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

This was my first reaction to the question in the OP–our name is just wrong
.It was cute 3 decades ago, but is now very negative
There are certain words which you hesitate before you google, and which you sure don’t type into a computer at work…
"Dope"ain’t quite as a bad as kiddy porn, but it can still get you fired.
Displaying it prominently on the screen does not encourage a newcomer to linger…

.And the opening page of www straightdope dot com is also off-putting.Instead of attracting new members, it discourages them .There’s no immediate way to get a feeling for what the site it about, Just a few titles of questions from several years ago, not clear whether it’s a humor site like fark,dot com or a semi-serious site like quora dot com, or whether the discussions will be vague and inaccurate like yahoo answers. The link to the message boards --the heart of our community—is small and unnoticeable; it gives you no reason to bother clicking on it.

Somehow we need to advertise that this site is a great place for conversations, almost chatting. Ask a question, and get good answers within minutes or hours.
There’s still a market out there–reddit is going fine, attracting lots of younger people. .
Reddit of course, unlike us, has a million subforums on very specific topics, but also has general forums like www.reddit.com/r/askreddit where threads often get over a thousand answers, and with a quality very much like ours.

Were sexist threads “a lot more fun” for female posters? Lets ask them.

Something I don’t understand. The board switched over to Discourse about a year ago, right? Since then there have been threads where people are asking how to buy memberships and I’m sure there would be plenty who would donate extra to keep this board going for a while. But nothing was done about implementing paid subscriptions. I understand that Tuba Diva was the administrator and she passed away, but I get the feeling she didn’t have much technological experience and was mostly handling questions about rules and stuff. And that the new owners have more important stuff to attend to that a legacy mesage board.


There are plenty of tech geniuses here, and if I understand right the creator of Discourse posts here about tecnhical issues. So why, especially after this past year where everyone was locked down at home, was nothing done before now? It’s like the owners suddenly realized the message board was there and told Ed Zotti it had to start making money or else, and now he’s floundering. And while I would pay a membership fee I’m not going to pay money to post in a special forum just to give Cecil Adams ideas for a column that may or may mot succeed.

My kids are 29 and 31 and there’s honestly nothing that would make them want to stick around here. Their interests are different as far as music and TV and stuff. Try to start a serious thread here about Cardi B and you’d get sneered to death. Young people’s lifestyles are different. They’re dating or just married and maybe they have young kids or are working a lot of hours trying to get their careers going. They like media they can get in small bits throughout the day. You can quickly like and comment on a picture on Facebook. They don’t have time or desire to sit and read a 200+ post thread on why some TV show from the 90s that might have been off the air before they were born, hasn’t aged well.

You can’t really compare this board to Reddit; it’s more like a subreddit or a small series of subreddits (although note that I’ve never been on Reddit, so I may well be talking out of my ass). Reddit is more like the entire Discourse platform, open to creation of new boards on whatever subject.

This is me too. With a side order of:

I started out as a GQ-only reader on the advice of a friend and only slowly branched out into the other forums. FTR: I’ve been here since 2003 = 17+ years and am now 62 yo (yikes!).

As to the larger topic of the thread:

  1. Back in the day GQ was one of the best places on the web for laymen to quickly get well-informed answers from journeymen / experts in whatever field imaginable. It still is. But … today wiki & YouTube are bursting with the same info, though not as compactly delivered and certainly not tailored to answer follow-up questions.

    I think younger folks of a curious mindset are as common as they ever were. What’s changed is that our “competition” has grown far larger and more sophisticated.

  2. Access to everything online is mediated by Google/Bing search & popularity on social sites. If we can’t SEO ourselves to higher up the search rankings and we can’t generate “buzz” on social media because most of us have no presence there, we’ll be unable to keep up with the Grim Reaper attacking our current members. We need to have first looks to generate ongoing members. And right now I believe (based solely on guesswork) that we’re utterly flunking first looks. Certainly Discourse has the data to answer this question.

  3. We recently had a poll on whether folks post by desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone. See How do you post to the SDMB?. Long format message boards work great on big screens and keyboards. They suck on phones. Most young people use their phone for 90+% of their online activities. Maybe once everyone is used to dictating, rather than thumbing, their posts on their phones we’d see some renaissance. But more likely not; short punchy tweets are the mental model that resonates for phone users.

    Imagine an SDMB limited to e.g. 200 words per post. Whatever it would be, it wouldn’t be what we have today. That is where phone-based posting is taking us, whether we like it or not.

  4. This …

    is a lot more true than I wish it was.

    While I understand that we were also losing members over lack of a “safe space”, we have become a very welcoming place for people who demand a largely or completely safe space and a very off-putting one for those who are less demanding.

    My reputation is pretty safe and bland here and IRL I’m not that much different. But even I find myself censoring some of my throwaway comments in the more “fun” categories. I’m a Progressive guy. My niece who lives nearby and used to live in my house is a raging SJW. And is someone I respect highly for her living the life, not just talking the talk. However … I need to actively censor my talk to her satisfaction in her presence. Which eventually becomes tiresome. I now find myself needing to do the same here and that is off-putting to even me.

    In an odd sort of way, this safe spaceness is the most “youth friendly” feature of our current culture. Whether the net result is we lose more current and/or potential members than we gain by it is TBD.

    For sure the general polarization / tribalization of US society is harmful. It’s hard to get the two sides to play nice together anywhere on any topic. And accusations of bad faith (at best) fly at the first deviation from orthodoxy, whether here or on Parler et al.

  1. Discourse has a bunch of neat features designed to enhance “engagement”. But I think at least one of them is a two-edged sword. Even back in vBulletin I used the board by first reviewing threads I’d posted to for new entries (the “my subscribed threads” page), then by looking in each forum table of contents page for interesting new or newly updated threads. Starting with my favorite forum then working down the roster of forums until I ran out of time or interest. The Discourse “Unread” feature is akin to the vBulletin “my subscribed threads” but by default includes threads I’ve read a bit, not just one’s I’ve posted to.

    I propose that an unintended consequence of many posters using the Unread feature is we now have fewer and fewer new threads and each thread is driven longer and longer as folks just keep tacking onto the end. We all know it’s intimidating to first notice a thread when it has e.g. 50 posts and knowing we need to read most of it before posting or else we’ll get bitched at by someone (often that beastly @LSLGuy :wink: ) for not having noticed post #17 had the same cite or comment or whatever.

    Fewer and more off-putting threads is a double whammy: there’s fewer threads for people to find and less desire to post in the few they do find. Pretty quickly even the lurkers find nothing new to read.

  2. Starting in about 2015 the board became All Trump All The Time. That pushed an awful lot of our international members away. We still spend way too much time and space riding the RW=Evil hobby horse into the ground, much as I agree with the underlying sentiment. Which hobby-horsing continues to be an obstacle to gaining and retaining international members. Who are some of my favorite posters just for the refreshingly different perspectives they bring and the fun & different stuff they can tell us about.

    All the above is problems, not solutions. But identifying problems is step one. Given the very limited supply of time and money TPTB have to keep the place going, we/they can’t be chasing windmills.

The obvious answer is that there are many more online options now than there were back when the SDMB began. I’d like to think that there will always be a place for the SDMB because it is a place where people can engage in intelligent conversation and debate. It is a place where we can disagree and gain new knowledge and perspective from those disagreements.

Places like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc, are shallow venues that are basically designed to be, “Hey, look at me! Look at what I look like, am doing, or have vacationed at!” They are not designed for any kind of intelligent conversation much less debate. Believe me, I found out the hard way when I first started. I once raised a point in disagreement to a friend’s post, and the reaction was amazing. I think I was “unfollowed” immediately. So, the less obvious reason is that many people neither want nor can handle serious debate. Their egos can’t take it, or they simply don’t have the mental horsepower to compete.

Have any other old style message boards changed their ways(i.e. added the “likes”, threw away the restrictions on words, pictures and the like) and succeeded? Before we decide to make major changes, I would like to see examples that show that this approach can work.

It’s a nice place. I spend far too much time here. So, becauseI’m resistant to any significant change and I’m older, I’d rather not see this turn into something different to “attract younger users.” I’m happy if younger people want to join what we’re doing, but we’ll still skew old and American. But there are plenty of older people who would be happy to find a home here. Getting them here is more a marketing problem, rather than a design problem.

I gather we don’t need (or want) a million regular users. 10,000 or so would be plenty. I’m pretty sure that right now there are 10x that number would would love this place as much as we do if they knew about it.

If the goal is to attract new and younger members, honestly the only place that might be of interest is probably the game room. Sadly I don’t mean the sports* part but the Video Game aspect of it. Articles on new games and videos pointing back to the Game Room forum would possibly attract younger users. Oh, small chance that D&D would draw in some D&D posters, and possible even some below the age of 30. Not sure how well we can compete with the dozens of sites for D&D though.

Of course they won’t meet the standards of many of our older posters, so it would almost need to be insulated from the overly hostile spelling, grammar and abbreviation police.

There is almost nothing about the rest of this place that would be interesting to 13-30 year olds. The reason largely being the membership’s average age is probably somewhere in the 50s. Who wants to spend a lot of time hanging out with their parents at that age?

The columns will hopefully draw in some older posters. Might even lure back some posters that drifted away. I don’t think the SDMB can draw in more than a handful of younger posters though. And as I well know, I’m a middle-aged guy that wouldn’t know what is actually current anyway.

We’re a community here, maybe Ed’s plan will work, maybe it won’t. But it will get back in place the ability to collect money and probably get us a tech admin. Even if the column experiment fails, if we get the ability to collect membership & title money and a tech admin that knows the Dope’s culture, it would be a net positive.

* On the Sports bit, I’m still a big baseball fan, but most major sports we talk about here are not catching the interest of younger fans. Except for maybe the gambling aspect of it. Viewership for Football and especially Baseball keeps skewing older.

And vice versa. I’m an old guy. I read this message board because I feel it covers all kinds of topics of general interest. If I go to reddit, it looks to me like a bunch of young people talking about stuff that only interests people like themselves.

We should only allow threads that are not offensive to anybody. It’s not enough that nobody has to read threads with subjects they don’t like, we shouldn’t allow them to even exist on this board.

Strawman argument.

Yeah, it’s such a hardship that you have to repress your urge to talk about boobs, and that’s why membership’s declining. Look on the bright side, I’m pretty sure you can still say c**t. I think the “mah freedum” lobby won that one.

Perhaps if we changed the rule to “be a jerk” we could access a whole new demographic.

I wonder if trying to skew this board to the teen/young adult set is really the way to go. The median age is going up, not down.
• Median age of the U.S. population 2019 | Statista

Can confirm. My median age seems to go up every year.

You want to increase membership or not? The scope of the board has narrowed and so has membership. If you want the board to be more exclusive then it needs a way for the limited membership to pay for it.

First of all, I don’t accept your theory that moderating threads that are jerkish and hostile toward women results in a decrease in membership.

Second - no, I don’t agree with your proposal that we should be trying to attract new members for whom allowing jerkish sexist threads would be a significant positive factor in joining.

I must also add that I’ve seen first time posters get beat up pretty good here on more than one occasion. Rather than assume that someone is a troll or an idiot just because their OP seems inane, I try to address it intelligently and politely. If the person is a troll, he will demonstrate it beyond doubt soon enough. If the person is not, however, he will probably be scared off by the harsh responses.

The forum actively works to minimize the number of threads. You start a thread about some interesting item (to you) in the news because you think others might be interested in reading about and discussing it, and it is immediately closed because it had only a sentence or two description and not a series of paragraphs outlining what should make this interesting and what direction the discussion should go. This isn’t entirely the moderators faults because I gather that there is an army of self-appointed Hall Monitors with a trigger-finger “report this thread” response for any OP not verbose enough, not interesting to the Hall Monitor, or posted by someone they don’t like. There is a culture in the forum that is actually hostile to having lots of threads, and that thinks every thread must be for you, else it is wrong.

The omnibus threads are especially harmful to discussion. For instance, the “movies you have seen recently” thread, lumping all movies together into a giant, chaotic unwieldy thread. Seen a movie you like? Start its on thread. That means hundreds of threads instead of one? Good! That’s the way a forum should be!

Also, the rules and regulations for posting here–if printed on standard copier paper–would form a tower reaching Alpha Centari.

I totally agree with you here, @Jasmine, and for the most part we restrict troll-outing…except for The BBQ Pit, where it runs rampant. Makes me wonder if that forum should be restricted to members so as not to scare off the newbies.