I agree with this. If you look at forums since the Ultimate Bulletin Board (UBB) standard came out in 1997 (replacing Matt Wright’s nested standard), linear conversations are rarely “many-to-many” but are largely (as their name implies) linear, unidirectional one-to-one side-conversations, or consensus-building group-talk (what we’re doing right now). The asynchronous linearity of forums doesn’t lend itself to replicating synchronous conversations, but it certainly does make it easy to preserve the content and to try and surface-up the best replies.
Once again, we agree. Communities are timeless. Forums, however, are just a situational platform. They came about as a natural web-based evolution of Usenet Newsgroups, which in turn were just “public email,” and stemmed from prototypes perfected during the dial-up BBS era’s message bases. Forums are great for capturing asynchronous text entries. But not great for collaboration, multi-person editing workflows, or even - stunningly - for legitimate discussions. Because each poster can be super-selective about who they respond to, when they respond, and can pick-and-choose contributions. So to really create “community” on forums, you need moderation. And this is where it starts to break down. And where most forum managers / admins just give up, and the forum descends into self-management or situational ad-hoc general chit-chat. And, again, today, there are far superior alternatives to both scenarios.
Forums were largely co-opted for use cases where they were never intended, because they were what was around. Facebook, Discord, and Reddit all offer superior “out of box” alternatives to anyone looking for a quick casual chat, a real-time voice-and-video-with-text synchronous experience, and a bubbling-up of best news-breaking content and replies, respectively. But all three of these social-alternatives have huge drawbacks, best discussed elsewhere.
Again, I don’t blame forum developers for this. Aside from the hobbyist market - which is all but dead now, a point that Matt rightly shares above - forums are largely treated as a “bonus” (as in Salesforce’s Community Module, which is often ‘given away’ for free to CRM customers, but offers built-in forums on-par with Lithium’s offering), because all of us who have been building communities recognize a core maxim:
It’s not the Field of Dreams. If you build it, they won’t come. You need to meet the needs of your audiences, and audiences have very specific engagement needs for which forums are, generally, very poorly situated. The exception, again, is the support case, the question-and-answer one-shot format, and the one-to-one side-conversation pot-stirring.