My forum has turned into a monster I want to disown!
November 5, 2008 10:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I go about shutting down my popular online community in a way that doesn't make my users hate me?

About a year ago, I founded an online community on Ning.com. The network has grown to 6500 extremely active users. As it's grown, it's also become exceedingly difficult to manage. Even with three moderators helping me, I'm constantly dealing with flame wars, angry banned members, and all the usual BS one expects online communities.

It's reached the point where I've started considering shutting the community down.

The question is ... how in the world to do this without making the users hate me? The community was set up in part to market a book I wrote -- these are my readers! I don't want to piss them off, but the group is becoming a time suck and brand liability.

Any resources or anecdotes from anyone who's shut down communities before? Obviously, people would be sad and upset -- but are there ways to minimize the freaking out?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there any way that you can withdraw, but leave the community in the hands of others?
posted by youcancallmeal at 10:05 PM on November 5, 2008


Tell them you can't continue to run the site without raising X dollars. Whatever you set X at, it will be too high.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:13 PM on November 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Choose one of your three monitors to take over, and hand it off to them.

Alternatively, announce that you'd like to shut it down, and ask for volunteers. Let the community argue about who gets to be the new boss.
posted by ook at 10:26 PM on November 5, 2008


There's no reason to shut it down. And I think people would be justified if you did so, because you have the option of walking away instead. Pick someone else to run things and wash your hands of it.
posted by grouse at 10:26 PM on November 5, 2008


Maybe I'm missing something obvious here, but why not sell the site, if you don't want it anymore?
posted by paisley henosis at 10:34 PM on November 5, 2008


Don't shut it down. It's not yours anymore.
posted by abdulf at 10:37 PM on November 5, 2008 [5 favorites]


Best answer: Rename it and hand it over to the other mods.
posted by whoaali at 10:48 PM on November 5, 2008


Best answer: Tell the users it is now an unofficial community & in the hands of the mods; make the most reasonable & present mod Tyrant, and never look back.
posted by batmonkey at 11:06 PM on November 5, 2008


I did this successfully (I think). My community was an online self-help support group with approximately 2000 registered members that supported itself financially through quarterly donation drives. I offered it to my mods/most prominent members. When they declined, I announced I was shutting it down to new members/postings in a month, giving the current members time to reorganise themselves elsewhere. They have done so quite successfully, AFAIK. I kept the community online in read-only format while they did this so they could refer back to it as they re-established themselves. I'm not aware that anyone hates me as a result, but brand approval was not really an issue for me. My paramount concern was that the community continued to exist in some form for those who needed it.
posted by Pigpen at 11:52 PM on November 5, 2008


If doing this on good terms is important to you you may want to consider asking for your question to be anonymized or removing your name from your profile, as it isn't difficult to find your community and if any of your members read AskMe you may find the cat gets let out of the bag and things will become much harder to keep calm and under control. I suspect that if your members think you hate them you will become a lot less popular.
posted by narrativium at 12:03 AM on November 6, 2008


I gave my (non-commercial) site to some trusted long time members. There was a small kerfuffle while a couple of factions split off but this happened a number of times over the 8 years (wow - that long?!?) or so that I ran it. Basically tell them that you're too busy with other committments and you won't be able to participate and then DON'T LURK!

Even with a gentle handover, there's freaking out.
OMG, will X handle flame wars just like Y?
Uh no. It'll be different.
OMG, OMG, I feel like I'm losing my home. How will I ever survive?

Just ignore that stuff. Some people need to be drama queens. You've got no control over whether people hate you or not. Be adult, and courteous and don't engage in arguments.

At about a year in, I can tell you the community I used to run seems to be on an even keel but different to when I had it.


Uh oh, I should have answered this anonymously.
posted by b33j at 12:26 AM on November 6, 2008


Just pull the plug. No one will know what happened (well, except that you blabbed about it here and were dim enough to mention the ULR) and after a few days they won't care.

See also Plastic.
posted by wfrgms at 12:41 AM on November 6, 2008


er... ULR... it's late
posted by wfrgms at 12:42 AM on November 6, 2008


I'd suggest you work to bring in a few more mods and just explain that you don't have as much time to admin the board, but that you'll still be active.

Shutting it down is just a good way to alienate your readers and there's no real reason for that, especially if your users are as active as you say.

If nothing else, consider that MeFi has over 65,000 users and was moderated by just mathowie and jessamyn for the longest time. They brought in cortex and vacapinta and um... someone else, but that's the whole kit and kaboodle here. It's pretty self-policing. Set stricter guidelines, add a few more trusted admins and let it roll. Don't shut it down.
posted by disillusioned at 1:05 AM on November 6, 2008


I've seen my fair share of online communities spasm and die, and from the looks of yours, it's not on the edge--it's thriving. Frankly, I think a little conflict is a very good thing for an online community, but I can sympathize with your desire to take a step back from it.

I'd hand it over to the moderators, let everyone know you're leaving for greener pastures, and then do as b33j suggests and never come back to lurk.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:07 AM on November 6, 2008


My wife and I did this, and it wasn't very difficult; arguably the hardest part (which wasn't hard) was coordinating with the web host to change ownership of the domain and hosting package to the new operator. Offer it to your mods first, to see if someone wants to take it over, and make a renaming/rebranding of the site (to separate it from your product) a precondition of the takeover. Then walk away, and never go back.
posted by davejay at 1:14 AM on November 6, 2008


what about doing the same thing that happens here? charge a token $5.00 to post, and no refunds if you are a dick? would that clean house, keep people acting a little better, and make a few $?
posted by dripped at 1:36 AM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The best way is to say that running the form is taking up more time and money than you can afford to sustain. Offer to pass full ownership and admin rights to one or more of the current mods, who'll probably accept. They can help organise moving the forum away from your URL (depending how your forum is set up, it should be possible to preserve the archives and members' profiles) and arranging some sort of donation or advertisment system to pay for the web hosting.

It sounds like effort, but it's a way to completely absolve yourself of responsibility for the forum while keeping the community intact. If people get as worked up over the forum as you say, then dissolving the community withoutout at least being seen to try to preserve it will lose you a lot of friends.
posted by metaBugs at 2:17 AM on November 6, 2008


Second the Metafilter-model recommendation.

Close new sign-ups; existing members get grandfathered in. New membership costs five bucks, and no refunds if you find yourself kicked for breaking the rules
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:33 AM on November 6, 2008


DOnot be like the owner of gadv.com who just gave it away to somebody who didnt care.

Find one of the mods who does care and give it to them.

You never know one of the mods may even offer you money for it.

Dont just close it down and dont just give it away to anybody. If you do one of these two you willl LOSE all of your customers and readers.

Take it from me ihave experience in this.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:31 AM on November 6, 2008


What's your goal- do you want to maintain a community, but just not a nutty one? Or do you simply want to be done with it and are trying to find the best way to be done with it?

I would do this- hand off the existing community to someone, with the caveat that you are no longer involved, and do not support it or anything about it.

Then, start another one with different rules. All posts are pre-moderated. Anyone who posts agrees to the fact that you can delete, ban, modify, ruin all posts. Put in a nice "speech is free when it's your website, not mine" kind of thing.

Communities that go haywire are awful- online even more so.
posted by gjc at 6:45 AM on November 6, 2008


Ning.cm is a four letter domain. So I imagine he'd prefer to retain ownership, quite reasonable.

I'm sure your ads can cover the bandwidth & hosting. Can you appoint more mods & make the site more community run? So just tell everyone your taking a break.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:52 AM on November 6, 2008


Clarification: ning.com is a hosting service for online communities; the OP presumably does not own the domain, but is just using it to host the community we're talking about.

(Was this question made retroactively anonymous? I could swear it had a name attached to it before...)
posted by ook at 8:31 AM on November 6, 2008


"I am giving control to this site over to [moderator] because of personal/business issues that require more time and energy than I have while running this site. [moderator] is completely qualified to take over the site. I thank you all for your participation and I ask you for patience and respect as we make this transition. Questions about the changes should be posted to [$forum]."
posted by desjardins at 9:10 AM on November 6, 2008


Last.fm, to cite one example, has a process by which members can create groups, but if the current group owner becomes inactive or disliked, an election can be held for a new group owner. You may consider a similar process. If you're worried about the masses electing someone bad, you probably shouldn't -- this happens less often than you'd expect.

If it's somehow a brand liability, that's a separate issue. You may want to rename/move the community to something like "[topic]fans" to indicate that it's unofficial before actually turning it over, then squat on the original name so that it can't be moved back.

In the end, though, forums shut down all the time for various reasons, and most people do in fact get on with their lives. I had a small 20-person community I ran once upon a time, until I couldn't due to RL obligations -- and they ran themselves, more or less, until the host shut down. At that point they started a mailing list. I lurk, but don't participate anymore, and they seem happy enough.
posted by dhartung at 11:35 PM on November 6, 2008


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