Why I rarely build forums
February 24, 2009

Why I rarely build forums

By Barry

Why I rarely build forums


Forums are a legitimate way to develop a domain but I rarely use them. Proponents argue that the content is created by users and it brings life to a website. This is true but does that outweigh the negative aspects of forums? In my experience, forums are rarely worth developing except in certain cases.

The origins of forums

Back when I started out on the Internet in the 80s before the web was invented, LISTSERV acted as a forum of sorts. It was really a mailing list but in many ways it acted as a forum.  LISTSERV, created by Eric Thomas, is still around and available as a commercial program.

Even back then, we had the trolls and flamers which tried to disrupt the interactions. Now we can add sophisticated spammers to that list.

Why not to build a forum

  • Constant vigilance
  • Minimal control over content
  • Hard to monetize
  • Harder to sell
  • Hard to start

Constant Vigilance

I was on twitter recently when a domainer asked for help to remove porn spam from their forum. They were not at home and were unable to remove the spam. Another domainer  on twitter luckily stepped in and helped to remove the spam.

Forums need to be watched whether you are down the street to get a cup of coffee or heading off on vacation. Unlike blogs or websites, the degree to which they dominate your time rarely corresponds to the monetary value they bring in.

Yes, there are ways to stop spammers but it’s a war and spammers are getting ever more sophisticated. Upgrades in software and installation of various tools are needed on an ongoing basis.

Flamers and trolls can easily get in under the radar appearing as normal users. They can quickly polarize a community and destroy its integrity and value.

Finding moderators is the usual way of taking the burden off the site owner but these moderators need to have good judgement and be respected. Also you may need to compensate them if you cannot find those motivated enough in the community. You also have to wonder about the motivation of those who do volunteer.

Minimal control over content

Much of the content will be generated by the users of the forum. You do not have control over keywords and off-topic conversations often occur. There are ways to handle that but it requires strong moderation and a diplomatic touch.

Hard to monetize

Forum users in general tend to ignore ads or even reject forums with ads. The most common solution is to build a website around the forum hoping that the forum users will click on the ads there.

The problem is that forum users usually just bookmark the forum and go directly to the forum rather than through the website.

Subscription fees to forums is another business model but they are heavily resisted unless there is some very strong and unique content or tools. Money often needs to be spent to promote a forum with this business model.

Harder to sell

Well this probably goes without saying. You limit your buyers when you include a forum. Many buyers, especially experienced ones will know how much work a forum is and will often prefer a website without a forum.

The forum must bring something unique and essential to the table for buyers to be interested. Most often it is the contribution to the bottom line i.e. more money.

Hard to start

Depending on the topic, forums can be hard to start. Finding a core of passionate posters is difficult and managing the politics of the forum so that no one user dominates it can be tricky when the number of users is small. There are various tricks such as seeding the forum with people you know, paying for posts and advertising.

Related Post

Forums may not be worth the time and effort

The most common mistake people make when starting a forum is underestimating the amount of time that is needed and how long it will take for the forum to become self-sustaining. The number of abandoned forums on the web is a testament to that fact.

The question you need to ask is: what else could I be doing with this time? You could be building more websites or off enjoying a holiday with family without the need to check a forum every hour.

For me, the choice is usually pretty simple. I can make enough money with websites or blogs and be able to take a break whenever I need to. That is more valuable to me than the extra visitors a forum may bring to my websites.

So that is my choice, what is yours?