the social network: dying branches, green shoots

Memory makes liars of us all. Social networks with all their familiarity, feel shiny and new. Facebook, YouTube, LastFM, all super-clean Web-two-dot-zero design shout 21st Century. And the content certainly reflects that.

But click that browser’s back button enough and you’ll enter a shadowy, less inviting world. Yes, friends. I’m talking about uncharted Forum Land.

Forums hosted the very first Internet dialogues. The place you sought to discover The Truth. Well, someone’s often twisted interpretation of it, anyway.

And despite advances made elsewhere, they stubbornly remain routed in the last century. Curiously, they’re home to a lost race of nerds and the disenfranchised.

In fact, the term enter at your own risk may well have been coined for them…

Here be dragons

Strangely fitting heading, given the soulless creatures who linger in the shadows of forums. While often knowledgeable and clued-up, they can also be vitriolic and venomous.

Just ask the wrong question and you’ll receive the web’s equivalent of a witch’s curse. These beings will spit, curse and insult your parentage at the merest hint of provocation.

Their expelled venom will leave unsuspecting truth seekers whimpering, quivering wrecks, You’ll stare at your own screen in horror and disbelief. Damaged and somehow, violated.

The wild, wild web

OK, I’ll drop the Vincent Price sub-theme right here. But forums are weird, seriously weird. While some forums are hosted by well-intentional and respected parties, you can’t help but think they abandoned them when their body of text became host to the Underworld.

The questions raised seem to come from people who clearly have yet to discover Google. Often adolescent Americans or people from foreign lands with a token grasp of English. Those for whom the word “awesome” is their one and only adjective.

Moderated? By who, the Devil?

Even though forums carry the dire threat of Excommunication and casting into Hell itself, you can’t help but wonder what terrible crime you’d have to commit to suffer that fate.

Punishment only seems to strike those brave newcomers, no sorry, they’re called newbies, who dare to consider responding in kind.

That sinking feeling

I can’t describe the feeling when my Google search points me to a forum for my answer. Ask if the World was flat and I swear, you’d find a forum to tell you so.

No I’m afraid I must be up-front about it, forum dwellers out there (and they are, out-there), I’d rather not rely on anything you say if there is any value associated with the question.

A plea from the heart

Please, I beg you. You companies who think forums are great way to provide support. Abandon the idea before your customers abandon all hope themselves of a solution.

Go for a real social network platform. Flawed in many ways they may be, but they’ll never, ever be as bad as a forum.

Forums are that infected branch of the Internet’s family tree that no one ever talks about. Prune that decaying wood now and let the green shoots of social intercourse blossom!