I miss the days of internet discussion forums.
There was nothing like coming home from school or work and logging in to the various web forums that I was a member of. One minute I’d be engaged in a serious discussion on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the next I’d be pretending to be an Iranian with Asperger’s and an obsession with philosophy. Then when that got boring I’d go somewhere else and get into a flame war with some poor unsuspecting soul.
I eventually hosted my own forum, the AJnet Forums. We had a small but regular group of idiots- er, users, and I made some good friends on there who I’m still in touch with to this day. The first time I “retired” the site back in 2012, I made the forum invite-only and hid it from the general public. We routinely had webcam chats on a shitty little TinyChat room and did things like “Movie night”, where I’d stream a movie and we’d all heckle it together. During one webcam chat we even had a member (sup Zack) “take us out” on his boat. Other chats were spent doing silly things like making prank phone calls, doxxing people we didn’t like, and vandalizing Wikipedia.
Sadly, people grew up and became busy with having actual lives, and in August of 2020 I shuttered the AJnet Forums for good. They had a nice ten year run, and they were some of the funnest years of my internet life.
Subsequent attempts to build communities on Discord met failure. For some reason, people love joining servers and not posting in them. One time I invited someone I had been talking to on another server to join my own server and he told me to give him a few minutes because he had to leave some servers since he was a member of literally 100 different servers, which is the max that Discord allows free users to join. I told him not to bother and blocked him. What a loser. There’s no way you’re going to post in 100 different servers. You’re lying to me, you’re lying to yourself. Stop lying.
Conversely, I found that other servers were too active, and it was next to impossible to have a decent non-superficial conversation with anyone. It also didn’t help when they were overly-moderated, and it was a 50/50 crapshoot if some heavy-handed moderator was going to swoop in and reprimand you for violating one of the many silly rules listed in their often tediously long “Rules” channel. Discord is good if you and your friends want to get together and play some games, but as far as having a community with decent conversation goes it’s fucking terrible.
I’ve heard apologists defend the whole “joining a Discord server and not saying anything” thing by blaming anxiety or shyness. Why the FUCK are you in a chat room if you’re too anxious or shy to chat?! I don’t get this behavior at all. If your anxiety is so crippling that you can’t even write messages to faceless people behind a computer screen while using an alias then it’s a miracle you can even function at all. Seek therapy.
The closest thing we have now to an actual discussion forum is Reddit. If you’re looking for serious discussion, Reddit is great in that it has thousands of active communities for virtually every niche you can think of. You can even create your own sub-Reddit and start your own community about pretty much whatever you want. Reddit has millions of daily active users, and in theory it’s a great successor to the phpBB and vBulletin forums of old.
I say “in theory” because it has too many issues to be considered a viable replacement for what we once had.
The biggest issue with Reddit is the upvote/downvote system. Gone are the days of everyone being able to express their opinion and have it seen by everyone else reading the thread. On Reddit, if your post goes against the grain it can simply be brigaded by an army of angry idiots and downvoted to the bottom of the page, where it’s hidden away unless a user actually bothers to scroll through all the other comments (which are usually just threads of people making shitty jokes or pop culture references) and clicks the “unhelpful” or “toxic” post to unhide it.
Basically, Reddit’s upvote/downvote system has created a giant utilitarian hugbox where your voice is at the mercy of the mob, and anyone who dares to have an opinion that contradicts the mainstream is ostracized, silenced, and in some cases even banned from the site.
Another issue I have with Reddit is the overwhelming political bias that both the staff and the users seem to have. There’s a huge liberal bias on Reddit, and I’m not sure why anyone is still pretending there isn’t. After all, the user base is predominantly students or college-educated people, groups that tend to be more left-leaning. I’ve never identified as either liberal or conservative, both sides make valid points about certain issues and neither side is always correct. I respect the opinions of others, and I’ll respect your right to share your views even if I don’t agree with them. Unfortunately, many of the people on Reddit have no respect for the views of others, which often leads to anything even remotely right of center being the recipient of the aforementioned mass-downvoting. Not exactly conducive to good discussion.
I’m not going to pretend that old internet forums didn’t have overzealous moderators or cliquey users that ganged up on people and tried to bully them into silence. I ran afoul of many a moderator in my day, and the phpBB ban screen is forever burned into my brain. But if people ganged up on you during a discussion, at least your posts didn’t get buried and hidden away, effectively preventing others from even seeing a dissenting stance. It wasn’t uncommon for an annoyed user on a forum to simply go start their own forum somewhere else and take multiple users in the community with them. Sure, this still happens even on Reddit, but the downside is you’re still on Reddit and most Redditors are downvoting turds, so the problems will just recreate themselves over time and the new community becomes just like the old one.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this article. I just miss the fun I had being part of phpBB communities, and nothing today seems to come close to recapturing that magic. On phpBB forums, users would make friends and have fun. On Reddit, the user base is too large to get to know others and actually forge friendships, and everyone is busy trying to shout each other down and pick petty political fights. On Discord, nobody wants to fucking talk at all. I just want to have fun and talk to others and discuss ideas and thoughts without having to worry about towing some arbitrary social line or having my words hidden and my digital voice squelched because some sheltered white suburbanite pussy didn’t agree with me and wants to virtue-signal to other sheltered white suburbanite pussies.
Maybe I’m just blinded by nostalgia, or maybe I just haven’t found the right community. I don’t know. All I do know is, if/when I ever do attempt to build another community like I had on the AJnet Forums, it won’t be on Discord, and it sure as shit won’t be on Reddit. Hopefully phpBB will still be around by then, and hopefully this site won’t have been “cancelled” by the internet lynch mob for running afoul of some humorless crybaby somewhere.
Perhaps one day the AJnet Forums will return, but in the meantime y’all are stuck talking to me on Disqus.