Interview: Where Did All The Forums Go?

 

As social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become popular, the message boards and forums of the early internet years have disappeared. It seems that everything you post online can be found by the anyone and everyone.

Enter the Facebook group. But does it live up to the old school forums?

I was a member of many forums as a teenager and am now a member of many Facebook groups, from craft groups to secret groups where I can rant if I’ve had a bad day. One of my favourite groups is Bunny Approved Group, a place where rabbit-lovers can post pictures and ask for advice.

I had a chat with owner, Christina Chivers, who also runs Bunny Approved Pet Rabbit Supplies (based in North Carolina), about how she overcomes issues of privacy while keeping a happy community, and why she created a group in the first place.

She said, “I own a small business (Bunny Approved) and I first created a [Facebook] page for it. After a while I noticed that people would ask questions about their rabbit’s behaviour or health. The questions would end up on the side of the page and no one else ever really saw them, so there were few responses.

“At the time I usually replied to those questions myself or posted them on the page for everyone to answer. That didn’t seem like a good solution over time, though, so I decided to create a group. People can now post and communicate with each other and I don’t necessarily have to be involved 24/7. If someone has a crisis at 3 am in the morning, SOMEONE will be there to help or give advice.”

After hearing that Christina’s group originated from her own business I immediately thought of my previous post on social capital.  Was this group just a way to get more customers? Did it work?

“I am not sure if it has resulted in more orders. As a whole, being on Facebook has increased orders, yes. It also gives me an opportunity to meet my customers and their rabbits. When they order, I know many of them from social media. It’s nice.”

Although, Christina doesn’t seem to be running her group this way at all. Scrolling through you see no advertisements, no pushy sale posts. In fact, most people (me included) don’t even realise that the group was an extension of her Facebook page, and she doesn’t seem to mind at all.

She noted, “the group was created for the members more than for me.” Though she does like to interact in the group occasionally. She said, “I don’t like bothering people with ads. If I post something and people ask me where the toy in the picture is from, I send them a link to the store. That’s my advertising. I think the group and page together create a nice community and I love being a part of that.”

But does the Facebook group live up to the forum?14054235_1422988164383897_5858775414260033231_n.jpg

Christina had an interesting view on this. “I figured the group on Facebook is what a forum used to be a few years ago. Instead of having a forum people have to actively go to, everyone is already on Facebook. To me, a Facebook group is the modern forum of the internet.”

When you make your group you can choose different levels of privacy, from public to secret, and have just as much control as you want. While the forums I used to know and love were very private, Christina is happy for her page to be public.

“I wanted people to be able to see what the group is about before they decide to be a member. Also, I think it cuts down on drama. I don’t want people to come into the group bashing others while knowing no one else will see it outside of the group. I may be wrong, but in my mind keeping it public is a way to remind people of their manners. If you wouldn’t say it in public, you should maybe not say it at all.”

Her group is a place where people are encouraged to report posts or tag her in conversations that are turning nasty, and it really seems to work. As a regular poster I barely see any trouble on this group at all. Whereas, private and secret groups seem to have a lot more trouble.

She said, “Someone posts a picture that causes heated discussions. Then I deal with it and the next day someone wants to talk about how mean people were the day before. It’s senseless round and round in those cases. Usually a couple of people have to be removed to make peace again.”

But it is still a ‘members only’ group where people are screened before being added. For example, breeders won’t get accepted. “Some people just aren’t a good fit for this particular group, but there are others for them out there and they should turn to those.”

So it seems that the forum didn’t disappear, it just evolved into something new, something more mouldable where you only have the level of privacy you need. The Facebook group.

All photos from BunnyApproved.com

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