The Board, the community discussion board hosted on the Journal Gazette website, relaunched last week with a few new features, at a new location. I've spent very little time on The Board, mainly because the conversation there seems dominated by a few people with the same old guns/abortion/religion rants where no one learns anything and everyone goes home mad.
Despite this considerable flaw, The Board seems to be doing pretty well. According to an e-mail I received from the Journal, the old Board had more than 9,800 members-- not too shabby, considering the size of Fort Wayne. However, I think it's probably grown about as big as it's ever going to get, and I see the relaunch as a big missed opportunity. Why? A couple of reasons:
- The name. "The Board" is pretty lame, and it does nothing to define who it's for and how that's different. Why not something Fort Wayne specific? "The Fort Forum," maybe? The relaunch would have been the perfect time for something different, but that window has closed.
- A lack of true social networking features. Discussion boards are a little...well, boring. What people seem to want is the functionality provided by sites like Facebook with a more manageable size and scope. The future of social networking appears to be micro networks that link people already connected through geography, work, or common interests (more on this topic here). One great example is Smaller Indiana, the recently launched social network specific to the Hoosier state that "makes creative people and innovative ideas easier to find." With a little extra work, then, The Board could have evolved into a true social network, which undoubtedly would have driven more traffic to JG website and created a more robust online community. Instead, it's just a discussion board. And while that's probably good enough for some of the people who were already members of the Board, it's not enough to create the buzz The Board would need to grow.
But what if it's successful? What skills might you learn, and who might you meet? The only way to find out is to try. If it doesn't work out, you can always become a member of The Board or the Fort Wayne group on Smaller Indiana. But wouldn't it be cool to start a group of your own instead?