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Author Topic: Forums - Useful or Outdated?  (Read 9067 times)

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Offline Pete

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Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« on: March 17, 2010, 10:50:30 AM »
I've been considering more and more the option of eliminating the forum from my website.  With the ushering in of the age of social networking, it seems to me that forums have fallen to the wayside.  Twitter, Facebook, shoutboxes, ComicPress comment sections, etc. have all given readers the ability to be more instantaneous in their responses and interaction.

My forum has been dying a slow death over the past year.  I've only had a handful of new people come in, and posts have become a once-in-a-month type of thing.  Should I just demolish and spend time really building up my social networking presence (not that it isn't already strong, but it could always be stronger)?

Veterans and new webcomickers alike, what are you opinions?

(Note: I apologize if this isn't the correct place to put this.  My logic dictated that a forum is a part of a website, therefore the website section was an appropriate place to post.)

Offline Gibson

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2010, 11:36:03 AM »
Oddly, I've been debating over the past couple months whether to start a forum.

I'm a guy who has absolute loathing for social networking sites. I have no presence on any of them, not even MySpace. I feel weird even having deviantArt, and that serves an actual purpose. I could go on (and on) about my loathing and how they are destroying us all, but I've come to terms with the fact that my cause is lost (ahem, Winston Smith) and everyone is now a slave to pretty lights. I guess I can't say much about social networking is my point. There is a lot of chatter in the comments of my comic, and I'm curious if it would translate into a forum setting.

If your forum is failing, it might be wise to pack it in. Another option, though, is to share it with other comickers...that is, if you know any well enough that you could get along as co-forum-owners. I don't know if that's possible for you, but it's likely what I'll do if I ever get the energy or interest in making a forum. It doesn't have to be anything so formal as making a comics group or anything, you just happen to share a forum.

It might be a terrible idea, I dunno.

Offline Knara

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #2 on: March 17, 2010, 01:57:18 PM »
I think its a mistake to get rid of a forum.  Social media is good and all, but for "community building" online, my feeling is that you still need the "virtual pub" for people to hang out in, and nothing does that better than a good ol' forum, IMHO.

Most social media isn't "pub-like" to me, it's more "seeing you on the street taking a walk".  Both are useful, but neither can do what the other can.

Offline Pete

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2010, 02:13:28 PM »
Social media is good and all, but for "community building" online, my feeling is that you still need the "virtual pub" for people to hang out in, and nothing does that better than a good ol' forum, IMHO.

My argument with this (and I'm not saying you're wrong) is that it's literally been over a year since my forum was last active, and even then it was never "jumping".  I even used to make a post in the forum for every time I updated and linked to the post from the main page.  It helped a little bit, but even that petered out in the end.

I agree with the "virtual pub" mindset in theory; I'm a forum person myself (otherwise I wouldn't be here).  But I'm also from a different generation than a lot of my readers.  The younger generations, for the most part, thrive on quick and instantaneous interaction - tweets, Facebook statuses, text messages, etc.  I sound (and feel) like an old geezer saying all this, but it's all true.

I don't want to give up my forum; it's been there for a long time.  But keeping it around right now feels like hanging onto a pub - to use your analogy - that has been losing repeat customers and is now just sitting around taking up space.

Offline Gibson

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2010, 02:26:53 PM »
The younger generations, for the most part, thrive on quick and instantaneous interaction - tweets, Facebook statuses, text messages, etc.  I sound (and feel) like an old geezer saying all this, but it's all true.

The only thing I can say to this is the forums I've been part of where the membership is older have been slower than the ones where the membership is younger. Young people don't just thrive on those quick exchanges, they thrive on the dimmest hope that anyone cares about what they have to say.

Offline Rob

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2010, 04:48:47 PM »
Every popular webcomic in which the creator makes significant profit that I can think of has a thriving and active community either through livejournal, a complex comments system or as in most cases a forum.

Offline Pete

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #6 on: March 17, 2010, 05:34:29 PM »
Every popular webcomic in which the creator makes significant profit that I can think of has a thriving and active community either through livejournal, a complex comments system or as in most cases a forum.
Thaaaaat... doesn't really answer the question.  Each one of the things you mentioned is a completely different thing.

Offline Rob

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #7 on: March 17, 2010, 08:49:19 PM »
Well.... ok.

The only questions I saw were about whether or not you should shutter your forum and pump up your Facebook and what my opinion was.

My reply was my opinion which I thought would lead you to an answer for the first question as well.

Sorry. I'll try and be clearer.

In truth no one can tell you what the future will hold. Blogging used to be "the thing" and now Tweeting is "the thing." You pointed out that kids seem to like brevity on the web. I would argue that if you have the attention span of a gnat you are only going to give a quick bzzzz before moving on.

In my experience those that are true fans of a comic are passionate about it and want to discuss all the minutia at length and ad nauseam. Having a place where they can do that and where you can interact with them seems like a very important thing to have.

Maybe you can have that sort of exchange through Facebook. There isn't much to Randy Milholland's Livejournal account, he basically just posts updates and lets the dozens of folks who show up discuss among themselves. Jeph Jacques has a LJ too but he also has a forum that he has warned me off of as a bad place full of snobby Indie music lovers (NOT a fan of his musical tastes).

The Penny Arcade forum is a massive monolith of activity. Same goes for the Blind Ferret forums (Looking for Group and Least I Could Do). Gunnerkrigg Court's forum has almost 35,000 posts on it but only 2 categories.

My point is, that having a place where devoted fans can gather and share with each other and the creator is important. Most of the higher popularity comics do it with a forum of some kind or another. Some get by on a complex comment system and some use stuff like Livejournal. Can you make it happen at a social networking site like Facebook? Perhaps. If others can do it with Livejournal I don't see why not. The point is to have a place. Where it is and how it is put together seems less important.

In my experience if people aren't posting in your forum they probably aren't going to post on your comics facebook page either. But at the same time, if they are logged into facebook already, perhaps they may be more inclined to simply because it's easier.

But in six months Facebook could be the has been that MySpace is now. Something newer and hotter could come along and then what do you do? Randy and Jeph still use their livejournals even though blogging isn't really all that hot anymore. Will you still want to make Facebook your home if it goes the way of MySpace?

The ideal situation, to my mind is to do all the social networking stuff and funnel it into your forum because you will always have that because it's yours. But ultimately have that place is the important thing. Moving it around every so often as popularity of other sites trend may not be a great idea but that's another discussion. Hope that clarifies.

Offline CorvusErebus

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #8 on: March 17, 2010, 11:08:10 PM »
Guys, I'm about to be the douche that ruins everyone day. Feel free to hate me.

There's nothing wrong with forums! They work Great! But all of you are probably too small to make use of them.  :'(

See, Forums are the ULTIMATE dedication. Short of a paid subscription, these are you're elite fans. So needless to say, the user base is going to be a stupidly small percentage of your readers.

While I Can't speak for Petes readership numbers (I'm not privvy to that intel). I'd bet GOOD money that your problem is very very simple. You aren't big enough for a forum. Forums have to be built up to. Unless you're getting between 500 to a thousand unique readers on average (Rough basic number) your forum will probably be fairly dead. A good rule of thumb is that only 5 Percent of your hits will join, and only 10% of that will stay. MOST Comics are too small for a forum. If you're not big enough, then no, your forum will be a waste of server space. But if you're big enough for a successful forum, you won't be asking this question.

Please note these are rough approximate numbers, and completely self derived. There is no hard formula for when to start a forum. It's a lot of guess work. But these numbers (I feel) act as a decent enough starting point.

TakaComics

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #9 on: March 17, 2010, 11:51:08 PM »
What has replaced forums, at least on webcomics, has been the introduction of threaded comment systems. IntenseDebate, for example, has made the case for not having forums. However, here is the case against getting rid of forums. The bulk of discussions on forums do not pertain to your comic at all. However, they build your community, and let them get to know each other. Hell, I was on a forum a long time ago where two people (who met on the forum) got married! This helps your fans build their identity, not as a fan of your comic, but as a one part of a large thing. That is very important, maybe not to you, but to your readers. Like Corvus said, you need to be a larger comic, and also have a community which will use the forum.

Offline Gar

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2010, 10:17:15 AM »
This is where my used-to-be-kinda-big-then-stopped-updating-for-two-years experience comes in: I used to pull in about 6,000 unique IPs a day, and had a pretty busy forum (which also resulted in a couple of real-world hook-ups, which is nice). I've got maybe 500 readers now, and I only really check the forum every couple of weeks, and there's usually only one or two new posts in that time.

There are a couple of people who keep popping in, and continuing the pub analogy, those are the old guys that hang out at the end of the bar and have been there for years, and I mainly keep the forum open for their sake.


Offline Knara

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2010, 02:37:47 PM »
Guys, I'm about to be the douche that ruins everyone day. Feel free to hate me.

There's nothing wrong with forums! They work Great! But all of you are probably too small to make use of them.  :'(

See, Forums are the ULTIMATE dedication. Short of a paid subscription, these are you're elite fans. So needless to say, the user base is going to be a stupidly small percentage of your readers.

While I Can't speak for Petes readership numbers (I'm not privvy to that intel). I'd bet GOOD money that your problem is very very simple. You aren't big enough for a forum. Forums have to be built up to. Unless you're getting between 500 to a thousand unique readers on average (Rough basic number) your forum will probably be fairly dead. A good rule of thumb is that only 5 Percent of your hits will join, and only 10% of that will stay. MOST Comics are too small for a forum. If you're not big enough, then no, your forum will be a waste of server space. But if you're big enough for a successful forum, you won't be asking this question.

Please note these are rough approximate numbers, and completely self derived. There is no hard formula for when to start a forum. It's a lot of guess work. But these numbers (I feel) act as a decent enough starting point.

I don't think you're being douchey at all.  I think your observations are accurate.  Many "webcomic things" operate on the "a certain subset of my readership will be interested in this" model, and in order to have lively forums, you need to have a proper population size, so that the objective number of participants is large enough for a healthy forum.

It's the same as merchandise selling.

Offline JR

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2010, 05:20:31 PM »
I was planning on making a forum for my previous webcomic (Popcorn); I was even in the process of setting it up when I decided to focus my energies elsewhere.  Even though I didn't have a very large base of readers, I was going to extend the forum into a discussion of the movie biz, movie theatres and related stuff.  I was hoping that this would expand the potential interest in the forum, and it would have tied in with the theme of the comic, too.  C'est la vie.

I think forums can be a fun extra activity for your readers, but I'm thinking that comic-success doesn't necessarily translate into forum-success.  Your forum has to have a focus on something other than your comic.

Offline Gar

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #13 on: March 19, 2010, 07:22:14 AM »
Well a comic forum tends to be for readers of that comic.

I think a forum should have at least two boards: One for general discussion and one for talking about the comic. My one also has a separate board for games (post something about the person who posted last, continue a story, answer a questionnaire etc.)

Divide it up into too many sub-forums and navigating becomes annoying though. If there are only a couple of posts a day then you don't really need separate movies/tv shows/videogames/news etc. subforums, it can all live quite happily in the general discussion board. Unless you've got a big population or if you discover a trend towards specific topics in the general forum, you're better off keeping it simple rather than going for a bunch of branches dedicated to specific topics.

Offline D.Z.

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Re: Forums - Useful or Outdated?
« Reply #14 on: March 21, 2010, 03:39:49 PM »

It's the same as merchandise selling.

In fact, I consider these two things inexorably linked.

I wouldn't consider trying to sell merchandise until I had a certain level of forum activity.

Just to add to the data, my comic has about 1000 unique hits daily, and we have maybe 15-20 fairly active forumers. That's enough to justify having the forums, but not to pump them up too much.

I'm about to add a Facebook page as well, and I figure the two can exist in relative harmony. ^^