Why I'm fighting to keep message boards alive, and you should too

Dec 30, 2021 at 9:58 PM
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Ten years ago today, I created my account here on the Cave Story Tribute Site Forums. Ten bloody years. I've got a lot of history here. I've created mods, helped others with modding, and created my own modding tool. I've given feedback on other people's projects, given my two cents on all the latest Cave Story news over the last ten years, and contributed extensively to the theories section.

Most of my concrete contributions to the Cave Story community were over 6 years ago, though. Over the last 6 years, my presence on the CSTSF has mostly been floating around, giving feedback on other people's mods, remixes, or other projects, occasionally responding to theory threads, and maybe giving some commentary on the infrequent new developments in the Cave Story community.

The last 6 years have not been as substantial as the first 4, at least in terms of creating Cave Story fan content. So then that begs the question, why have I stayed here, after all this time? And that is because message boards like this are a very unique way of communicating and building community. It is a way of building community that I greatly value, and it is a medium that a lot of people are abandoning, much to the peril of the internet.

I could already notice this starting to happen by the time that I joined here 10 years ago, but since my time here, I've seen platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Discord rise to prominence. Youtube was already pretty big by the time that I joined here, but it wasn't exactly replacing message boards. Message boards have a unique utility by allowing you to create niche, tight-knit communities that center around discussing some particular point of interest, and creating meaningful conversation and meaningful connections around it.

Out of convenience, people like to go to these big social media platforms because they'll find a bigger audience there. The experience is ubiquitous, you don't even have to create a new account to join a Cave Story-related community if it's a topic already being discussed on Twitter. The process of joining the Discord server is as simple as clicking the invite link, as long as you already have a Discord account. Instant chat and all kinds of fancy features exist on these platforms. I never became super active in the CSMC discord server, or in the Cave Story community on Reddit, or on Twitter. And to be honest, I'm glad that I never really did.

Those platforms have the discussions organized in a much less customizable way than what we have here, and they've largely been overrun with corporatism and cancel culture mobs. One good way to stay free from big tech censorship is to have things decentralized, where there isn't a small set of corporations in control of the information that flows about. Ultimately, Andwhy is in control of what's allowed on these forums, but I sure trust him a lot more than I trust Discord or Reddit. Sure, maybe if the cancel culture mob wanted to destroy this place, they could try going after Xenforo and pressuring them into shutting this place down, but even if that could be done, it would be a lot less straightforward than your typical hit job.

Not only that, but the way things are organized in message boards like this is so much more clear, and allows for more lengthy, thoughtful discussion. Things are too fast-moving for that kind of thing to take place on Twitter or Discord. Sometimes, by the time that you compose a response, or by the time that you log on after a discussion has ended, it's kind of too late, or else you'll seem really awkward for continuing a certain topic of discussion in the Discord chat. And if a discussion has already been had, it's a lot harder to link back to it in something like Discord than on a message board. Sure, we do still have duplicate threads and necrobumps rise up here, but it's still far more manageable to document things on a platform like this than on something like Discord or Reddit.

I won't deny that the technology of message boards is pretty dated. You have to create a separate username and password for each account you have on a different message board community. The user interface isn't the best suited for mobile phones. And it's not like there's some specific mobile app that most of these message board communities have available and frequently advertise that makes the experience fluid and modern feeling for mobile users. I acknowledge these are problems, and they should probably be solved. But for right now, buying into the corporatism of big tech is an alternative I'm going to avoid contributing to wherever I can.

And that's why I'm still fighting to keep communities like this alive. Because whenever I'm actively posting on these forums, it sort of feels like I'm fighting against cancel culture and big tech censorship. Maybe some day some technology or platform will come along that gives all of the benefits I've described of message boards, doesn't have any of the problems I described of big tech, and fixes all of the problems I acknowledged about message board technology showing its age. But until that solution arises, I'm content to contribute to small niche communities like this where I can. And I think you all should too.

Here were a couple of Youtube videos I came across recently that pretty much expressed the same feelings I've expressed in this post:

I kind of identify a bit more strongly with the second video, since it's more thorough, and it more directly addresses the threat that big tech poses to freedom of speech, although the first one is still really good too, since it focuses on the benefit of forums, and how we're losing that personalized, decentralized nature of the internet that made things great in 2001-2010.

I intend to continue posting on these forums for more time to come. How long exactly I'll still be around, I'm not sure. But probably for a while. And I hope you all are also interested in helping to keep the internet an open and free place with meaningful discussions.
 
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Dec 31, 2021 at 1:37 PM
Um... Chosen One? Yeah that'll work. : P
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While I do not have your way with words, I'd like to appreciate this write-up of yours. I had never really noticed or paid attention to any of these points that you bring up, but you've convinced me of your point of view. When you talk about your fond memories of the forums, it makes me feel nostalgic too, even though I haven't been around very long or very much :p I would love to stick around the forums for as long as possible as well, even if I don't have much to say...

I might have mentioned this before, but I'm a big fan of both how you make it a point to respond/provide feedback to everything around here you can, and how your messages are very detailed, comprehensive, and insightful. Thank you for your contributions to this site!
 
Dec 31, 2021 at 5:45 PM
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Thanks Baka, that means a lot. It makes me happy whenever I can give language to things that others are thinking and feeling, or maybe helping others internalize some thoughts or urges based on shared observations and experiences.
 
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Dec 31, 2021 at 6:11 PM
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Wow, time flies. Almost ten years for me, too (counting the "Shane" years).

I cherish memories a lot; like the conversations I had here regarding an old (badly-executed) mod of mine (ideas on improving it, for instance), and the time I wound up prohibited from posting for six months, haha.

I concur with you about message boards ("forums", further on) being a unique way of communication and community-building; the way I see it, interactions like this can also help people to grow (in a manner of speaking).

I've never really been active on social media sites; I've always preferred forums. (Though I'm likely to avoid Discord, what with all the discord I've caused in the past. :p )
I don't know how to put it, exactly... forums just feel less restricted than social media platforms.
Sure, each forum has its own rules, whether strict or super lenient, but every forum has its own charm(s), right?

Yeah, the UI for the mobile devices definitely isn't the best (I can attest to that!).
That point about the separate username and password holds true for most forums; however, I'm not sure if having one "global account" linked to all the different forums using the same host would be the best option.

I'll hang around as long as I'm allowed to. I'm definitely interested! I believe that an open, free place with meaningful discussions is pretty important.
 
Dec 31, 2021 at 7:42 PM
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This is something I've been thinking about for a while and I'm glad you've brought it up as a point to talk about on here. I agree with a lot of what's in the original post, but most of all, the part about discussions. The fast, reactionary nature of how modern social media likes to work tends to promote conversations that are shallow and focus more on how people feel than how they think. I'm including Discord as part of this. Even though it's really more of a messaging application and service than a social media site, it tends to be used as one anyway (at least from what I've seen).

Looking at some of the large Discord... servers(? I don't know what they're actually supposed to be called and I kind of don't care) that I'm in, there's almost always a plethora of text channels that kind of function like different topics on a forum site. Heck, Discord added a feature a while back that allows for temporary "threads" to be created as part of a text channel so certain discussions can be broken out into their own thing. Just an interesting observation on how board-based social networking software is still influential even now. The earliest instance of software like this that I know of are bulletin board systems (BBSes), which were giving this kind of experience as early as the 1980's. Not sure if it dates back farther (for computer software, anyway).

Tangent aside, I do agree with the concerns over freedom of speech being stifled by having so much communication centralized to a few platforms that can easily choose what gets shown and what doesn't. This is especially true for the popular services that have to answer to the Chinese government, who have a lengthy track record of disliking free speech and manipulating what people can see (-400 social credit for me :[ ). I haven't looked into it, but I know Facebook was in hot water for questionable practices, and while this was likely a part of it, I'm pretty sure that was centered more around data collection and privacy. This isn't unique to Facebook and China, but I'll leave it at that for now.

While the freedom of speech aspect of this is important, my greater concern and what I really want to talk about here is with how it affects the way people interact with each other. I started talking about it a little bit in the first paragraph, but shallow discussions are just the surface of it. Most modern social media platforms have a great deal of negativity about them. Cancel culture is a very obvious and destructive symptom of this. The second video talked about how pre-teens and teenagers who used social media tended to have higher rates of depression (I think? It didn't spend much time on that point). Even just anecdotally, I generally don't feel any kind of meaningful feeling when I use any of them. Mostly, I just feel distracted.

It took me a while to think of what the actual problem was, and after thinking about it for a while, I think I figured it out. My best guess is that it's due to the users of these platforms seeking one-sided attention from other people instead of a meaningful two-way connection with others, which itself is the product of how the platforms are designed. The main culprit for this is probably metrics. Likes, followers, subscribers, reposts, retweets, so on and so forth. Instead of being about having discussions, these platforms become games where people try to make their numbers go up and to get their posts seen by as many people as possible. It's simple and there's no doubt that other people have already figured this out, but it does seem to be a good explanation for the problems already brought up. In order to appeal to broader audiences, posts will be safer, blander, and more shallow to try and connect loosely to as many people as possible instead of targeting a more specialized group of people. Better metrics leads to a post being spread around more, creating a mostly self-perpetuating cycle that yields more attention and better metrics.

While the metrics theory is good, I think it has more to do with the type of metrics and the function of the metrics. Technically, most forum sites have some kind of displayed user metrics too. Using this one as an example, there are only two stats that are common to all users and displayed prominently, those being post count and join date. I'm not even sure that a join date technically counts, but I'm going to include it anyway. These two pieces of information don't affect post visibility in any way, so the only thing they really show is how established a user is on the forum. This can encourage users to interact more and potentially create a sense of higher status for users with older join dates and higher post counts, but those are about the only effects they have. The only real metric a post has is "did this post get the user warned or banned?". Contrast that with Twitter, where there's a follower count, following count, and join date on the profile, and each post has a count for likes, retweets, and retweets with quotes to go with any replies that can be left on that post specifically. The replies are also posts and are subject to all the same conditions. All of these factors will affect how many people see a post, so there's a very clear incentive to make posts that will produce large numbers. Instead of being about conversations, a platform like this becomes a competition for fame.

I've had Discord for almost exactly six years at this point (2016/1/1) and I'm in 60 different servers. I'm bad about leaving servers I don't interact with, but even with that in mind, I only occasionally interact with a few of them. Mostly, I just want to interact with people in a small group or on an individual basis on there, so I just tend to stop interacting with any of the larger servers (which make up entirely too many of those 60 servers). I also tend to notice that servers with tens or even hundreds of people on them tend to only have a few people that regularly communicate there. The only other social media platform I use with any regularity is Twitter (which is why I keep using it as an example). Some really good art gets uploaded there, even though its design makes it a terrible platform for sharing art or doing any kind of browsing of older posts. I do like the art, but trudging through waves of posts expressing petty hatred and half-baked opinions expressed with all the tact and politeness of a hit-and-run is draining. I don't know how anyone does it. I don't know how anyone could want to interact in an environment like that.

I want places like forum sites and BBSes (some still exist, although they'll likely only be found if specifically looked for) to survive and for more people to find their way to them. From what I understand, these smaller communities are the last bastions of meaningful communication and interaction between people who would otherwise be strangers on the web. I say "the web" and not "the Internet" because I've seen some interactions on (videos of) VRChat that seemed promising of that platform's ability to get people to connect with each other. As VR stuff becomes more commonplace, it will almost certainly become more popular than any kind of message board. There's also the very real possibility that it will swing more towards the shallow end of interactions, but that remains to be seen. For now, forums and message boards are probably the best option, at least for getting to know new people.

Of everything that was available for me to use in 2014, I'm glad this was the place I originally spent most of my time and energy interacting with. I joined Twitter a few months before I got here, and while I feel a strong connection with this forum and the people I've met here, I feel very little attachment to Twitter. I feel that a great deal of people looking for attention in places like those would be much happier if they found a nice forum or board to hang out and spend time on. I've been drafting this post in a text editor while listening to music for about two hours at this point knowing full well that only a few people will ever find, let alone, read this post. Not only do I not mind, I actually feel good doing this because I know that the few people who are reading it are people I recognize and people who will actually read the post and think about it. It took time to find a place here and get to know people, but I actually feel some sense of community here. In comparison, spending 30 seconds on a tweet or reply and hoping for attention brings no satisfaction or meaning.

I think that's about enough for this post. There's only so large a Pummelator Text Wall can get before even I think it's too much. I hope some of the people who aren't as active here anymore make a return to help keep things a little more lively here. Given that I unfortunately use Twitter, I do appreciate the quiet, but it's not terribly great for attracting new users who will stay active. For the people who are here, I'm glad to see you guys around and I hope you have a happy new year!
 
Jan 1, 2022 at 3:29 PM
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I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment (person on forum likes forums - shocker), and it reminded me of something.
I was having a very similar discussion with someone at a meetup from an online book club I'm in, and they mentioned Discourse, which is an attempt at a modern form of forum, with less dated tech and no reliance on extreme centralization like reddit or discord, and it's open-source.
I haven't used it myself, but they have a demo you can check out, and it seems pretty good at a glance.
 
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Jan 1, 2022 at 4:19 PM
Um... Chosen One? Yeah that'll work. : P
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Pummelator, I greatly enjoyed reading your in-depth analysis and thoughts on the matter! Hope to see you around more.
And
Pummelator said:
The main culprit for this is probably metrics. Likes, followers, subscribers, reposts, retweets, so on and so forth. Instead of being about having discussions, these platforms become games...
This does make a lot of sense, I think you hit the nail on the head here!

and they mentioned Discourse, which is an attempt at a modern form of forum, with less dated tech and no reliance on extreme centralization like reddit or discord, and it's open-source.
Interesting that you mention this, my college made an official forum on Discourse a couple of years ago, hoping to reduce email spam. Currently, it's only used by professors announcing seminars/colloquia, and students looking to buy/sell things. But I agree that it does have all the features of a forum system, in a more modern setting.
Maybe, in the distant future, if we ever lose this site, we could migrate there? :toroko2:
 
Jan 1, 2022 at 5:23 PM
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Jan 1, 2022 at 8:27 PM
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I love this post. I fully agree, too. It's really hard to keep places like this in today's time purely because of the strange circumstances message boards and forums bring, like the username thing you brought up. This branches to a lot more than just the forums, hell a lot of websites and social media are kind of sacred now since a lot of websites I'd visit are now defunct and tools like the wayback machine grow more and more popular. I think tools like those shouldn't be needed, though, as a lot of websites and tools from that era of the internet could still be used to this day. I'm glad that the CSTSFs are still up and have survived the purge of websites from the era as there are not many websites like this around, it's a medium that is currently dying, but I will gladly keep this going as long as I can.
 
Jan 1, 2022 at 9:59 PM
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It makes me happy to hear that others are thinking and feeling similarly about forums, social media, and online communication in general. I especially like Pummelator's points, particularly the one about his wall of text feeling like a much more fulfilling contribution for a community like this than if he were to do something similar on a big social media site.

Nice to see you again Hate9, you picked a good time to pop back in. This is the first I've seen of Discourse. That looks like a really cool tool that captures the essence of what a forum is supposed to be while also having a more modern design. I looked around at the demo, and the default layout seems heavily influenced by Stack Exchange. Gaming forums don't seem to be the first use case in mind for their product, but if this tool is everything that site claims it is, then things could probably be customized to make it more like what's here. And that thread you linked to about migrating data from Xenforo to Discourse does seem promising if that did end up needing to be done.

Not sure that we really would need to migrate these forums from Xenforo to Discourse, but it's good to know that there are vendors out there that are making more modernized forum software.
 
Jan 1, 2022 at 10:28 PM
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While I only lurked in 2016 and made an account in 2019, I like coming here every so often.
I think the fact it isn't a big social media platform helps that. I like coming to see a small portion of people posting.
I haven't been around as long as most of you, obviously, but just checking and seeing what's happened recently is a nice change of pace from the other social media platforms I use daily (mostly just Discord.)
I feel like a lot of the people I talk to now don't really care about forums or discussions, because there's a more convenient option.
I might not become super active here, but as long as I'm on the internet I think I'll check this forum every once in a while, because the game it's for meant so much to me.
 
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Jan 13, 2022 at 9:42 PM
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I meant to respond to this sooner but I was busy (busy being worthless).
I was never around when messages boards were popular, the only board I ever used was NMA in 2018. Lost the email that account was attached to and I never made a new one. I say this as to better display my experience with message boards.

I think It Is very admirable to want to keep message boards alive, at the same time It's just a fact that they won't return to the same level of importance they once had. Twitter and Discord essentially act as the evolution of message boards. They are definitely different but they fulfill the same purpose. Why I like message boards is the amount of character they have as opposed to twitter or discord.

"Twitter people" all feel the same, like they are robots made to just spout their toxic ass opinions into a sea of toxic opinions.
Discord is better but not by much. In the probably four years I've been using discord I've had the most enjoyment in smaller servers, sub two-hundred members. Lot's of great people there, but their presence is always shared with those whom are utter dumbasses. I've met more racist dipshits on Discord then I have in the South. In contrast Forums have different breed of people. Like everyone knows each other at least a little, and most try and act formal. It's hard to explain but I prefer the interactions of people on Forums more then I do elsewhere. Too bad I got into Forums so late in their life. If only I was born in the 90s. Then again I would be an old guy so maybe not.

And on the big tech stuff. I'm not too into all this internet politics shit so I'll try and keep it brief. Big Tech is bad obviously and censorship Is also bad (To an extent, I have no problem with illegal and degenerate shit being censored)
My take on this is that I don't think Forums are really a bastion of free speech or anything. Everything is segregated, you have to stay on topic, there's tons of rules on what you can say and how to say it, etc. Sure, It's not as restricted as most places but I still hope you get what I'm saying. What's happening to the internet has been happening for a long time in the real world so I'm not surprised that big tech and government is facilitating the neutering of online "free speech".
 
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Jan 15, 2022 at 1:54 AM
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Yeah, you do have a point about forums never returning to the level of prominence that they once held. You also bring up another interesting point that I want to address:
My take on this is that I don't think Forums are really a bastion of free speech or anything. Everything is segregated, you have to stay on topic, there's tons of rules on what you can say and how to say it, etc. Sure, It's not as restricted as most places but I still hope you get what I'm saying. What's happening to the internet has been happening for a long time in the real world so I'm not surprised that big tech and government is facilitating the neutering of online "free speech".
You do have a point about forums still having their own rules and structures, which may directly or indirectly prohibit certain types of speech that people on other platforms are getting banned for. Some things you can even routinely get by with on Twitter but you would probably get banned pretty quickly if you did here, such as flaming and personal attacks. I guess the main limiting factor here and in most forums is the issue of being "off-topic." This is a place mostly for talking about Cave Story, Pixel's work, sometimes broader to the indie gaming industry, and sometimes gaming at large. To go much outside of that would feel a bit weird, but wouldn't actually be against the rules as long as it's kept in the Satellite Lounge.

Back when this forum was more active, we used to talk about all kinds of things in the Satellite Lounge that were unrelated to gaming, and the topic would even veer into religion and politics on a few occasions, and it was well understood that no rules were being broken by having these conversations and speaking our minds on these issues. Of course, you don't see that happening now on these forums, because that all happens on social media now and other dedicated platforms. At this juncture, starting a new thread about politics in the Satellite lounge and claiming I want to have an open discussion would be like getting out my parents' old cassette player and claiming I want to listen to music - it's pretty obvious that the real reason is just for nostalgia.

Still, after all of the censorship and cancel culture I've seen on social media, this place does feel like a breath of fresh air. Although this would be a weird place to post it, it gives me a feeling of comfort knowing that if I was truly desperate to get some message out into the open that I knew social media sites were actively censoring, then I could almost definitely get that message out here and not have it taken down. As long as that message wouldn't involve flaming, demonstrable copyright violations, personal attacks toward other people in this community, or NSFW material.
 
Jan 15, 2022 at 8:28 AM
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I guess me being here counts as me "fighting to keep message boards alive". I'm kinda ignorant when it comes to the sociology and politics behind other social media services like Twitter, Discord, Reddit and the like, so my reasons for preferring forums over other community mediums are more surface-level.

With forums, people are more likely to be careful about what they post. It doesn't just get swept under the rug, it stays visible and easily accessible to everyone long after it goes online. The extra consideration really shows in people's posts, and that helps each post feel more meaningful and gives them personality (Thank god there's no small character cap, or else we'd be screwed).

I like having the ability to go back to the beginning of different sections and threads to see what the place looked like long before I was here. Seeing users that are no longer here and looking at what they had posted makes me feel like there's some history behind this community, which is lacking when it comes to other social media platforms.

Forums are also more likely to stay on topic. I mean, threads exist for a reason. Even when you want to go off topic, a thread is made to keep that kind of chatter contained. I personally prefer the kind of banter you'd find in discord servers (or chat rooms) when it comes to off-topic discussion, but even this has its own merits.

Maybe I'm just nostalgic for these sites. They are what I grew up with, so maybe when I eventually do join up with the Discord server I'll have a change of heart, but for now, I'm just happy sites like these still exist and I'll happily keep it alive.
 
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