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July 11, 2012

Message Boards: Where Content Was (And Still Is) King

July 11, 2012

Ah, old-school Internet message boards, where superfans of any imaginable niche (from lawn bowling, to obscure literary theory, to subgenres of mid-80s coastal punk...) could gather to discuss the finer points of any topic...along with posting animated gifs, harassing newcomers, and participate in the societal phenomenon known as trolling.

Having grown-up firmly entrenched in the age of dial-up, I still have a soft spot for message boards, which loaded quickly in the mid-90s due to...well, they were pretty much all text back then. Originating as a combination of user-generated listservs and digital bulletin boards, message boards are still prevalent in many developing nations, but faded here in the face of real-time chat rooms and instant messaging — where one’s argument, stance, or even personality could change with the room make-up.

Populated now by Gen-X & Y-ers who never outgrew the medium, topic experts or obsessives, and academics, message boards may not exist anymore on the Internet’s front-page, but still hum along in the background. Though many late-adopters and Net Generation youngsters get their kicks via article, video, and social network commenting — these formats can seem more like a room-full of people shouting at each other (ever read your local newspaper comments?), instead of a leisurely round-table where everyone ideally gets a say.


Seattle's Fremont Troll. A frequent message board disruptor.


There’s something rewarding about contributing to an ongoing discussion, and then logging on every couple of days to read and respond to the intervening arguments. For music aficionados like myself, the current explosion in streaming and digitally-available content doesn’t render message boards useless; it instead makes arguments more defined, where you can easily cite a point and then reference the specific artist via YouTube clip, Spotify playlist, or blog link. One of my personal favorites, I Love Music (ILM), even conducts wide-ranging topical votes, after which users will generate spreadsheet-based results and incredibly diverse & ordered playlists.

So what’s all this have to do with 2012 beyond a bunch of nerds waxing rhapsodically about obscure sub-genres? In 2012, content is king, whether that content is a viral, low-budget, video meme, or a highly-orchestrated creative community masterwork, and everything in-between. Message boards are 100% content — to win an argument, you’ve got to back up what you say, just like in the old-days of five-paragraph essays and DBQs. You had to hone your message to a point, and then hone some more.

If your message isn’t quite getting across the way it should be, ask yourself some of the same questions that apply on message boards, and elsewhere. Are you providing quality information from an expert’s standpoint? Do you know your web audience? How well are you engaging follow-up questions and comments? All of these are even more vital in 2012, in a world in which there are 644 million active websites — a number that’s not going to shrink. Leave the trolls where they belong (under a bridge in Seattle), and hone your message. Content is king!

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