Just short of a month ago, I rather abruptly made the decision to resign my position as sysadmin of the PCFormat/G3AR forums. Or rather, it was seen as abrupt as I posted the announcement without any prior warning, when in actuality, I had been deliberating over it for several months prior. A month on, it seems to have been largely forgotten about, which makes me comfortable enough to write up my reasoning for leaving.
A lot of it is indeed personal. Since late last year, there have been several changes in my life, with some things becoming more important, and others becoming less so. I’ve been putting a lot more time and effort into personal character development: becoming less anti-social, getting out there, meeting new people, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and all of that. (The result of that is that I may have finally met my life partner — although she is going through quite a few life issues and isn’t ready for a relationship, being told “I hope you don’t have to wait too long” is an indication that she may feel the same way.) Also, being elevated to the position of guild master in my World of Warcraft guild has chewed up some time that would have previously been assigned to more hackerish activities — such as, applying security updates and code fixes to an Internet forum at 1 AM on a weekend night. The thing is, I realised that I was doing way, way too much in my life without taking time out to relax, which was burning me out: unfortunately, as is the case for all of us, my time available to do things is a rather scarce resource. I realised that I had to give up on some things that I was previously doing, and administering the PCF/G3AR forums was one of the things that had its head lopped off outside the Great Sept of Baelor.
But, not all of it was personal, and to find out what the other reasons were, it’s necessary to understand why I jettisoned my forum administrator role specifically. After all, I could have kept it and quit something else instead. This requires some insight into how I fitted into the whole operation, which I will attempt to give.
Historically, the publishers of the PCFormat magazine (initially Intelligence Publishing, later bought out by Panorama Publishing) ran the forum as an in-house operation, but once their in-house guy left back in 2008, they chose to move to a community-managed operation. They decided to pick one person from the community that would keep the forums operational and act as a bridge between Panorama and the community. Yup, they chose me (possibly primarily because of my expertise hacking on the phpBB forum software).
On theory, this was a great idea, but times and perceptions shift. Generally, internet forums are now an endangered species as kids these days have gravitated towards newer forms of online social media and networking (Facebook, Twitter, et al.), which is a well-documented phenomenon. And over time, I noticed a gradual decline of people using the forum. People leave online communities (and non-online communities too) for various reasons — it’s a fact of life: people change, circumstances change. The problem is that, unlike in the past where new people would arrive to replace those leaving, new people would be heading off to the PCF/G3AR Facebook page and Twitter feed, and wouldn’t bother registering a forum account (“I’m already on Facebook, why should I bother with another login?”). Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of this shift: I find an internet forum can be much more close-knit than a Facebook page (and far more close-knit than a random Twitter feed), but I can’t fight that tide alone.
Panorama Publishing wasn’t interested in fighting that tide at all, and pretty much lost all interest in their “legacy” online community. I could keep the forum operational — that was my area of expertise, and apart from a few early server hiccups (until we moved to a beefier server, at which point things became, and still are, rock solid stable), I believe I did a good job there — but I had no impact or influence over the PCFormat/G3AR brand, or how it was marketed, which meant any drive to market the forum had to come from Panorama, not from me. Which would have been fine if they were actually interested in doing that but, sadly, my numerous attempts there were generally met with apathy. Not even a massive restructuring exercise that I, after discussion with Panorama, took on — rearranging and redesigning the forum to be more in line with the magazine brand — made much difference. Of course, I wasn’t the only one to notice the decline in activity: the userbase did as well, and I ended up with a small but extremely vocal group of users that were convinced that I was the cause for every single reason for the decline (to the extent that Panorama requested me to issue some high-profile user bans, which really only added fuel to the fire). Caught between a rock and a hard place, my position became untenable. Panorama Publishing has the right to give the PCF/G3AR forums the level of support of their choosing — but in the absence of any support despite my efforts to gain said support, then, as forum sysadmin/custodian/whatever, I had the right to do the right thing: walk away.
It’s unclear what will happen in the future, but that depends on how Panorama Publishing decides to proceed. There are three options that they might take: firstly, they may decide to appoint a replacement from within their ranks which, if they intend to keep the forum going, I believe to be the best option. Secondly, they may decide that maintaining the forum makes little sense from a commercial and social media standpoint, and decide to close it entirely. Thirdly, they may appoint a replacement from within the community, as was what happened with me, but I strongly feel that this would be a grave mistake: without a drastic, positive shift regarding their level of support, this will likely be the same as the second option, just more protracted in its execution — and this would be by far the most detrimental option, both to Panorama, and to the remaining community. If Panorama feels that the forum has reached end of life, I feel that it would be best to just cut life support and let it go. It will definitely upset and alienate the remaining forum community, but unfortunately, they don’t have much recourse there.
In conclusion, I’d like to end off with a brief message to any member of the PCF/G3AR forum community that happens to stumble by and read this (and I know that some of them do): thank you for being a part of an awesome community. As I mentioned in my resignation announcement, there are some of you who will never forget, and there are none of you who I would like to forget; friendships have been forged that will last far, far longer than I could have ever conceived. Understand that behind the scenes, behind closed doors, I was fighting a massive battle to ensure your community’s survival. Sadly, it turned out to be a battle that I did not have the strength to win.