Forums… Damn, I miss forums. They gave you an endless resource where questions could be asked, answers could be found, things could be bought, sold and swapped… So why the hell did we ever migrate away from them?
The answer is probably linked closely to the massive rise in smartphone usage around 2008, with the majority of forums not displaying very well on small screens, often becoming virtually unusable. Once Facebook introduced groups… their decline was almost guaranteed.
For a time though, it was good. Lots of small community groups popped up, some solely for users of a single site/field, others for those who had an interest in certain platforms and gear types. It seemed as though there wasn’t anything missing and that Facebook offered us everything we needed, including the ability to sell replicas, something that’ll now result in a month long ban and probably the permanent deletion of the group you posted it in.
One of the main benefits of writing an independent blog, is that I can write whatever the hell I want to. Sure, I cant break the law and its possible that my website host might change their T&Cs, but I can always migrate if thats the case. But in the meantime, I can choose to swear (or not) and post up pictures and links to items that would instantly result in a ban from the majority of airsoft groups (including the one that I run).
So what am I trying to say? Well, it’s becoming more and more likely that before long, all airsoft content will be pushed out from the main social media platforms.
Facebook (and by extension, Instagram) have already made it a dicey game to even post a picture of a replica online. Some groups are so fearful of deletion that they won’t allow you to post anything gun shaped up at all, others won’t even let you use “trigger words” such as gun, rifle, pistol etc.
Will this cause a migration back to the more traditional platforms? Are forums due a sudden resurgence? Will site operators websites once again play host to forums and blogs that once dominated the online airsoft world? God I hope so, forums have become far easier to navigate on phones and with many even being designed primarily around a mobile interface.
Sadly though, I don’t think they will. I’ve even looked into the possibility of running an ATRG Forum alongside this site, but honestly… Forums are a lot of hard work to run well. I’d love to offer a community platform for whitelisted sales and advice, but honestly, I don’t have the time or patience. Running a blog takes up a reasonable amount of time, a forum would end up all-consuming.
The biggest within Europe, Zero In had dozens of moderators, a few of whom I know well. They were kept very busy in it’s heyday and even so, the scams on the classifieds and the arguments in the discussion boards were so prevalent that it was almost a full time job keeping them in check.
Unfortunately for Zero In, it’s run by a shop that’s specifically banned its users from even mentioning any other airsoft shop or providing links to services, even if they’re not directly competing with Zero One.
It’s also got too big, and when you dilute the few hundred knowledgeable airsofters with a few thousand idiots who just repeat what their mate said, you have to take any information given with a pinch of salt. You end up having to look up their standing within the community, do additional research and you ultimately still have to trust the word of a stranger… One who might be getting rewarded to recommend a product, or worse… Might just be an idiot with zero knowledge passing on third hand information from some guy who wouldn’t know the answer if it was written in ten foot high letters.
So the question is, what lies ahead for the online airsoft community? A return to the same forums that the old boys talk about such as Arnies Airsoft (still going strong, albeit with a smaller nucleus of active members. Reddit perhaps? A site that offers a midway point between social media and forum but ultimately suffers from being yet another third party network.
I just don’t know. As much as I’d like to see a welcoming and useful meeting place for those of us who are mature enough to use one, unfortunately I feel that there is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of where we can go to talk, discuss, buy and sell within the world of airsoft.
So what would I recommend we do?
Well social media needs to take a back step for those of us serious about an online community. We need to stop depending on third party companies with questionable and ever changing policies for the safeguarding of airsoft information. It can throttle a group or pages viewership, it can allow any idiot to post up the same stupid question on 40 pages and end up with 40 stupid answers, it promotes and allows the type of toxic behaviour that many newcomers encounter and it also ultimately isn’t our platform… It’s the platform for wannabe celebrities and try hard provocateurs.
Maybe we should be looking towards smaller, specialised forums. Ones where we don’t need to appease the majority, and don’t feel the need to be welcoming to everyone. I’d never suggest that my blog is of use to a speedsofter (although I don’t dislike them) and I’d also never expect ATRG to be the font of all knowledge to a casual newcomer to airsoft with an overall budget of £150.
After all, I don’t go to Byron Burger and ask for a Big Mac, so why would I go to a UKSF specific forum and ask about “what am best gnu for £50”. Unfortunately, facebook makes it easy for people to join a group and ask pointless questions, and worse… Provide pointless answers. At least with forums you had the automatic gate keeping of joining and approval followed by the active management of moderators and admins.
Let’s not forget two important facts. Social media companies are perfectly entitled to remove whatever content they desire, it’s not a public service and your rights are subject to the terms you signed when joining the platform, don’t like it? Then leave. The second fact? If you’re not paying for the product, then YOU are the product. Facebook might seem like a friendly place to share photos and thoughts, but anything that ends up on their platform becomes their property. Your data can be used to further the goals of that platform or sold to advertisers who want you to buy what they’re selling… and there’s fuck all you can do about it.
Whatever the future holds, we might well need to make a choice before the choice is made for us. Social media wont be around in it’s present form forever, and even if it is… You’re only a guest at their convenience, they control what you share and also what you see.