We formally shut down the Unreality TV Forum earlier this year because engagement had dropped right off. The only new members were spammers, determined to graffiti our site with all sorts of shady links. And since the forum software was on a stagnated platform (Simple Machines Forum), which was incredibly difficult to theme for and manage, we took the decision to shut the forum down.
As part of the process, we offered our members a new home at the forum on Unreality Shout. There was a fair bit of resistance – the interface was unfamiliar, everybody would have to start again, etc, etc.
But what was really happening – as we’d noted quite some time ago – was that all our members had begun communicating through other channels. You guessed it, Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook and Twitter make it impossibly easy to publish light bits of information and connect with people you actually know. That immediately makes it more attractive than a site where you have to struggle to get yourself known and then struggle to work out how to use the platform. Everyone can use Facebook and Twitter. That’s why it’s mopping up your family members who’d normally find blogs and forums too steep a learning curve to bother with.
There are certain advantages to this decline. It has become easier for people to seed and share content that they’ve found on our sites.
And it’s nice to have self-reinforcing widgets like the Facebook fan pages that show readers that you’ve got a fanbase and help build your brand. At the moment, Unreality TV’s Facebook page has almost 2,000 fans, which helps attract more ‘likes’ all the time.
When we started the site, the best methods to promote it online was to use social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon. Unfortunately being a UK entertainment site, none of these avenues worked very well for us, and there was nothing UK-centric as an alternative.
Twitter and Facebook on the other hand have a fantastic, strong UK market share, and they facilitate sharing of content, which works extraordinarily well for us. We certainly had more success from those two sites than we ever had from the social bookmarking sites.
A decline in blogging?
This post is a reaction, in part, to Jeff Bullas’s post about Facebook killing blogging. The post itself and the comments that follow suggest that blogging has tailed off in popularity. They claim that it’s much easier to share stuff via Facebook, a common platform where everybody’s congregating anyway. Why have a separate blog?
Everybody’s pointing to Tumblr as a feasible mid-way point between Facebook and a traditional blog. Sharing different content types easily and without having to worry about hosting or any of those issues makes it a very attractive platform. Why would one bother to set up a self-hosted WordPress or Drupal site anymore?
Of course, you could look at it like this – it reduces the competition and (hopefully) leaves behind only blogs that are serious about what they do. The last thing the world needs is another idiot starting up a blog hoping to make millions with the bare minimum of work. It doesn’t happen that way.
A general decline in social sites?
I noticed lately that a ton of hopeful social sites have been dropping like flies. The podcasting site Odeo has been down for months. The former MySpace challenger Virb is now a very pretty “build your own site” using a subscription model. Bloglines has been killed off by AOL because people are generally gravitating away from RSS. Six Apart have shut down the Vox blogging service. Bebo – once thought to be a viable competitor for MySpace – is also on life support.
Suddenly, Unreality closing down its forum doesn’t seem like such an unusual event. And we don’t remotely have the deep pockets or VC funding some of those sites had.
It certainly seems that the phenomenon of user-generated content was highly overrated. Or rather, most of that user generated content is being created on two sites – Facebook and Twitter. For the moment, both services certainly augment and help our blogging – we can connect and converse with the people who read our sites. They share our content and we can see what type of content people like.
I do worry about the future for these two platforms. Is it likely that both will make a grab for higher market share in ways I won’t approve of? Highly likely. In the same way that Google subversively became a publisher in their own right, it’s likely that Facebook and Twitter will have to come up with more ways to grow, and publishers like us may be threatened by them.
It’s a sign of the Internet that two sites can spring up like this and capture the world’s attention. To be fair to them, they do it because they meet the needs of millions of people. They’re both revolutionary, game-changing products. Sadly, in their wake, I think they leave a number of forums and blogs that now resemble ghost towns. I’m positive our forum was not the first, nor will it be the last.
If you’re a web publisher, blogger or forum admin – what are your thoughts on the impact of Facebook and Twitter on your corner of the web?