Monday, August 08, 2011

O declínio dos forums da Internet?

The Old Internet Neighborhoods, por Virginia Heffernan (New York Times):

Many boards are stagnant or in decline, if they even still exist. Several once-thriving boards on the women’s site iVillage have closed up shop. Big fan-fiction boards haven’t seen real action in years. Last month, a once-popular eight-old-year British board about mental health went dark with a note: “The Internet has changed significantly.”

These are serious signs of the digital times. Message boards were key components of Web 1.0 — the Web before broadband, online video, social networking, advanced traffic analysis and the drive to monetize transformed it.

If urban history can be applied to virtual space and the evolution of the Web, the unruly and twisted message boards are Jane Jacobs. They were built for people, and without much regard to profit. How else do you get crowds of not especially lucrative demographics like flashlight buffs (, feminists ( and jazz aficionados ( By contrast, the Web 2.0 juggernauts like Facebook and YouTube are driven by metrics and supported by ads and data mining. They’re networks, and super-fast — but not communities, which are inefficient, emotive and comfortable. Facebook — with its clean lines and social expressways — is Robert Moses par excellence. (...)

But the forums were spontaneous, rowdy and often inspired Internet neighborhoods. For millions of users, they quickly became synonymous with “The Internet.” They were well-populated. Today the ranking general-interest boards, like Off Topic and Something Awful, have more than 100 million posts. (The biggest board in the world, Gaia Online, a Japanese board devoted to role-playing and anime, has nearly 2 billion posts.)

Still, for all their importance to individual Web users, the boards were almost invisible to anyone intent on profiting off Web traffic — and so they’ve been nearly written out of the history of the Internet. A riveting 1997 article by Katie Hafner in Wired told of the rise and decline of The Well, a venerable online community that began in 1985, as part of the bygone dial-up bulletin board system. Historians have since written shelves full of books on Web search and e-commerce, but very few about message boards. (A notable exception is William Cast’s 2005 book “Going South,” about Yahoo’s HealthSouth board, which became a forum for the company’s angry employees and eventually gave investors tips about the company’s direction.)

A message board is different from a chat room in that its entries are archived. The archive becomes a key component of discussions, with many posters internally linking to and footnoting archived entries. When, in 2004, someone started a thread on a site for digital-video buffs called MovieCodec with “i am so lonely will anyone speak to me,” the spontaneous replies by pseudonymous posters — some sympathetic, some teasing — came to form a master document that’s both existential and hilarious. Collaborative documents like that one — made famous at the time in articles in Wired and The New Yorker — are what the Web loses when forum villagers flee for the Facebook megalopolis (population 750 million).

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