Why is the SDMB membership declining, and what's the best way to add younger members?

I think that we need to decide what demographic we want to attract before we decide what approach to take. Attracting 19-25 year olds takes a different approach than attracting 25 to 40 year olds, and the 40 to 60 year old market takes yet another approach. We don’t have the time or resources to go after all of them.

I’ve noticed the same thing. I’m probably guilty of it myself, to be completely honest.

That said, I’m reading this thread and thinking that it’s a good example of what a quality Dope thread can be: people with lots of different ideas engaging respectfully around a topic they are invested in. Will this thread result in any change in the board? Maybe not. But it’s a breath of fresh air compared to the other threads on this topic, that’s for sure.

I don’t think we should be targeting a young demographic. There’s no point in changing the SDMB to appeal to young interests since there are so many places on the web which are much, much, much better suited to them. I don’t doubt that the SDMB membership can be expanded by tailoring it to appeal to young people, but that focus would likely change what this board is about. It would be like the transformation the History Channel went through. They used to have real history documentaries, but now it’s all shows about Bigfoot, Ghosts, and Aliens. No doubt their ratings are higher, but the channel is unrecognizable from what it was before.

The magic sauce of the SDMB is that it’s a place for people who like to delve deeply into topics and have passionate, serious debates. There’s not really another place on the web like it. I feel we should stay true to that purpose even if it means the website ‘boards.straightdope.com’ dies a slow death. We should try to appeal to the people who would fit in here rather than try to appeal to a certain age group.

The Pit used to be where some of the most entertaining and notorious threads appeared, the ones that were good enough to make new people interested in the SDMB. I’m thinking of things like “Prehensile rectum” and “The horror of blimps.”

Even is message boards, and especially general-interest message boards that don’t have a focus on a specific hobby, weren’t in a long-observed decline across the board…if it was so easy for decaying organizations that formed in a different time to attract new membership through sheer force of will, then the Episcopal Church, Kiwanis and Lions clubs, and bowling leagues would all have done it.

Another Welcome back! shout-out to @Martini_Enfield. Good to see you again.

Although in a rueful commentary on the state of boardplay today, I’m probably guilty of nitpicking him & (gently) impugning his motives in another thread starting right about here:

and running for the next dozen posts or so.

Which represents a hell of a welcome (!!???!!! ?1?) for someone I’ve genuinely enjoyed for years. WTF is up with that?

As someone I think mentioned upthread, the last five years have taken a toll on us all and changed the tenor of dialogue everywhere. We are meaner as a culture, not just the board. But we do have an opportunity to make this small - scale change.

Because as I’m sitting here reflecting on everything that’s been said, I’m questioning whether this is all worth it to me. And I think the least I can do is try to engage differently and see how that goes. I don’t think I’ve been seeing the better side of the board lately, or the better side of myself.

They are, after all, both games—as are board games, and D&D, and crossword puzzles, and TV game shows. They’re more similar than, say, movies and cooking (both in Cafe Society), or all the miscellaneous things people post about in IMHO.

It’s unreasonable to expect that thread in a forum is going to appeal to the same people.

But I think there have been substantial numbers of Dopers who were drawn here to the message board through their familiarity with The Straight Dope (newspaper column or site or books)

I’m going to respectfully disagree, but I see your ( and EoD’s) point. The thing though about fixing some of the cosmetics (the forum names and some of the stodgy imagery for example) is that they (if we were willing, which is a huge if) are quick fixes that might help retain the few ‘new’ people who are still currently stumbling in. Yeah, it’s not in any way of addressing the long term of adding members, but it may increase the trickle as it stands without requiring an investment of time/money/etc.

To use your analogy, a restaurant may have bad location, lousy food and rude staff - but they may still get walk-ins who don’t know, because they stumbled upon the place at the right time. But if you then see weird cult artwork on the wall, and unpopular political signs hanging, and the staff are having a loud argument for all to see about ‘them!’ they are likely to turn around and walk right back out. :man_shrugging:

I hope it’s not too pedantic of me to correct that the original HOB thread was in MPSIMS.

I checked before I posted to make sure: It is in The BBQ Pit. I suppose it could have started out in MPSIMS and been moved, but I don’t see an indication that this happened.

I’m on boards with younger memberships. This one is smarter, but not especially more respectful. Young people cop attitudes, old people grind axes. The SDMB’s long-form essay format favors the latter.

It’s a cultural problem, but not young vs old culture: more of a flex & clout culture vs the sort of culture I find was best expressed by Jawaharlal Nehru as he opposed British rule but was always grateful for what Britain’s Trinity College had taught him: the other fellow always has a point of view.

If that’s not a good cultural solution, I wonder if anything else would just be a gimmick.

This. Thank you for saying it so succinctly.

When I was active here in the early 2010s I was forever telling my wife about some interesting convo on the Dope that day about something or other. Likewise, if she brought up some random topic or event from her activities I could usually say “You know we had a thread about almost that same thing a few months ago and …”. By that time I’d been an active member for a decade, so the novelty had long since worn off. But the content was still there and the experience was still fresh.

Over the last year or three when she asks “What are the Dopers up to today?”, my only answer is “not much new” as I struggle to come up with something, anything, that we actually talked about or anything memorable that I wrote.

If I was forced to be more specific in my answer to her it’d probably have to be “Not much new. Just whining about RWs in general and Trump in particular while hiding from COVID.” It pains me to admit that. As ultimately pointless and futile as all this reading and writing is, how much more pointless and futile if just in service of those 3 topics?


The board fills a major social need for me, so I’m not leaving. But I certainly will change my approach. I’ll work on making it make me better while I work on making it better.

Be the change you want to see.

Huh, well then I am a pedantic asshole and wrong to boot. Sorry about that!

And I would counter that with, even if the place is decorated nicely and the staff is friendly, they’re still going to get lousy food and not come back, and will tell their friends that it stinks.

This is what I would do if I was God. It’s not my turn this week but I’m posting it anyway.

What I think is the most urgent problem is the cash flow. Nothing was done for a year even though I think it could and should have been. The first thing should be to get a membership system set up so that those who want to contribute money can do so. Members can get perks like custom titles or no ads or something, and this is important so I’m going to yell it, PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE NOT TO PAY CAN’T BE MADE TO FEEL LIKE SHIT. That’s just creating more bad blood and driving more people away.

Once the corporate gods are happy that the board is paying for itself, that would be the time to redesign the graphics and rename the forums and things like that. The core posters would keep posting no matter what the place is called, I think. It would give them some time to get used to it.

Then get on board with someone who knows how to promote a business on social media in order to get the word out. Decide what demographic you want to appeal to because Czarcasm is right that different ages take different approaches. Same as if you want to have a gastropub or a sports bar or a fine dining restaurant.

Once membership is going up, that would be the time to bring back the column using Patreon or something to pay the columnist for their time and effort.

I’m pretty new here. It’s been decades since I read a Cecil Adams column. So I’m not attached to the whole Cecil and the olden days the way the long-time posters are. I see this as trying to revive a failing business and the only way to do that is to treat it like a business.

But you’re a nice pedantic asshole.

Great plan.

Eh. I think rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is an apt metaphor. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t really see this place re-expanding much. The complaints about cliquishness, insularity and crankyness (the last partially reflecting the current trajectory of society) are on point, but in my own experience sorta intrinsic to the aging of online communities generally. This happens everywhere and I’m not at all sure it is fixable. This isn’t a free-wheeling community anymore and I’m not at all sure many would be comfortable with what it was back in 2000. Social mores have changed quite a bit since then. Just look at that list of ‘tired topics’ in the rules.

I ALSO think that IMHO some of the old-timers here are guilty of looking back at the SDMB of yesteryear with rose-colored glasses. I started to go into more detail on this, but decided to bail on the specifics. But basically re:old-timey debate here - there were more people, there were fewer rules and topics were fresher. The more people is a Catch-22, fewer rules led to constant tedious fucking rules lawyering and a steady exodus of people leaving due to perceived toxicity, and again see ‘tired topics’. And the decline of more balanced political views is a self-perpetuating ratchet. The place was always left-leaning and contentiously so. It was more balanced early on because it was early on. But it was always going to become more of an echo-chamber, because the right was always outnumbered in this community from the get go. Trump was a very recent accelerant, not the cause.

Maybe this place would be in better shape today if the first “pay-to-post” era hadn’t be such a kick in the nuts to the community. But I kinda doubt it. I think the decline would have just been slower.

I don’t either, but I wonder if it really needs to expand “much” to be viable. Perhaps a very small but consistent influx of new folks would be enough to keep it interesting and financially stable? Hard to say, but if that’s all it needs, then it doesn’t seem impossible.

I don’t mind having a Pit for stuff like that. I am just of the opinion that insults and attacks shouldn’t be permitted anywhere.