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 Post subject: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 1:28 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 10978
Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
This popped up on another (non-RR) online blog, and I see enough here to bring up a revision of the now-cliched "this hobby is dying" theme:

Maybe it's not the hobby, but rather the way in which we interact with it.

We can see and raise numerous variations on this theme: Declining circulation of hard-paper magazines with little to no replacement with paid online subscription model participation; the seemingly-obsolete "monthly program meeting" format of railroad clubs and NRHS Chapters, the near-disappearance of mainline excursions whatever the power, etc.


https://www.revzilla.com/common-tread/w ... -and-dying


Quote:
So why did the party stop? I think there are a few answers.

* The internet stopped being accessed by desktop

In January 2014, desktop internet use was overtaken by mobile internet use in America. This means screens got smaller, layouts moved primarily from horizontal to vertical, and physical keyboards were largely unavailable.

This means writing a longer post was more difficult. Formatting it to appear nicely with photos in line with the text became more difficult. Reading a post that was text-heavy became more onerous. As people drifted away from their desktop computers, they began to drift away from forums.

*Social media sure is easy

With most popular forms of social media, you're being served interesting things all the time with cross-pollination all in a one-stop dopamine hit. Do you love golf, Audi cars, retro-cafe motorcycles, and sushi? Social media can easily serve that up to you in a seemingly constant stream. With forums, however, you'd probably have to log in and catch up on four or five different places. Granted, that conversation may be deeper and more helpful for technical topics, but most folks aren't trying to read about the best way to do a valve check on a Suzuki GS450 every day when they have a few minutes to burn.

You may be saying, "Hey, it's easier to consume, but it's a pain to create content on Insta or Facebook." I'd agree with you. I'd also argue it's going to be much harder to find great content in the future (if it even exists) because traditional social platforms like Twitter and Facebook are designed to deliver the latest content, not the deepest.

*Photobucket broke the internet one day

The people creating those helpful how-to posts on motorcycle forums needed a place online to host their photos, and many used the popular image-hosting service Photobucket. On June 30, 2017, Photobucket quietly carried out what amounted to be a full-on murder: It elected to disallow embedding of images. To continue uninterrupted service as had previously been provided, Photobucket began charging $399, which was seen by many as tantamount to extortion.

The ramifications were twofold, extending far beyond the motorcycle world. First, many forum articles, tutorials, and knowledge bases were wiped clean of images, rendering many posts either much less useful or not useful at all. Compounding this issue was the fact it affected so many forums which had relied on free user-generated content.

More devastatingly, some users realized rebuilding was futile as they really were not in control of the information produced individually or in aggregate and simply chose to discontinue use of the bulletin board forum instead of starting over from square one. If several different companies can dismantle something you built, well… what’s the point?

The amount of devastation this caused was really hard to assess. I was moderating a motorcycle forum at the time this occurred and could not believe the amount of stuff Photobucket rendered unusable in just one flick of a switch.

*Links rot and people die

This is the ugly obverse side of the coin we just covered. As it turns out, it doesn't feel friendly or inviting to show up to a forum where half the stickies were penned by someone who is deceased and link rot means all the links and images are broken. It feels like walking in on a bulletin board (like a physical corkboard) that has old information and sales ads on it. It's not real helpful, and unless you really suspect something good is on there, you probably won't spend time digging. Fewer people contribute to the forum and the downward spiral continues.


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 3:31 am 

Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2021 9:40 pm
Posts: 1
Geez...


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 7:47 am 

Joined: Mon Oct 01, 2018 3:51 pm
Posts: 411
Location: Ipswich, Mass., Phoenix, AZ
Boring.


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 8:32 am 

Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2016 11:58 am
Posts: 214
nedsn3 wrote:
Boring.




Responses like this one are a big reason too.

Brian


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 8:50 am 

Joined: Sun Jul 22, 2018 2:03 pm
Posts: 57
Alexander D. Mitchell IV wrote:
Maybe it's not the hobby, but rather the way in which we interact with it.


This premise which Mr. Mitchell puts forward is one I strongly believe. I believe that the following quotes exemplify Mr. Mitchell's premise.

Quote:
Boring.

Quote:
Geez...


What, if anything, do these replies achieve? What do they add to the conversation? By my way of thinking, not much at all.

Single-word comments are rarely useful. Ditto the "Me too!" comments I see so often.

If you have no interest in a topic, ignore it and move on to other things. If you have something useful to say, then say it. Advance the conversation!

Regards,
Bob


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 9:32 am 

Joined: Thu Oct 08, 2015 11:54 am
Posts: 1533
Location: New Franklin, OH
My opinion:

I don’t think that technical boards such as RYPN will go completely away. Referring to the OP:

The phpBB software such as used here has responsive, mobile-friendly templates available so this board can be converted to something more easily viewed on mobile devices.

Typical social media, Facebook et al, does not lend itself to topic searching or keeping active conversations at the top. Everything gets buried from the top down.

PhpBB allows you to attach files/images without having to resort to off-site links that can go bad (see next).

Link rot and death are unavoidable in any online media as things and people come and go.

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Eric Schlentner
Car Knocker, Gandy Dancer & Hog Jockey


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 9:35 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 5:19 pm
Posts: 2430
Location: Sackets Harbor, NY
Interesting topic. I'm not qualified to say on the bigger picture of all rail related online sites as I only frequent this one, Trainorders and Railway Age.

What I can share is my delight in seeing the robust interest on the part of the general public in heritage railroading and steam in particular.

I have long felt that as the generation who experienced steam on the railroads as an every day part of life died off,...the pool of serious steam lovers would shrink accordingly. As I was born in 1940 I remember steam as I was fortunate to live near an active steam service facility ( Cranford NJ ) and it became my place to be. Anyone born much later than I will have no childhood memories of daily steam as it was pretty much gone by the early-mid 50's.

For the last 3/5 years I've noticed a strong steam interest in the younger generations and I now think that it is very feasible to pass the torch to them so steam will prosper well into this century.

Our experience at New Hope where the steam version of the Santa trains carry a 25% fare premium to the diesel version and steam often sells out first, my delightful day last week riding Andy Muller's recreated Iron Horse Ramble, sold out in all classes with lots and lots of 3-25 year olds amongst the 800 folks in the 10 o/w coaches. And perhaps most telling the strong sales of the extensive IP fleet of passenger cars to tourist railroads across the nation which is clear evidence of the profitability of those operations. IIRC Reading & Northern alone bought over a dozen cars including several full domes. Andy Muller is first and foremost a VERY sharp business man and he would not have shelled out all that cash without being certain it will yield him a strong ROI.

Anyhow, I don't know about our blogs but I do see an industry that is doing a growing and very profitable business and that says that steam has a good future.

IMHO-Ross Rowland


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 10:27 am 

Joined: Sat Jul 02, 2005 7:16 am
Posts: 1889
I think RYPN might be around for a while. The format makes it easy to view with a limited number of departments and the most active topics returning to the top as they receive comments. I generally don't visit the larger sites regularly any more, the ones that have dozens of topic categories, some of which haven't received a new post in several years.

The overall hobby participation is influenced by passing years and changing interests. Used to travel to the monthly meetings of four groups on a regular basis, and to the annual meetings of several. Now I view the monthly meetings of only two railroad related groups, just occasionally, and by the internet, and participate in the annual meeting of only one organization, also by the internet.

PC

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Advice from the multitude costs nothing and is often worth just that. (EMD-1945)


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 11:09 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 10978
Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
PCook wrote:
I think RYPN might be around for a while. The format makes it easy to view with a limited number of departments and the most active topics returning to the top as they receive comments. I generally don't visit the larger sites regularly any more, the ones that have dozens of topic categories, some of which haven't received a new post in several years.

The overall hobby participation is influenced by passing years and changing interests. Used to travel to the monthly meetings of four groups on a regular basis, and to the annual meetings of several. Now I view the monthly meetings of only two railroad related groups, just occasionally, and by the internet, and participate in the annual meeting of only one organization, also by the internet.


You have just confirmed the gist of what the original article said while trying to deny it with your first sentence. Get someone who hasn't been here for decades to agree with you, and we'll talk.

The struggle in all rail history/preservation has long been to latch onto the small proportion of the population (about one-tenth of one percent, predominantly male) that was/is fascinated by the overall "gee, golly, wow" of big, noisy, occasionally seemingly "living" machines, passenger cars, trolleys, freight trains on grades, etc., push them past the pedantic trivia of what/where/what number/how many/etc., and get them fascinated in the how and why--the history, the back story, how it came to be, and where it's going (short and long term). It doesn't have to be collegiate-level academic study; it can simply be a focus on a local line or a broader awareness of how the PRR, GN, UP, T&P, etc. came to be.

Unfortunately, the Internet, which has opened up universes and "shrunk the world" in information and communication potential, both abets and hinders the "hobby" as we know it. Now, you don't have to travel to a railroad or buy a DVD to "experience" it--well-made (and occasionally spastic) video exists of anything from freights to business trains to the now-departed RBBX Circus Trains to most excursion lines to just about any "hot spot" in the world. It's some variation of the old David P. Morgan hypothesis that there existed a photograph of every locomotive ever built in North America.

But the basic model of most of the most popular of the internet can be described as "Short Attention Span Theatre," catering to the worst of ADHD, Asperger's, and the like. Most of us would be shocked--shocked!!--to see someone under age forty crack open any of the old "standard" books on various railroads, rail photography anthologies, etc. and learn, for example, how many of these railroads we now take for granted came to be what they are today, from the "First Mile" of the B&O to the Grand Canyon Railway to the Vermont Railway, and how many lines have simply disappeared and why. The websites with such info are few and far between, even counting archives like Wikipedia and Google Books. (I recently stood in a "ghost town" that was the junction of THREE railroads, and was gobsmacked to realize that only a few years previously I could have ridden a modern excursion train through that town--I was just a few years too late. You won't find any of that history online, save for a sentence or two.)

To survive, ANY history endeavor needs to attract interest beyond the flash and momentary gratification of a train ride, a war re-enactment, a photo shoot, spectacular scenery, a wedding venue, or the Easter Bunny train.

And I would argue that those with the vested interest in seeing such history endure and prosper--and not just in rail history--are failing to use to their best ability the changing tools that attract modern audiences, if at all.


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 12:14 pm 

Joined: Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:07 pm
Posts: 1047
Location: B'more Maryland
I have many, many thoughts about this topic.

One thing that stands out is that I have not seen as good of a summary as what was posted. The Photobucket thing really does stand out, but I also think the point about form factor goes a long way as well.

There are at least four railroad forums that I frequently visit, but with one visit to Facebook I have quick access to dozens of railroad groups with all of their content aggregated in one place (and wonderfully algorithmically crafted to increase my blood pressure with controversial content).

For that very reason I actually have been avoiding the platform but I never doubt its value.

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If you fear the future you won't have one.
The past was the worst.


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 12:42 pm 

Joined: Sat Jul 02, 2005 7:16 am
Posts: 1889
I can certainly see that Facebook has a following. I get questions every week seeking identifying or captioning for photos that people have posted there without supporting information. It is particularly amusing when people ask for information without sending the photo or send me a link to Facebook (which I do not use).

PC

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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 2:56 pm 
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Posts: 1222
Location: Eagan, MN
I am, to my amusement, somewhat in agreement with ADM IV (please don't faint). This is one more set of datapoints that I'm finding increasingly confusing. I have Google Analytics hooked up to my website (does anyone not know that I'm referring to steamlocomotive.info?) and have done little to nothing over the last 15 years to increase traffic to it. In 2014, I started keeping a notebook of printouts from Google Analytics pages. In 2014, 92% of my traffic used either desktop or laptops. The 8% remainder included phones and tablets of various ilk.

Now, 8 years later 50% of my traffic is mobile, and 50% desktop, laptop and whatever.

This prompted me to take a look at what my own website looks like on my iPhone13. It is quite hideous and brutally difficult to use. I'm forcing myself to look at the idea of accomodating phone users. There are several alternatives available to me:

First, I could create an entirely separate website for mobile users that accomodates screen resolution and phone features. This would necessarily be limited in what it could do, by what screen real-estate is available. Some websites follow the convention that www.mywiebsite.com gets you the desktop/laptop/tablet version of the website, and m.mywebsite.com gets you the mobile version.

Secondly, for mobile users we could dispense with the web browser entirely, by writing iOS and Android apps that access the database, imagery and whatnot through web services. The workload which would result from this would be massive, and quite honestly I'm not sure I have enough time left on this planet to finish this. I don't know.

I'm in the process of rewriting most of steamlocomotive.info as we speak (type?). It's user interface is over 20 years old, it was designed with the assumption that we couldn't use a screen resolution beyond 640x480, and internally the menu and page formatting are a nightmare to deal with. The site in its current incarnation could not be adapted to work well on a phone without completely rewriting and redesigning the UI.

The new version of steamlocomotive.info probably won't be as "pretty" as the current one, but hopefully it will convey information better than the present one. I'll expose the test version at some point because I so much enjoy the breadth of vocabulary that people exhibit when explaining my shortcomings to me.

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Doug Bailey, Webmaster http://www.steamlocomotive.info


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 12, 2022 5:38 pm 

Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2005 9:34 pm
Posts: 2657
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
What is the data on which the first post is based? Feelings or opinion don’t prove that something is actually happening.

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Danmarks Tekniske Universitet


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2022 2:57 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 11:54 pm
Posts: 2289
I think to understand whether advocations of all kinds have a future requires a critical understanding of demography.

https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/U ... birth-rate

The birthrate went into a flat spin about 15 years ago.

https://econofact.org/the-mystery-of-th ... birth-rate

The hand that rocks the cradle, staffs the museum.

I think there is an explanation. After 9/11, desperate to read something other than the umpteenth retelling of that day, I happened on an article about a high end boutique OB/GYN in New York.

He wrote about an endless parade of women who had pursued and achieved their goals-some on Wall Street, some in "white shoe" law firms and now in their late 30's to early 40's wanted to add offspring to their portfolio of achievements.

He added that the hardest thing to do, was to tell a woman who had done everything to conceive but was now 39,40,41, that it was probably too late. You might be ready, but that doesn't mean your fertility was on standby for when you made partner. Forty is the new thirty is a slogan that biology doesn't accept. I can tell you from my maternity care auditing days that any woman who is pregnant for the first time at 35 or older is automatically diagnosed with "elderly primigravida".(Technically CD-10-CM Code for Supervision of elderly primigravida O09.51.)

The past requires a future for preservation. We have become an incredibly antinatal society.

Watch for the implosion of colleges in the next few years. It's already starting.


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 Post subject: Re: Semi-OT: Why Online Forums (Like This) Are Dying?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 13, 2022 1:21 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 10978
Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
superheater wrote:
Watch for the implosion of colleges in the next few years. It's already starting.


Exhibit A

https://nscresearchcenter.org/current-t ... estimates/

Quote:

Enrollment declines continued to worsen this spring. Total postsecondary enrollment fell to 16.2 million this spring, marking a one-year decline of 4.1 percent or 685,000 students. Enrollment declined this spring at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Following a 3.5 percent drop last spring, postsecondary institutions have lost nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020.

Undergraduate enrollment accounted for most of the decline, dropping 4.7 percent this spring or over 662,000 students from spring 2021. As a result, the undergraduate student body is now 9.4 percent or nearly 1.4 million students smaller than before the pandemic.

Public institutions suffered the brunt of enrollment declines this spring, losing 604,000 students (-5.0% from a year ago). Community colleges accounted for more than half of these losses this spring (351,000 students) and have lost over 827,000 students since the start of the pandemic.

There were over 462,000 fewer women students (-4.6%) this spring, more than doubling the losses experienced the previous year, resulting in a two-year total decline of 665,000 women enrollments.

A special analysis of the spring freshmen highlights distinctive pandemic-related enrollment trends. Nearly 340,000 students started college for the first time this spring, an increase of 4.2 percent from spring 2021. However, the growth this spring was not enough to return community college freshman enrollment to pre-pandemic levels, with the current freshmen numbers still running 7.9 percent (17,000 students) below spring 2020’s levels.


Additional analysis from a biased website:

https://www.thecollegefix.com/college-e ... two-years/


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