Why I don't spend much time in Forums any more:

Edit: Wow. . . Today's Pearls Before Swine is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

The internet is a magical place. In the following I'll assume you, fair reader, have some knowledge of forums. If you don't, refer to the asterisks.

I've been a netizen (yeah, an old terms, I'm acting like an old man, blah blah, shut up) for over a decade now.

I started in the early 90s using a Juno e-mail account and Pointcast to receive daily news. In those days, my insignificant hometown didn't even have dial-up access, and that meant we wound up shelling out for a long distance calling plan so we could call locally to Montgomery for our access. After Juno we went to AT&T dial-up, and a year or two after that, we converted to a local provider, the tiny Tallassee.net that allowed us to access via a 'real' local call. We dumped our long distance plan and got a second line--local this time.

In the years to come, I would learn the wonders of broadband access from college labs and my university dorm. And in those days there was one part of every summer homecoming that I dreaded--returning to the hell of that screeching modem (yes, I know you can disable the speakers, I chose to serve it as a kind of penance) and incredible load times, during which you could get up and make yourself a sandwich if your connection dropped. Then one summer I came back and found my father had gleefully become one of the first Cable internet customers in my county. It was like returning to a stuffy private school you hate only to find they've torn it down and built an amusement park there.

Now, I dredge up all this back story only to make clear that my time on the internet has been neither short, nor limited. I have some perspective on the matter.

Now, my musings this particular evening are pointing in a particular direction, towards that of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad theory.

Now, this is a particularly ironic observation for the reason I'm about to discuss. This evening, curious about the fact that the current comic from PA isn't loading, I dropped by their forums to see if some sort of downtime was an article of discussion. What I found in "the monkey den" (their primary discussion forum) was a sticky* thread created solely to announce who has been banned.

I noted, upon glancing over the forum, that my particular question was not being discussed, but that the banning thread had 27 pages**. Now, normally a thread with that many pages has changed topics several time, and I thought to myself "wow, this must have become the thread that won't die***.

Now, I clicked on it out of curiosity and noted with surprise that the creator of the thread (a moderator) announced that the thread was locked(*^). I was also impressed to note that mods didn't comment multiple times for a single time--they edited past posts. So each post represents a single ban. So I ran some numbers. The thread was created in early October, 2003--roughly 850 days ago. And with 27 pages at 25 posts per page, that 's roughly 675 comments, each of which represents a banned (or jailed/muted) person. That's an average of one person being banned every day and a half. So basically. . .the board is full of people that take away from the experience. Daily.

I've started to realize that the vast majority of 'discussion' areas on the internet (news discussion groups, many martial arts boards, every religious board ever) have a terrible signal/noise ratio(^). I still know of the occasional forums (the overflux parkour forum, for example) where the signal noise ratio is decent (maybe five or better). Those forums are not only rewarding to visit, but they refresh one's faith in humanity in some way. However, they are so few and far between that rooting them out often takes more time and effort than it is worth.

This, I don't spend much time on forums anymore.

* Sticky threads stay at the 'top of the pile' and don't get pushed down the stack by 'normal' threads, so topics that are constantly discussed don't constantly have new threads created if there is already one in progress.

** Forums broken into pages typically sport 10 to 30 posts per page. The PA forums have 25. These pages keep each page from being ridiculously huge.

*** Most forums eventually get a thread that won't die. The MAAC forum that I used to be present on had one with around 7000 posts. The Ag/Ath board had one that is past 50,000. These threads are far more immortal than their topics, and typically wander to whatever the off-topic-topic-of-the-day is.

*^ locked threads can't be posted to by regular users. Only a moderator may add new comments to the thread.

^ Signal/noise refers to the amount of discussion that is actually about the target of the forum vs. the amount of discussion that is off-topic. Signal/noise of 1 means that for every post someone makes in a martial arts forum about proper stance or TKD politics, someone else makes a post about a puppy, or how much fun they had water skiing last week. S/Ns of five or better are startlingly rare.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006