someone needs to be able to pull out their phone, search for the answer, not find it, and post the question all within 1 minute. Even build threads are in photo albums on FB or IG these days.

        To me, bringing the forum back is a square peg in a round hole. There’s still a gap to be filled as your article pointed out. The solution isn’t to make forums better. It’s to find some better way to wiki the collective knowledge easily.

        • I think there’s also value in a home for builds that isn’t Facebook or IG dependent because if (unlikely) they die we’re back here. I agree (begrudgingly) that bringing back the traditional forum is likely not the answer.

    • First of all, as someone who owns a forum and several FB groups, forums are not dead. The ones you visit just use really bad forum tech most likely (vBulletin 4, designed before the iPhone). Board using new technology like XenForo, IPB, etc are actually good to use on mobile. Check my board for yourself: https://www.spoolstreet.com

      Also, Google does not index Facebook Groups. So every noob question you answer will be asked over and over, because it will never come up as a search. By even allowing those posts in groups, the noob question issue becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because eventually there really is nothing good coming up in search results if its all hidden away inside Facebook groups with an awful search system.

        • Hello Dave,

          Yes we allow photos to be uploaded. We provide a media gallery as well. The photos get resized, but we allow them. Our forum supports things like drag and drop uploading, etc. A lot of the cumbersome aspects of dealing with attachments is removed. You just drag them into the text area and its done.

  4. Hey Dave great article. I am pissed at PhotoB for holding my content hostage. If they wanted to charge make it from this day forward. I guess I’m still older school, I am probably on a forum more than FaceB. I have always wondered what happens to the old content on the interweb, just goes away?

    • There’s a website called “the way back machine” that you can get peaks at certain timelines of websites online. It’s not perfect but it works. Other than that, google cache works to a point as well. All hope isn’t lost but don’t count on anything on the internet being there forever. Except your nudes

  5. I moderate a forum for the owners of Hatteras yachts. Our traffic has always been sparse but steady. The fact that it hasn’t changed may be due to the age of most of the members- we are probably older than the Snapchat and Instagram generation, for the most part. I don’t use PB myself. It’s a shame they got so greedy; asking for a few dollars might have been okay, but $399? Give me a break.

  6. First, great article. I’m an admin at a fairly large, tractor based, forum. I’ve noticed some erosion, and the FB debacle was devastating, personally, and to the forum archives. I believe forums, because of the social aspect will continue to exist on some level, but I also believe the high water mark is past.

    Forums have been a tremendous benefit for me. Both educationally, and socially. I feel both happy, and fortunate, that I’ve had the opportunity to participate.

    Enjoy the ride, folks!

  7. I’m an admin (along with 4 others) on a model car forum. I’m also a member of a lot of other model forums and they have been particulary badly hit. Now when we go through our help sections we find most of the pics missing and since the members may have left the forum there isn’t much we can do. On the forum I help with we’re currently recommending flickr or fotki as we have experience with them and after a few goes flickr is much easier to search and has much more storage. It is disheartening that many of our members who have passed aways threads are now wrecked. They were a little memorial to lost friends

    • Oh boy! I forgot about model car forums. I can seriously get lost in those. I have so many kits just sitting around waiting for the time.

      Sorry to hear about the impact to your community.

  8. Man this article is sad, but the truth hurts… I’ve been a part of many forums, and have been featured here 8 years ago (Faisal VR6 or instagram @fe999L).. And I am as guilty as the next person with not keeping up with posts or discussions, but as its mentioned above, majority of links dont work and youtube replaced any threads for DIY, and instagram replaced the largest most active threads (photo gallery threads)

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