Why has the SDMB been as successful as it has for so long?

Last week, I started a thread in ATMB about declining membership. That was depressing.

I’ve been meaning to start this thread for a while. Maybe this is a good time.

codinghorror, on the Discourse forum, put up a thread with an article about the Something Awful message board and why it has lasted so long. Some of the success factors in that article are different than what’s done currently at the SDMB.

The SDMB was created around the same time as Something Awful and has lasted just as long.

A message board lasting for over 20 years is like a celebrity marriage lasting over 20 years. . . a rarity.

What’s the secret to the SDMB lasting so long?

Braaaaaaaaains. :zombie:

But seriously, smarts. In all the years I was lurking, I was mostly checking for my weekly hit of the actual column. It was smart, fun, and snarky, all of which I enjoy. But as time went on, I kept noticing the little threadspotting links, which looked interesting, especially when they seemed to dig deeper into a subject than the column could given time and space. So I followed. And there it was, amazing, detailed, and researched information that further opened the world on an endless variety of subjects.

Sure, you can google nearly anything these days based on your google-fu skills, but then you have to aggregate it yourself, evaluate the bias, and check out their cites if any. But here, someone’s normally already got the party started. I can also get a right wing viewpoint on a subject without reading Fox News or similar sites, and I can check the links for the source information they’re using (if any). Or if a news story is just a headline that gets lost a day or two later, someone here is local or invested and has the information I crave. Or if I just want to get opinions on best smoked meat options, it’s just a click away. And since unlike a lot of sites I used to visit, we have moderation, there is less of a tendency for everyone to flame out over issues and derail the discussion.

No place better on the web.

At least to some extent, I think it’s that it’s a [generally well] moderated board. With mods keeping a pretty close eye on everything but not to the point where people feel they’re being attacked, the place stays fairly civil (and spam free). With that comes posters who stay here for long amounts of time. Find some un modded board and I think you’ll find quicker turnover as people get tired of it. There’s plenty of unmoderated boards that I don’t think I could spend 20 years on.
Plus, overall we’re pretty welcoming. I’ve asked questions on other boards and due to the nature of the questions, it was clear I wasn’t one of them and treated as such.

It’s well moderated and it had mostly interesting people with interesting things to say. The decline of SDMB is symptomatic of the decline of the message board, not really because of anything the Dope has done or failed to do.

Maybe this specific style of message board, but Reddit continuously gets more popular. From 2012 to 2021, they’ve gone from under 50 million active users to over 400 million with a [large] increase every year.
Cites here and here. Admittedly, I didn’t vet those cites, they were just the first two hits I got when I looked that up and I’m assuming they’re correct.

On top of the good moderation, you can ask anything from a plumbing question to personal questions. And they are, for the most part, met with reasonable intelligent responses.

And you can ask about personal plumbing questions…

The older SDMB use to be comedy gold. Always a number of funny posts. This was the reason I joined and an sad to see there are not as many these days.

Define successful.

I agree that it’s gotten less humorous and more PC as the years have gone by.

But it’s remained successful because the signal-to-noise ratio is considerably higher than just about any other forum in existence. There’s nothing else like it out there.

Still here.

Some advantages of the SDMB that I see are the large archives - a product of the long life of the forum and dedicated staff that have made sure that our archives remain available - and just as important, archives that are google-able and viewable by non-members, which allow us to attract new users.

Reddit is what is cannibalizing all the other message boards, especially ones that are dedicated to a certain subject. Why not just use a subreddit? This message board makes no sense as a subreddit, as it’s its own community, not a single-topic board.

I’d say the fact that we have rules of debate are a huge factor. For instance, try arguing a point without cites here- you’ll be skinned alive. Versus a lot of places where people routinely argue “Go do your own research” as proof of their argument.

Also, I agree that we have less humor than we used to.

I think that’s another reason we’ve stood the test of time as well as why we keep, and hold on to, members for so long. There’s plenty of standalone message boards, but many of them exist for a purpose. Even if they have plenty off forums for off topic discussions, they still serve the purpose of helping people get information on a specific topic (or narrow range). I’m on two different saltwater aquarium message boards. I used to be very active on a Tivo message board. I’ve spent a bit of time reading threads on a few 3D printing boards. There’s tons of message boards dedicated to politics. But unless the off-topic community is really thriving and you really get to know the other members, when you’re done with that hobby or get tired of that topic, off you go. But, ignoring the connection to the SD columns, this board is designed to cover pretty much whatever people want to talk about. You end up becoming a part of the community just by being, even a little bit, active.

That exactly. I’ve been a member of car enthusiast boards for the various cars I’ve owned. Lots of good info on maintenance, performance tweaks, etc. And a certain amount of chewing the fat in general. But …

When I sell that car I have no further need of that board. And what fat-chewing there is is still centered around those cars and the people who drive them. Occupational boards or hobby boards are the same. Much more transactional: “How do I connect a gizmo to a doodad? Thanks all. G’bye till next time I have a question”.

Here, for whatever accident of history, we’re not like that. Mostly we’re not all the same. Yakking with folks from South Africa, Australia, Finland, and that really exotic place called Chicago. Not all engineers, not all stay-at-home parents, not all college students. It’s more like Noah’s Ark, where there’s two of everything here. Which two often provide very different perpectives on whatever it is they have in common. Be that an occupation, a hometown, an education, a disease, or a hobby.

I don’t think we can say really anything useful about why that happened. Right mix, right place, right time, right luck would be my answer. But it happened to form a self-sustaining mix.

But knowing that we are successful, at least in the sense of still being here at all, we can maximize that future success by trading on what we are, rather than trying to become something we aren’t.

Stay open to international participation. Emphasize things that let us connect as people, not just as disembodied experts or opinion-spreaders/spewers. Most of all, preserve the civility that helps us all remember that the words of others we read aren’t coming from bots to be shouted at; they’re coming from actual people with feelings just as sensitive, prickly, and rubbed raw as our own.

Definitely moderation.
But also that it isn’t too big.
I came here from Usenet 20 years ago. I found this place when someone on talk.origins said there was a good evolution discussion here. Which was true. At that time even the few Usenet groups I was on had such high volume it was hard to keep up, plus I had crap newsreader software. So I moved here.
I’ve been on reddit, but the subreddits I’ve seen have lots of posts but not much personality. It has posts, we have people.
I’ve been on message boards since 1975, so I have lots of experience. It would be nice if we had more new people popping in, but the volume here is pretty reasonable.


  • I get that joke!
  • That was a joke?

0 voters

I’ll always associate the SDMB with Cecil’s wonderful books from 1986 onward. Everything else I love about it is secondary.

Beautifully said, LSLGuy. That Noah’s Ark analogy really hits the nail on the head. I’ve been a bit embarrassed at myself for having had such a sheltered and narrow life experience up to this point, and not being able to meaningfully contribute to topics like parenting, law-related issues, DIY projects, etc. But your post makes me feel better now - I’m just another animal on the big boat that is the SDMB, occasionally chipping in with the small amount of knowledge I do have.

I actually was the type who would hang out at a bunch of different forums back in the day. Most of them would (and often did) port over to Reddit just fine. Reddit specializes in commenting on things that already exist, and then having little small back and forth conversations within it.

This board does things differently. We start with a topic, but then have an ongoing, evolving conversation. There may be some level of splitting off into small conversations, but it still remains part of a whole.

Nowadays, I either comment in comment sections or on Reddit. The sole exception is this message board, as it just gives a different experience. For the rest, Reddit seems to replace them just fine.