Which online communities have closed up shop?
April 16, 2010 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Once they reach a kind of critical mass, do internet communities ever die?

After appearing at an event focused on bettering gender relations on the campus of my alma mater, a professor friend of mine was raked over the coals in a blog post and its accompanying comments. I won't link to the blog--they don't deserve the traffic. The post and comments were just evil: universally misogynistic, some suggesting acts of sexual violence.

My first thought in reaction was that I had wandered into a nest of internet trolls. My second thought was that it would be better for everybody if this blog didn't exist.

But I can't think of an example of an internet community that got rolling and then shut down. Every place I've been a part of over these last 15 years or so is still in existence.

Can you think of examples of medium to large-sized internet communities that closed down?
posted by baltimoretim to Computers & Internet (51 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of usenet groups that once had community-like feels to them are now primarily spam, with a small number of "real" posts but no meaningful interaction.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:30 AM on April 16, 2010

My thoughts go right to the MOOs (and other MUDs) that all disappeared. The big ones are still running (LambaMOO), but there used to be TONS of these around. They've almost completely disappeared.
posted by smitt at 10:36 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Arguably rusty's kuro5hin did.
posted by four panels at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2010 [9 favorites]

WebChat Broadcasting System
posted by milkrate at 10:39 AM on April 16, 2010

Not an answer, but a bit of relevant theory: It is very hard to "kill" an Internet community simply because what unites the members originally is trumped by the personal relationships between the individuals. For instance, on many of forums for specific things (e.g.: fishing, video gamesm &c) the "off-topic" board is usually the most active. One of my old coworkers frequents an forum for a music label which has been defunct for years. In order for an Internet community to fall apart, the individual members need to lose interest in generally conversing with one another, rather than the content of the forum/community itself.
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

It depends on what the organizational structure is. Most online communities have an owner of some sort, and it's totally possible - even likely - for an owner to eventually get sick of running a community and withdraw whatever critical support he/she was providing (hosting or whatnot.) That is, I think, the most common way for a community to die.

Some communities have an external focus - a game, a tv show, a real-world event of some sort. If that external focus disappears, the community may well dry up and blow away. I could name a dozen MMO communities that had this happen. (It may, if it's particularly strong, just shift/broaden its focus and keep going. Whedonesque is a good example of a community that survived the loss of its original focus just fine.)

General-purpose communities that get too big to be properly moderated have a nastier life cycle. They just get toxic, as the trolls drive out the reasonable people and you're left with nothing more than a nest of trolls. Eventually, the trolls may get bored and wander off to seek new sport, but that seems to be a long, slow process. (Communities may be deliberately created to follow this path, but that actually seems less common that having it occur through simple neglect.)
posted by restless_nomad at 10:44 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

While doing some research on the various neighborhoods in Philly, I came across the Wikipedia for Phillyblog, a once prominent forum that has since shut down.

Zophar's Domain was once a bigtime emulation website. It's still up and running but it is a shell of what it once was.
posted by Diskeater at 10:47 AM on April 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Technocrat shut down after its owner became sufficiently creeped out by its userbase.

Shortly thereafter, the creepy survivalist types moved to Slashdot, unfortunately coinciding with /.'s foray into politics. The site's had a notable downturn over the past 2 years (or perhaps I grew up -- nevertheless, I no longer hold the majority of /.'s userbase in particularly high regard)

BoingBoing turned comments off for a few years. IMHO, they should have left them off, as they're not particularly well-suited as a discussion site, and feed back into Cory's ego a bit too much.

Kottke doesn't use comments for precisely this reason.

Most local (and some national) newspapers have comment boards, which provide an absolutely terrifying insight into humanity. Topix provide many of these boards.

The YouTube comment boards are famously awful as well, although I'm not sure that they were ever good to start with.
posted by schmod at 10:50 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are a bunch of very busy mailing lists that have faded away.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:53 AM on April 16, 2010

I used to post on Shadowland, a play-by-post roleplaying site, back around 1999-2003 or so. At its height it was a solid rival to what is now the biggest Shadowrun site on the web. (We also did World of Darkness, and later D&D, but the site's focus was on Shadowrun.)

Shadowland peaked in about 2000-2001, as a toxic site culture drove off the majority of users; SL got a reputation as an unfriendly place (though I would call it a smarter place than DS) and that, combined with the general decline in popularity of Shadowrun and a somewhat steep learning curve for the site's UI (which was, IMO, far superior to any forumish system before or since) at the time, led to a site that by 2004 saw no more than fifty users still even logging in, and at this point it's an empty shell that sees infrequent posts from maybe twenty users. Damn shame.

So yes, it absolutely can happen, and it's often really sad when it does.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2010

Everything2 pretty much died when wikipedia came along.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2010 [7 favorites]

Kuro5hin, definitely. It was pretty damn good early on but they never figured out a way to handle trolling and rusty bailed.

The Mpls StarTribune used to have a talk.startribune.com discussion forum that had a large following mid-late 90's. It died of neglect and a botched upgrade that wasn't totally fixed. The corpse gets dragged out Weekend at Bernie's style every so often, but the community is long gone.
posted by unixrat at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2010

If you count MMORPGs, the numbers go way up. Wikipedia has a list, and while maybe 10% are actually listed as "defunct," I'd be willing to bet that many of them are ghost towns.

I remember logging back into Star Wars: Galaxies after almost a year away and was shocked by how few people there were. Formerly bustling cities with dozens if not hundreds of characters were reduced to handfuls of players at best, and the market was almost empty of buy/sell orders. Everyone had moved on to better games. The game is apparently still being maintained, but Wikipedia reports a rumor that only about 10,000 players were online in 2006. I can't imagine things have improved in the past four years.
posted by valkyryn at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2010

Don't forget BBS's! ISCABBS, arguably one of the greatest/largest/busiest internet venues on the net has dwindled down to almost nothing, and most of its spinoffs are dead. Lots of different things can be blamed, depending upon what your point of view is on the administration of the board, but the fact of the matter is that there are very few holdouts keeping it alive.
posted by scarykarrey at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2010

Geocities died.
posted by morganannie at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, Everything2. MegaTokyo imploded.

I think Fark has turned the corner, but I've got nothing to back that up.
posted by unixrat at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2010

I also remember the old Firefly chat/messageboard system, which was snatched up by Microsoft because of its messenger IM service and then dismantled.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:00 AM on April 16, 2010

Sounds like you're describing the recent http://forum.richarddawkins.net/ debacle.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:00 AM on April 16, 2010

Nthing kuro5hin.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:06 AM on April 16, 2010

I was a member of PhillyBlog and it just *poof* vanished one day. The founded didn't really care about Philly anymore.

Two huge Rollercoaster Tycoon forums in the beginning of the decade shut down. Danimation had thousands of members and faded away, probably with the fading popularity of the game. The other one was RCTOA of which I was a moderator and ended one day after a fight with the two admins.
posted by daninnj at 11:09 AM on April 16, 2010

Nthing kuro5hin.

What infinitewidow (and others) said.
posted by jquinby at 11:12 AM on April 16, 2010

Anything that's 'fandom' can die pretty easily; there are some very committed communities out there for shows/films/bands that are very old (and as said above, the off-topic chat is what keeps them together as much as anything). But you have these huge swells of people for new things, which can create big communities - but most of those then move along to the next big thing.

And anything that has a single person running it is vulnerable to that person deciding to shut up shop - this happened to Outpost Gallifrey.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2010

Used to run Hotline & KDX servers, and that community pretty much disappeared because they became technologically overtaken by Bittorrent and shiny Web 2.0 www.

In some cases the servers disappeared because running the successful ones became too much, and whoever ran it moved, had a HD crash, whatever.

This might not be relevant to you since you ask for Internet communities, but still.

But there isn't much of an actual die-off of users though, so even if new places exist with old user base, millions of new ones join each year.
posted by monocultured at 11:20 AM on April 16, 2010

It always feels like The Well is either dying or dead.
Same with The Fray.

It should be noted that neither is dying or dead.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:25 AM on April 16, 2010

Cybertown was a community that I was a member of in 2000. It was cool back then - you get a virtual house and a virtual bit of land in a virtual neighborhood in this virtual city. You could float around 3D buildings and chat with people. At any given time there'd be a couple thousand people logged in. I recently logged in again just to see what it was like and all of the 3D buildings were just as I remembered, but totally empty. It's a ghost cybertown.
posted by bristolcat at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2010

Former Firefly member here, too. It was great, while it lasted. Then, as scarykarrey said, Microsoft acquired and wrecked it.

In theory, you could claim spammers made Usenet (if that counts as a community) all but worthless.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2010

Fucked Company
posted by mkultra at 11:45 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anything that's 'fandom' can die pretty easily; there are some very committed communities out there for shows/films/bands that are very old (and as said above, the off-topic chat is what keeps them together as much as anything). But you have these huge swells of people for new things, which can create big communities - but most of those then move along to the next big thing.

As another data point, MYSTcommunity used to be a pretty vibrant group but seems to have languished for the last few years.
posted by teraflop at 11:45 AM on April 16, 2010

You might find this previous MeFi discussion about the closure of the Hissyfit forums interesting. [None of the Hissyfit links work, BTW.]

Another site run by the same moderator(s), Fametracker, closed down its forums but continued to update the site itself for a while before going dormant.

Both sites were very, very active for several years. (I think I might have discovered Metafilter through the Fametracker forums, now that I think about it...hmm.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:47 AM on April 16, 2010

A relevant talk given by Clay Shirky about group dynamics in online settings. LambdaMOO and The Well are mentioned.
posted by AugieAugustus at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2010

Maggy Donea's mindspace was the first internet community that I was a member of. Its anonymous, anyone-can-post-anything nature made it especially susceptible to trolling, which is what eventually killed it--it just wasn't worth posting anything, since htere'd be no meaningful discussion. It was a shame. In its heyday, it was an internet who's who, with Derek Powazek and Lance Arthur and Maggy and Ben Brown and others participating. It's where MrMoonPie was born.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:10 PM on April 16, 2010

posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:35 PM on April 16, 2010

The Xanga community used to be huge - it's still there, but no one goes there anymore. Then came Myspace, which lost members to Facebook.

Coobeastie wrote Anything that's 'fandom' can die pretty easily; there are some very committed communities out there for shows/films/bands that are very old (and as said above, the off-topic chat is what keeps them together as much as anything). But you have these huge swells of people for new things, which can create big communities - but most of those then move along to the next big thing.

Seconding this. You'll probably find a lot of boards that have closed have had a very narrow focus. Once the show/movie/game/trend is over, the board dies too. I used to belong to a HUGE site, but the show stopped running and people got older and moved on, the boards became empty, the people responsible for the site decided it wasn't worth it to moderate, so it just disappeared.

Counting Crows is infamous for starting a forum on their website, closing it after they do a site re-design, then opening a whole new forum all over again. They've done this 3-4 times in the past decade - as recently as this week. Kind of sucks when you go somewhere to visit your friends and the place is gone and you have no way to get in touch with people.
posted by NoraCharles at 12:44 PM on April 16, 2010

I think the OP is asking about things that got too big and lost their community vibe? That seems less common than just dying off in other ways. Cybertown (I was there too, god, that feels like internet eons ago), the Payphone Project/Sorabji.com, any number of smaller online games or show-based forums - those died out but I don't think it was due to high troll levels. I agree with others K5 is an example of that. Some things didn't take off due to trolls, I think - I think Second Life could have been bigger if it wasn't so full of harrassment.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:53 PM on April 16, 2010

I can you you examples of websites that were taken over and changed, but didn't die per se. Take ateaseweb.com. It's a Radiohead message board, but is mostly populated by general music fans and is "radiohead" focused in name only. It has roughly 50,000 members. There is a very active music forum which is known for its file trading, and a very popular genchat. The Radiohead parts of the board are less and less the focus of the board as the years go by. It has spawned any number of smaller boards over the years, many of which are extremely vibrant.

The board was nuked a couple months ago by a hacker, and the site is rebuilding itself.
posted by Windigo at 1:29 PM on April 16, 2010

Cobaltnine, I would argue that Cybertown did, in part, die out due to too many trolls. The chats were kind of obnoxious in that you could see what pretty much anyone in a particular building was talking about at any given time. It took just one person coming in screaming about how you had to buy 3D objects from xe423rrr.scampage.com to scare people away. Either that or you ran into hoardes of tweens who wanted to annoy people rather than participate in the community.
posted by bristolcat at 1:42 PM on April 16, 2010

I used to visit Plastic multiple times daily... I can't remember why I stopped going, but I was shocked recently to find it was still there, although it looks like a shell of its former self. I think I found it through Suck (which was definitely a website that died before its time). Now I feel old.
posted by aiglet at 1:44 PM on April 16, 2010

Memepool, which I considered a sort of proto-metafilter collection of links to the interesting and unusual, slowly ground to a halt in 2008. It seemed to fade away as other sites performed the same function within more social, interactive structures.
posted by itstheclamsname at 2:14 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

HomeArts.com was launched by Good Housekeeping (and thus Hearst) in 94 or 95 - it was vibrant and I attended a wedding between a mod and one of the members in 99 but it died after being sold to woman.com and oxygen - either in quick succession or it was a merger, I don't remember so much as just felt the swirl of changes rapidly

as someone said upthread, the relationships otoh remain - by the time we attended the wedding, i think the boards were already dead or dying

we tried shifting elsewhere but without the full critical mass of the community it didn't really take off

I stayed in touch with and still meet two members regularly, one in the UK and one in the US

recently quite a few of us who were part of the "opinions" room connected on FB but its more due to having met in r/l than any resurgence of the original community

c'est la vie adn rip
posted by infini at 2:18 PM on April 16, 2010

plastic.com is practically on life support, if you compare it to the level of activity it had in its hey day.
posted by availablelight at 3:12 PM on April 16, 2010

An internet community needs enough income to pay for hosting, either volunteer programming or income to pay for that, enough moderation to keep it from going all to hell, and members to post. Readerville.com was a nice community of book people but the proprietor made poor choices in software, which led to not enough money to pay for expenses.

I can't imagine why communities of angry trolls love hanging out together, but surely they can't imagine why I like coming here.
posted by theora55 at 3:50 PM on April 16, 2010

Tribe used to be pretty vibrant, apparently (I got on it as it was on the way out) , but apparently has been in decline for the last few years as people migrated to facebook and other social networking sites.
posted by pombe at 4:14 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cafe Utne used to be really big, or at least it was at the time. I tried to go back there a few years ago but it was fairly dead.

I also used to be part of the MediaMOO community many, many years ago, but I don't think there's any place that still resides now (far as I know).
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:57 PM on April 16, 2010

Seconding pombe about Tribe. I got in early and saw it rise rapidly and well. TOSs were changed and people started spinning off different communities, none of which have really gone anywhere, but Tribe crashed from its palmy days. TOSs were changed back, apparently, and I believe there's a slow recrudescence in interest.
posted by jet_silver at 8:17 PM on April 16, 2010

Ms Magazine had a forum that died a protracted and indignified death - trolls and feminist schisms and bad moderating by interns.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:04 PM on April 16, 2010

SixDegrees.com, which was a very early social networking site. It was huge for a while, then went away in 2001.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:26 PM on April 16, 2010

I think only one person's mentioned it, but MySpace seems like one of the most prominent examples. It used to be that everyone had an account, but the ratio of crap to content just sky rocketed, and then everyone switched to Facebook. I checked it recently, and it's just band pages, a handful of teenagers, and pages updated in 2006. Sketchy neighborhood these days.
posted by unique_id at 4:28 AM on April 17, 2010

I could only imagine how big it was in places like NYC or the Bay Area.

Not as big as you might think. I was in 201, right next door to 212. I would say at the height of the days of the BBS—which from my personal experience I would say was the Era of the HST 1—there were perhaps 30 really quality boards in the area. NYC had about the same, maybe even less. The limiting factor was the telephone company and the user base.

Back in Ye Olden Times in the home of Ma Bell (NJ), a state who's population density is second to none, when you paid for telephone service you typically had a local plan that included 5-10 prefixes (the first three numbers after the area code in a telephone number). Any BBSs that shared prefixes were free.

In order to convince people to actually dial outside their local prefix (or, gasp! fork over the dough for a long-distance charge) you had to already have a quality BBS. It took eons for boards that were just starting out, because the only real way to "spread the word" was either through computer clubs or other BBSs. NJ had a lot of the former.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:59 AM on April 17, 2010

1 Around 1991.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:02 AM on April 17, 2010

I remember an adult story site that pretty much vanished overnight. (initals of WS) Sites like 4chan with often objectionable or possibly illegal content (pirates bay, anyone?) can get shut down unwillingly.
posted by Jacen at 7:11 AM on April 18, 2010

unschooling.com died after a long period of high activity; killed by trolls, I think. unschooling.info replaced it and still exists as a webpage with a few links, but no message boards anymore; also trolls. People love to troll unschoolers because they have unconventional ideas about parenting and education. One of the biggest unschooling mailing lists is no longer active, and the one that is still alive and most active is heavily moderated, yet still has a high level of noise because of trolls, and people responding to trolls, and then the mods jumping in. Another I know of has drifted into general conversation among members because the list owners don't have time to moderate it; it's no longer a good source of information or support for unschoolers. Unschooling is an example of something where on-line community can be really important because there are so few people doing it that you're unlikely to have much of a local community, but attempts to keep an on-line community going are challenged both by trolls and by in-group bickering about definitions and identity ("are you really an unschooler if you use a math curriculum?") and suchlike.
posted by not that girl at 11:17 AM on April 18, 2010

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