Way back in the early 2000’s (which by the way was almost 20 years ago now, so if you feel old now, you’re welcome) message boards were the heart of the Internet. There were the tiny phpBB-based self hosted forums with 100MB database limits for a group of roleplaying friends and there were huge services that allowed you impressive amounts of customization and were hubs of massive communities. Then the social network gigants happened and MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and a couple of other services took over making private message boards all but obsolete. It was much easier to have a facebook group than a message board for your fandom, chess club, RPG group or BDSM dungeon. Everything had to be connected, sharable and had to have a little heart or thumbs up icons. I tried to convince my friends to give message boards a chance, to host my own forum here with this website, but apparently not having your login integrated with one of the media gigants is a serious disadvantage. And don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the simplicity of clicking “login with google” and not worrying about the subject anymore. I work in IT, deal with information security all the time, I know enough to never want to type anything on the Internet ever again.
And yet, here we are. I’m far from saying that I can do a better job protecting the passwords of my friends than a massive company, because I know I can’t, but on the other hand, what channels of communication are we left with? Your facebooks and googles and twitters are slowly creeping closer and closer to full censorship crackdown. And no, I don’t mean banning far-right hatemongers, fuck those guys. I mean for example cutting down people with minority sexual orientations, consensual adult-oriented content or other not ad-friendly stuff. Tumblr banned pretty much everything, Facebook never allowed anything in the first place, Twitter and Instagram keep on suppressing adult artists and sex-workers and even historical channels on youtube struggle because nobody wants their ad next to a 30 minute documentary on trench warfare or concentration camps. It kinda feels that we gave away the power to decide what can be shown to those huge corporations and they decided that the best thing to show is their ads. And nobody’s interested in taking that power back, because it’s inconvenient that way.
Then there are all sorts of online places like Deviantart, Artstation, Newgrounds, and other artistic sites that let you build a fanbase (if you’re lucky and talented) and host your artworks (that fit their ever-changing TOS), but at least in my experience, community-building side on them is kinda lacking. Usually when I meet cool people on those websites, the actual communication and interactions jump to other channels like Discord for example. It is a viable alternative for now, it allows for an almost messageboard-like setting with the ADHA of group chats that modern communication made us used to. It’s still a big media company hosting our data on their servers and nobody knows how many FBI read your posts there. It’s better than facebooks and twitters, since things are more or less private, you keep your gaming community separated from your artistic community and your RPG group and there’s no danger that your boss or your grandma will see something you’d rather they didn’t. And at least for now they don’t depend on ads so they don’t really care about ad friendliness, but in today’s online culture we’re probably one scandal away from that changing too.
So in general I miss the good old days when a message board was the hub of the community and I hope that one day the pendulum of public forums swings back that way, but for now I’m content with owning a couple of mostly dead discord servers.