I’m an FUer, so I am going to switch between FU and GU depending on the context here.
On Tuesday the 11th of September, 2001, the Guardian talkboards rocketed in popularity as a quick, stable platform for people across the world to communicate, to question, to react in some sort of group horror. The boards were sources of information – what’s happening, why is it happening, will anything else happen? This, for many people, was the start of the boards proper.
On Thursday the 7th of July 2005, the Guardian talkboards again reacted to a terrorist attack, but the questions this time were different. Is everyone ok? Where are they? Have you heard from them? The news platform had become a community.
On Friday the 25th of February, the Guardian took the decision – for whatever reason – to close these talkboards. The users of these boards have always known this was a possibility, and in recent years it has looked like an inevitability. Fair enough, it’s their space, they can do with it what they please, but this shut-down occurred without warning, at the end of a working week, throwing its many users into complete disarray. At best this was thoughtless, at worst cruel. Monday morning now, and still no closer to an explanation.
I’m not trying to draw comparisons to acts of terrorism and the closing of an online forum – that would be facile and unhelpful. I’m just using them as an illustration of how GU changed, how it grew. It was a mature community – in more than one sense. People around the world met friends, fell in love, had children, generated feuds, created elaborate in-jokes-within-in-jokes, wrote and wrote and wrote, words upon words.
And what words! Intelligent life is rare enough on the internet, but it clustered round the Guardian like blind shrimp around volcanic vents in the deepest corners of the pitch-black oceans. One could be controversial on FU without being dismissed, one could be questioning without being shouted down. Much. In fact, the bigger opinions were more likely to be discussed in measured terms and it was only the trivia which got people really heated. I learned many interesting, valuable things on there, and chief among them was this – never ever claim your way of cooking rice is the best one.
With luck, we’ll all be back. There are recovery sites out there, people clinging to liferafts (funnily enough, I was reading about The Raft of the Medusa just last week). Hopefully someone will figure out a way to keep the community alive, fresh, a living organism and not just a specimen in a jar, waiting to die. Because a forum, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we don’t want on our hands is a dead shark.