The rise and fall of the first forum community I joined
Channel 4 (C4) is one of the four free, terrestrial channels available in the UK. It mainly broadcasts American shows, and other crap like Big Brother. They also used to show Lost, one of my favourite programs ever. They had a community forum, and, about 4 years ago, after being badgered about it for a while, I signed up.
I didn't realise it then but the forums themselves were terrible. You weren't allowed to upload avatars, you had to choose from their selection, which weren't even proper avatars, they were just weird, pixelated graphics, of strange things like a cactus, sandwich, chicken leg, exclamation mark, glass of beer... it was pretty poor. The smileys weren't much better; well, the smileys themselves weren't terrible, but the range of them was, we used to be quite excited when a new one was added.You couldn't post images at all, there was no [img] tag, so it was impossible to post them, and, even worse, you weren't allowed to post links. Eventually that was changed and you could post links to things that 'were related to the discussion' (what else would they be related to though??) but for a while, posting a link to anywhere other than the C4 site would probably have led to a ban. Private messages weren't available either. There was a post edit time of about 60 seconds, hardly very useful if you make a long post and see a mistake after you've read it through 2 minutes later. You could have a signature though, and there was the ability to use some limited MyCode. The forums were very basic, but easy to use, just a simple message board, nothing more, nothing less. You had to be 16 to register though, but everybody just used a fake birthday so it was pretty pointless. The worst point though was the moderators, but I'll go back to that later.
I only really went into the Lost forums when I started there. There were three to choose from, the normal forum, where spoilers etc were allowed, the Spoiler Free forum, and Off-Topic; a forum where people who posted in the lost forums could talk about any other crap they wanted to. I joined when the forums were quite busy already, when they first started there used to be less forums than that, just the main Lost one, but as the show was so popular, the Spoiler-Free and Off-Topic forums were added, so when I got round to joining, there were these three. I spent most of my time in the Off-Topic forum, and went to the Spoiler Free forum to discuss Lost. This was really good, we all had a lot of fun there.
Eventually I decided to venture outside of the Lost forums and see what else was available. It was only then that I really saw the amount of forums there were. The community was massive, there must have been over 100 forums, on pretty much every C4 show, past, present, and future planned ones, as well as magazines and radio shows etc, with hundreds of thousands of users and millions of posts. Everybody would generally stay in their own forums though. People watching Lost would stay in the Lost forum, people watching Big brother would stay in the Big Brother forums, it'd be like they were all completely separate forums, not one big one with sub-forums. There would be a select bunch of regular posters in each forum who would all know each other. Occasionally, if we were a bit bored, a group of us would go and invade another forum, and post there for a bit. Then the people from that forum would come to our forum, and we'd get to know those people a bit, before they went back where they usually posted and we'd forget about them. A forum holiday, if you will, going to somewhere new for a bit.
However, at the end of Season 2 of Lost, C4 sold the rights to it to Sky, a paid service, which I didn't have. I never really knew for sure why they sold it but the most common rumour I heard was that the ratings for the second series were much lower than they were for the first, so they thought it wasn't popular anymore, and got rid of it. Little did they know that the lower ratings were their own fault; they took so long to show the second series, and because the show was in fact so damn popular, and it had been shown in America long before it was shown on C4, people had got bored of waiting, and had found other ways to watch it, so when it was on C4, not as many people needed to see it, as they already had, hence the drop in ratings. Since it's shown on Sky around a week after it's shown on ABC in America, that long wait isn't an issue anymore. The fact that I don't have Sky isn't an issue though, I get the episodes off of iTunes the day after they show on Sky, so I still see them, but this was the start of the downfall of the Lost forum.
Because C4 was no longer showing Lost, people realised that the forums may soon be closed so started making their own forums for it; there were two main ones created, one was more serious, and one was more for fun, with a Lost section to discuss the show, and I was one of the few people to be active on both of these new forums. This made the number of active members and daily posts start to fall on the C4 forums. Currently, however, both of these new forums are dying out, too, becoming less and less active.
Not only were people leaving to go to the newer forums, but people were getting sick of the moderators. They would ban people for the slightest rule infringement, and there was hardly ever any chance of being unbanned. There wouldn't be a warning, you wouldn't be given a second chance, you'd break a rule, and your account would usually be banned forever. Some people got banned for posting a link, which was ridiculous. I got banned for posting my email address, they said they banned me to protect me, said it was a safety policy... I eventually managed to get myself unbanned. If you got unbanned once, your next ban would be final, they'd never even consider undoing it. Even the most active members, with high 4 figure or even 5 figure post counts would get banned for insignificant things. This poor moderation was going on all the time I was on these forums, members would suddenly vanish, with the tell-tale signs of a ban, having their avatar and signature removed. However, once the new forums were starting up, people couldn't see the point in posting on a forum with such poor features and crappy rules, with the risk of getting banned for nothing, so they moved to the new forums. Sure, some of us still posted there a bit, but not much. Within a few months of Lost being sold on, the C4 Lost forum was pretty much dead.
A few people stayed there, either people who didn't want to join a new forum, and a few of us that did stayed around to try and keep it going. More and more people dropped dead, though, until pretty much everybody who was there were newbies, hardly anyone from the original group that was there when the forum was as it's peak.
Then, eventually, I got banned again, my second ban, meaning that was it for me. I can't remember what I got banned for, but I know it was something that would have been totally OK on any other forum. I had 6957 posts. After that I made loads of other accounts, but they all got banned eventually, whether it was because they figured out I was using a duplicate account, or for another pathetically small rule break. I kept making them to stay in touch with the few that were left.
The next stage was time restrictions. For reasons I never quite understood, they limited the posting times from 8AM - Midnight; from Midnight to 8AM, the forums would be read-only. I couldn't see the point in this, most of the people on the forum were from the UK, so during the times the forums were read-only, most of us would be asleep anyway, but what about the people who would be awake at that time?? Seemed silly to me.
Then, suddenly, they announced they were going to be closing the Lost forums, all three of them. They said that as so few people were using it, and as they didn't even show Lost anymore, there wasn't much point in keeping it going. Instantly, people started complaining, saying that as they were so small, closing the Lost forums down wouldn't save any disk space or bandwidth, or anything like that, and pleaded to have the forums saved. Amazingly, the forum staff actually listened... kind of. They said they would close down two of the three Lost forums, but that meant totally scrapping the other two. They wouldn't merge them into one, or archive the others, they'd totally delete them. We were each allowed to choose 10 threads to save. 10 threads?? Of all the months, years, we spent there, and all the thousands of threads we made, how could we choose 10?? Plus, as hardly anyone was even there anymore, 10 threads from each person would have been less than 100 in total. Soon after, most of our discussions were completely wiped clean. We knew that it would only be a matter of time before the last Lost forum was gone though, we didn't think the mods would keep it forever.
Shortly after, I saw the forums were closed. Not just the Lost ones. The entire bloody lot. The entire C4 community forum was closed. Not even a read-only archive. Completely gone. All of those posts, millions of them, going back many, many years with some excellent discussions, gone. They said that there wasn't enough money to keep them going anymore.
Although we all saw it coming, for the Lost forums at least, we couldn't believe it when it happened. Despite the fact that the forums were poor, the mods were crap, and we all left to join other forums, these forums were where it all began, where we all met each other, and none of the other forums would have happened without this one.
So, that's that. Rest in Peace, C4 forums. We had some great times.