Are forums inherently a bad way to build real community?

Jun 18, 2021 3 min read

So, I've been thinking about what makes good communities recently. (Shocking, I know!) One of the things on my mind recently is the forums, and more specifically if they are really any good for building communities.

For the record, I love and believe in forums.

What has led me to raise questions is more the idea that when we think of 'online communities' we tend to default to the idea that it should be a 'forum'.

So many community tools have an emphasis on forums, and I wonder if it's time to move on from this fixation. It's not about ditching the ideas of forums, it's more about perhaps not starting or jumping right into them. We need to find the right balance with other community activities and encouraging other types of conversational formats.

So, I recently put the question out there.

The responses are great. They also reaffirm some of my thinking.

Why people don't participate in forums

I summarised the the results with a few of my own thoughts mixed in.

Overwhelm:

  • There are so many places to connect.
  • With so many options, it becomes hard to commit to any

Lack of safety, confidence and belonging:

  • It depends on how involved I feel on be topics of conversation. There is that thing where you get into a debate and take a position based on experience, just to find youโ€™re lacking knowledge and the room is full of experts or at least people with a strongly vested need.
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Spaces are not safe
  • Preference towards smaller, contained and private spaces
  • Lack of confidence
  • Fear of what other people think or say
  • People are just mean
  • Would love more options of anonymous postings
  • Hard to get started and feeling comfortable
  • Too many dudes
  • Fear of being challenged

Bad community user experiences:

  • Moderators are a pain, lack understanding and create boundaries
  • Having to sign up despite have multiple online identities already
  • 90s design ethics
  • The chaos
  • The noise
  • Needing a fast response
  • Inactivity
  • Too many sign up steps & giving away too much personal info
  • Bad community or thread vibes
  • Some threads are just too long
  • Tumbleweeds (poor engagement)
  • Lack of engagement on posts

It's about contributing something of value:

  • Wanting to help contribute to something new, not wanting to say things already discussed
  • Not be there to keep contributing the same old information or ideas
  • Discussions can go on too long and it gets annoying


Personal habits:

  • It's a habit or lack of.
  • Mobile apps can help and are not always available
  • People are just lazy, or lack enthusiasm
  • Can't find the time, or energy
  • What's in it for me? (And the need to prioritize energy)
  • Taking time to get to know the culture and community

๐Ÿ’ฌ Remember, community is about conversations


It's easy to point out flaws, but there are also huge benefits of forums. Understanding the flaws can help us understand the people and how we can design things for them.

Also, whilst people say things like they can't find the time or energy. Often this is not the problem of a forum, it's a problem that people don't value or prioritize the community to help them out. Perhaps they would change their mind if their issue was big enough and they could see the long term impact their contribution make.

All types of conversations come with their pros and cons. And when we introduce them we should also think about when is the best time to introduce them.

Often, but not always, forums are a better thing to start later on in the community journey. Or at least once you've done some community discovery or relationship building.

Creating community in some other form (events, audio, video, etc) won't necessarily fix any of the specific issues here. ย Many of these points raised can be seen as problems with a community as a whole.

The point of raising them is to get us to (re)think about how we should be gathering.

We can converse in many ways, including:
๐Ÿ“บ Video
๐ŸŽง Audio
๐Ÿ“… Events
๐Ÿ“ง Email
๐Ÿ’ฌ Chat
โ˜Ž๏ธ Talking
๐Ÿ“ Stories
โŒจ๏ธ Forums :)

In community we must facilitate conversations and there are many ways to do that!

Remember this when you are tasked with building and nurturing a community.

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