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The Golden Age of Forums

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WordPress Forum Plugin
An ancient Greek forum illustration generated by DALL-E.

Do you remember forums? They’re still around, obviously, but do you remember the golden age of forums?

Every developer or SEO would have at least one forum, or, if not possible, they would be admins or moderators. I remember hosting and managing 3 or 4 forums when I was young, and it was a very exciting task. Everything happened there — communicating with friends, keeping the forum software up to date, keeping the mods and extra features up to date, checking points and ranks, keeping spammers at bay and more.

The Ascent

Forums gained significant popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a primary means of online communication and community building. Many forums served as hubs for discussions on various topics. I managed forums ranging from game development, to movies, to fishing, to online businesses and to local activities. The software of choice was phpBB and MyBB. They were the easiest to install and manage, and there were countless mods for enhancing them. Other forums used vBulletin and IPB (although not in my country).

When I started using WordPress and I needed a forum, it was already too late. I remember bbPress and Mingle Forum (or some of its precursors). But it wasn’t the same. A lot of the magic was lost. These days, it takes a certain type of person to manage or be part of a forum-based community. It takes discipline.

The Decline

The decline of forums began in the mid-2000s and continued into the 2010s, largely due to the rise of social media platforms and other online communication channels.

Forums were also plagued by spammers, and forum profiles and signatures became a very lucrative source of backlinks. We’ve all been there. We’ve all used our signatures for at least one backlink.

Despite the decline, some forums have managed to survive and even thrive, catering to specific niches or communities where in-depth discussions are still valued. These forums’ target audience and member demographics is also above 40 years old.

Why I Revived Mingle Forum

Fast-forward a decade, and I created a forum for an old PC game. I needed it inside a WordPress website, so I used bbPress and then migrated to a more compact plugin — Mingle Forum. This plugin has its own rich history, and it evolved quite nicely. But the spam was too much, and I moved the forums to an already established community, as a sub-forum.

But I still wanted to have my own forum plugin. So, when Mingle Forum died (or was abandoned), I took it over. But I couldn’t get myself to make it work flawlessly with all the features I wanted, because I couldn’t test. You know what dogfooding is — using your own plugins. But forums are not a thing any more, and I couldn’t start a community by myself.

So I switched from a forum structure with separate database tables (such as Mingle Forum 2.x) to a discussion board structure with full CPT support. The version jumped to 3.x, and this is a breaking change. There is no update path, there is no way to migrate it. Although it could be coded by some enthusiastic developer. Not me, though. The new discussion board is already in use on my website and two other client websites. Dogfooding at its best.

In the context of WordPress plugins, “dogfooding” means actively using the plugin on public-facing websites for an extended period, not just during development and testing. This practice helps developers identify and address issues, ensuring the plugin’s quality and performance before wider release.

— Ciprian Popescu

Post-Forum Era

Nowadays, excluding niche communities, forums are used mostly for software or game development. It’s a way to keep track of updates, news, announcements, feedback, screenshots, progress and so on.

If you need a WordPress forum plugin, try my Mingle Forums & Discussion Board plugin v3+. It does the job.

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