Are You Wasting Your Time In Web Forums?

By Jonathan Timar

I admit it. I have been guilty of this activity. I am human just like the rest of us, and frankly, the internet is addictive.

Off and on I have frequented a certain photography forum. Each an every time it has been for the same reasons; I have been bored, and I like photography. Each and every time I have wasted countless hours of my life and eventually been left with a sour taste in my mouth.

In theory, an online forum is about creating a community. The problem is that in almost every case that online community resembles your average high-school in that it is dominated by a small group of regulars who are busy patting each other on the back while doing whatever is possible to make newcomers feel unwelcome. It is a massive popularity contest where only the strong survive. It’s a game, everyone is there to argue and win. Basically it is a toxic atmosphere.

Everyone is a zealot, and anyone level-headed and balanced is quickly run out-of-town, or *gasp*, banned.

Years ago I came across a website that listed the various forum archetypes. It’s hilarious reading, and particularly relevant to anyone who has actually attempted to participate on any sort of discussion on the internet. If read it you will quickly discover two things:

  1. You have encountered some or all of these personalities at some point on the internet.
  2. You are probably becoming one of them.

The second one is a bit disturbing to those of us who pride ourselves in being sane and down to earth. But like it or not, the environment of a web forum tends to have this effect on the best of us.

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    Very few people will make more than a few posts in any forum before they find themselves in an argument. Someone will attack them, almost always unprovoked, and  as humans our natural response is to be defensive and argue, especially when we know that we are in the right. The problem is, that you as a rational person, will never win an argument with any of the forum archetypes who are, in fact, professional arguers, and the more you try to argue with the irrational the more irrational you yourself will become, until you have become on of “them”.

    You may think that forums are a source of vast pools of knowledge. This is incorrect. Though many of the forum regulars no doubt have some knowledge, if you should harmlessly request they share it, they will often snap at you and suggest you do a search. You see, discussing things in a forum that have already been discussed two years ago is a waste of time, never mind the fact that all too many of the people actively participating in the forum don’t know what they are talking about anyway.

    The reality is that you will likely gain much more knowledge from reading the forum than you ever will from participating in it, and without wasting hours of productivity.

    My advice? Be a lurker, don’t get sucked in.

    Updated (June 1st, 2010): Well it seems one of the resident trolls has found his way over the my website and has posted several comments below. Evidently this post hit a nerve and he just can’t stand it.