In the last three years we’ve seen blogging transformed. We’ve seen the advent of micro-blogging. We’ve seen social networking come of age.
But something else has been happening that has gotten a lot less attention. Internet forums have changed dramatically.
Then and now
Five years ago forums were new and exciting. Everyone wanted to check ’em out. The fast paced interaction was addictive. Lots of people said and did stupid things and lived to regret it.
Fast forward a few years. Forums have been maturing significantly. The hype has fallen away. Those who never got into them have little incentive to start now. Those who were burned by them are happy to forget they ever existed.
What’s left is the core. Those who found the medium genuinely helpful and who were mature enough to handle it. Of course that’s a massive broad brush of the situation. But it leads to a question…
Is there a future?
Is there a future for the forum medium? It would be easy to mistake the maturing of a medium for its death. But I don’t think that is what is happening. Indeed, there are plenty of thriving forums that stand in testimony to this point.
I want to point out three key elements of what I think is happening:
1. The broadening of the discussion table.
In our current online environment, there are any number of avenues for discussion. Blog comment threads, social networking sites and groups, micro-blogging sites, chat groups, chat, and of course the old snail mail… email.
Each of these venues offers a unique set of advantages and disadvantages and will suit different people’s habits, desires, and styles. In the same way, forums offer a unique set of advantages and disadvantages, arguably more advantageous and less disadvantageous than any other venue.
2. The theology factor.
We would have to be blind not to see that open discussion is threatening to some forms of theology. Generally, fundamentalist cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons don’t tolerate opposing opinions. Atheist fundamentalism doesn’t. Islamic fundamentalism doesn’t. In much the same way, many within Christian Fundamentalism don’t either.
Those in these contexts will tend to avoid forums and other open discussion venues because of the public accountability and honest critique they accommodate.
3. The maturity factor.
Many a know-it-all cracker has been knocked for a loop by some PhD sitting behind an avatar—and with benefit to all. In fact, many people break out the proverbial popcorn when they see such a person show up because it can be quite amusing to watch the process.
The point is, the medium has developed a strong culture which knows how to handle those who aren’t mature enough to handle the medium. This tends to keep the cowards and the know-it-alls away from the medium because it’s embarrassing to be publicly exposed as such.
I can’t predict the long term outlook of the online world (in other words, the next twelve months or so…!). But for now, I think forums have the potential to be very relevant. Indeed, many are.
May God continue to give us wisdom to use all of these things for his eternal purposes and glory.
Life on planet blog
- Phil Johnson has some interesting things to say about Evangelicalism over at Pyromaniacs.
- Speaking of Evangelicalism, Dave Doran offers a strong critique of an Evangelical’s characterisation of a key moment in Fundamentalist history.
- Finally, Kezia Dennison has an insightful post on the interrelating of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding at Sunergos Aletheia.