Charles' Rules of Online Forums

by Charles Miller on November 20, 2005

All online forums (by which I also mean Usenet newsgroups, chat rooms and IRC channels) follow these rules:

The First Law: Every forum is always in a state of constant decline.

All forums start off good, enjoy a "honeymoon period" in which they continue to be good, and then steadily decline... from the point of view of each individual observer.

You get involved in a forum because it appeals to you. If it didn't appeal to you you wouldn't have joined in the first place. Eventually, however, one of two things will happen: the nature of the forum will change so it's no longer the way it was when it first appealed to you, or it will stay the same and you'll just get bored of it.

It may be possible for a forum to change for the better after you've become involved in it, but I can't say I've ever seen it happen.

The First Corollary: The Four Ages of Forums

Every forum enjoys four ages:

  1. The Golden Age
  2. The Silver Age
  3. Limbo
  4. Utter Crap

When you join a forum, unless you're a charter member, you'll be regaled with tales from the regulars about how the place used to be so much better. As such, the Golden Age is defined as some time prior to your joining the forum. You, of course, enter the forum in the Silver Age. It's not as good as the legends tell you it used to be, but it's still as much fun as you'll ever experience it.

Eventually the forum changes or you get bored, as described in The First Law. You hang around, however, because you remember how good it used to be and there are still enough remnants of that to keep you coming back. This is Limbo.

You'll spend a lot of Limbo telling people how much better the place used to be, oblivious to the fact that now is, to them, the Silver Age.

In some cases Limbo can last years, extended by occasional cycles that cause the forum to become interesting again or shift closer to the way it was. But it will never be as good as it was in the Silver Age, and all these cycles do is prolong the time it takes for the forum to descend into the realms of Utter Crap.

The exceptions to this corollary are charter members, who can't look to any predecessors for a Golden Age. To them the first age is Golden and from there it's a fall straight into Limbo.

Corollary Two: Stating the Bleeding Obvious

Since the boundaries of each age are defined by the participants, you will never truly convince someone else that your timeline for a forum's decline is right and theirs is wrong. To them you'll either be a jaded old fogey who can't see what fun everyone else is having, or you'll be a clueless newbie who has ruined the place, damnit.

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