When I launched Delimiter more than three months ago, I had a concrete business plan with a list of things I wanted to gradually build that I thought would add value to Australia’s technology industry.
Forums weren’t one of them.
At the time, my thinking was that for every internet forum that had succeeded, there were ten that had failed dismally and been left on the scrapheap of history. Sorry, Mr Arrington. Not everything you touch turns to gold.
In Australia we’ve already got our fair share of successful internet forums. The most famous one is obviously Whirlpool, but we also have successful forums run by MacTalk, Atomic, Overclockers, CNET.com.au and more. Even Vogue has its own web forum, with a staggering 406,975 posts in its Beauty: Makeup sub-section.
None of them are quite 4chan, but each forum is already famous (or infamous) for a certain type of user. Whirlpool is well known for bending ISPs over its knee and paddling them, Overclockers is the place to go if you want to build a new gaming rig, and so on. Then there’s the forum of Family First Steve Fielding … which is almost as disturbing as the Vogue forum.
Also, I thought, social networking platforms like Twitter were making forums obsolete. Why set up a forum in 2009, when you could have much more instant conversations in real time?
But the thing that I really hated about forums was the crappy forum software that admins have had to put up with over the past 20 years. I have heard so many people complain about how shitty phpBB and its little friends are that I was loathe to put my toe back into that world.
“Beware, phpBB is a filthy filthy security hole,” one former forum admin told me, describing it as “a huge piece of swiss cheese”.
“It may be better now — I imagine it would be cos otherwise the project would have wound up,” he continued. “Just watch your ass. You and one bajillion other websites have a common attack target. And patch that fucker like your life depended on it.”
However, after a degree of investigation of the forum scene, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been wrong about forums.
The need for good web forums is only growing as more and more people start to connect to the internet and use them as a source of advice. And their asynchronous nature (like email, you don’t have to be there to respond instantly) is seeing them continue to have a valid role in the internet ecosystem somewhere between Twitter, IM, Facebook and email.
Then, too, forum software has changed.
After investigating the tangled world of forum software, I have found that phpBB, the open source stalwart, is actually pretty damn good these days. Installing and configuring phpBB was a total breeze, and most admin tasks look to be fairly easy as well. And over the past few weeks of testing, I have found the software really easy to use as a user — posting entries and new threads has been a delight. This isn’t something I expected.
Then too, I think there are quite a few areas that are not served well by existing forums in Australia.
There are no forums devoted exclusively to the IT services market (covering such big players as IBM, HP/EDS or Accenture for example), or to Australia’s listed technology sector on the ASX. If you want to discuss which stocks are worth buying at which prices, you’d need to go to a more generalist board like HotCopper.
I might be wrong, but as far as I know there’s no forum devoted to the internet filter (apart from the one inside the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) or one to discussing Government 2.0.
Some of this is covered by Whirlpool’s encyclopedic forums, but not always in a way which is best for each topic. Whirlpool is such an all-encompassing beast that sometimes topics which are better treated in a more specific way get left behind — the same way that Australia’s technology sector was getting left out of Wikipedia.
And so we have decided to keep the Delimiter forum (click here!) and attempt to post content in it to attract users so that many more topics and many more Australian voices are heard. As always, it’ll be a work in progress — let us know what you think and what you want from it!