A former community discussing the business of software, from the smallest shareware operation to Microsoft. A part of Joel on Software.
We're closed, folks!
Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
Live Viz showing forum participartion over years and months.
(just image for those using IE)
Will it rise again?
Note how the peak at 2008 correlates closely with the start of the general economy's malaise.
Geeks on forums invariably strut their stuff and pride themselves on how invulnerable they are to economic downturns due to their moral and general brilliance. But IMO the collapse of BOS may indicate that many people thinking about starting mISVs started to get real about the actual probability of success, and backed off and focused on their jobs and contracts.
Worried hired hands mean less dabbling in side projects.
I just extracted the data from the archives here and fed to my app's charting engine.
For fun, I added a curve line as you suggested (no formulas - just a bezier curve). Looks like the touch down happens in 2015.
was it be around jan - feb 2009 that the anonymous posting disabled?
There was a huge drop in that period
Looks like it, and there was a big dip in Feb. 2009 (noted in the illustration with an arrow and a question mark). That dip was probably a collective protest, followed by a partial rebound the next month, but monthly traffic clearly fell far below that of January '09 and never recovered.
I was adding the "it's the economy, stupid" element because... well... the economy is also correlated with the drop off in traffic. But that one month dip is so sudden that a specific event clearly triggered it.
That is exactly it. Economy has nothing to do with it - the mandating of registration was absolutely, conclusively what did it.
Looking at 2006-2008 there was a rhythm established with more posts in March-April, then less, then more the next year. It was stable.
Mandating registration started the decline.
I can't think of one decent business related forum that has open posting. I think registration killed [J|B]oS because everyone here was used to open posting and then the whip was cracked. If the Joel forums had always required some kind of login then you would not have seen the posting fall off a cliff.
The economy didn't help, though. It strikes me as curious that BoS is so stagnant today when there is so much interest in startups.
Or maybe there are much better places to go for startup information now than there were in 2005 or 2008.
Tycoon, it sounds like you are an advocate of mandatory registration, correct? Do you operate a board that has it? Why do you advocate for it given that studies show it does not increase the quality of posts?
One issue with registration here is that an email is required, and you have to go and validate it to get a random password, then come back and change the password. The email requirement is the worst one. This is an archaic requirement and boards that have posting accounts without requiring email or validation checks, such as reddit and hacker news, are much more popular these days. There's no reason to require an email address. Optional, sure, it can have benefits of password resets, but mandatory, no reason for it since it says nothing about who you are it only adds another hassle to everything. It's fundamentally bad design.
Mandatory registration with email damaged this board. That's just an observable fact.
I understand that someone absolutely committed to mandatory registration with email is going to be looking anywhere they can for another answer, but it's obviously what caused the drop, and then traffic here wasn't sufficient to maintain growth. Not enough topics, so people stopped coming. Previously growth had stagnated because of the killing off of the off topic and general discussion sections and the heavy handed enforcement of business only topics.
Also we have the whole ban on meta topics like this one.
A lot of rules.
Things that contributed:
- killing the other related subboards
- heavy handed moderation (this is less of a problem now that few are left)
- mandatory email registration in particular
- mandatory registration in general
Some other boards do have registration, but it's very low requirement. Just type in a made up name and password and you can post. Don't have to wander off to an email site and create a fake account just to maintain your privacy.
Now on to the separate topic of where people are.
In 2005 the whole VC craze took off. Those groups were seriously guided to HN where there was constant talk about funding and equity and partnership agreements and cloud services and outsourcing.
JoS has always been about sole proprietorships. People who steer their own ships. People that do everything themselves alone or with a friend/partner, and then only once profitable bring others in.
Not VC pump and dump schemes that have poor product, shops that just sell pre-vetted engineers to the big 3 companies for a million dollars an engineer, with the money going to some wall street guy instead of the engineer.
No one here has been interested in that business model except as a joke so when it took off and became the big fad it didn't result in additional growth here. Which was a good thing.
And didn't contribute to the great fall that was caused by the registration.
"It strikes me as curious that BoS is so stagnant today when there is so much interest in startups."
No surprise here. Today, when someone finds this place, e.g. by a link to one of Joel's old blog posts, what does he see? Absolutely no new articles for months, and one single specialized forum, most topics about "Feedback for my product", with a dozen or so regulars. How much "Oh whoa!" do you expect from this?
I never really had a problem with the registration thing, apart from initial annoyance and having to log in. It does a good job of keeping you logged in and it is easy to be anonymous if you want to be (as many people here are, and always have been).
I think the real reason for the decline is that forums had their day and the traffic went elsewhere. I saw other forums decline around the same time.
I'm glad that this one is still here though. I've been hanging out here for over ten years, so I'd be sad if it went completely.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Another factor was the launch of Stackoverflow that happened around late 2008. It gained popularity immediately.
Joel stopped writing new articles on this blog as frequently he used to prior to stackoverflow. This probably led to decrease in traffic and hence decrease in new visitor signups.
Friday, January 25, 2013
I think the end of anonymous login at about the same time that Joel reduced the frequency of articles he posted is what caused BoS to reduce in size.
I've seen many forums die because anonymous login was removed or overzealous moderators censored too many threads.
I disagree that forums have had their day. There are many very active forums out there. With the right balance of moderation and audience, forums can be very useful and well worth participating in. Nothing technology-wise has emerged to replace that.
One final point: I have seen several forums with a number of longer term members who start to think they own the place, since they have been using it for so long. They all know each other and gang up on any new member who dares to post something that goes against the grain. Like one of those spaghetti westerns where the new guy walks into the bar and everyone stops talking. BoS has fortunately not fallen into this trap... yet.
Interesting presentation of some stats we are all familiar with. It's not that often real life data fits a curve so nicely. It fits the classic product lifecycle curve better than most, although for a new laundry detergent, the peak would be sustained longer. Last century, I had a job forecasting demand for an automobile manufacturer, and 3 peak years, followed by a sudden drop and gradual decline after that was common for individual models, once you adjusted for the overall economy (actually the key stat was help wanted ad indexes for overall demand).
IIRC, the whole mandatory registration thing happened shortly after Google got involved at a high level regarding a particular post (sorry I can't remember the topic). And about a year later, our host went through a change of life, and decided ten years of promoting his business through blogging was enough.
It happens, this blog http://www.collisiondetection.net/ had been sputtering for a year and a half and breathed its last in October 2011. Clive Thompson was (and I assume still is) making a living writing about technology, and still feeds his Twitter account on a daily basis. Oddly enough, people are still commenting on his blog articles from almost two years ago (it's not a lively conversation, so you don't need to check it out yourself).
" killing the other related subboards
- heavy handed moderation (this is less of a problem now that few are left)"
These two are not to be overlooked. the old timers get tired of the same questions and conversations but a FAQ page is not a real good substitute for a live thread.
I have frequented here and there with long absences in between. Having to register did not really bother me but seeing it decline does. I really enjoy reading the opinions and views of people who have been there and done that. Even if it bursts my bubble or it is just plain wrong for my particular case.
We should have a contingency plan to move the forum to , in case our absentee landlord decide to evict us.
"the whole mandatory registration thing happened shortly after Google got involved at a high level regarding a particular post"
This seems interesting. Didn't knew google had something to do with the registration policy. I am curious.
Friday, January 25, 2013
I personally don't get the objection in principle to registration. Some act like it's some lofty moral stance to not have a fixed board identity. A board always has your IP address.
What most anonymity seekers do is register a throwaway email address with yahoo or gmail and register with the board using that.
Again, JoS got hit not because registration was a big moral failure on Joel's part, which is a fucking silly assertion. It got hit because people here labeled it "registration required, bad" and took offense. It was a delta - a change in the level of something. It's like getting used to 95 F temperatures - 70 F will feel arctic. If you're used to 20 F temps, 70 F feels balmy.
To me as a user of communities, what registration does is reduce trolling activity somewhat, and creates that fixed identity for individuals. At least I know that "Scott" is not some other Scott. On CoT there are at least two Scotts.
Found it. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2009/01/29.html There is a link to the anonymous comment that got Google in a snit. Joel refers to an online magazine article that doesn't seem to exist anymore, but from what I remember it was pretty innocuous. With my conspiracy jacket on, I wonder if the article had already been altered to avoid serious consequences by the time I read it. The very last thing you want is to be blackballed by Google. Google makes significant revenue from selling GApps to governments. The last thing they needed was someone creating the conditions for a class action suit.
>Can you fit a function to the decline and get the predicted 0 posts point so we all know when the end of life here is?
Does it have a guassian tail?
>Or maybe there are much better places to go for startup information now than there were in 2005 or 2008.
There are certainly more places.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Tycoon, it doesn't matter whether you think registration is not a problem for everyone. What matters is that it obviously is and that data proves it. Just because it was such an established known principle that people predicted it would happen does not mean as you assert that those who pointed that out "caused" the loss of interest.
This is not the only place that lost lots of users when imposing this sort of scheme. It's been empirically tested on various boards. Registration is an impediment to participation, especially the stickiness of getting new blood in. And you need new blood because users bleed off over time - that's what accounts for the decline since 2009. A smart person with relevant experience comes here, sees an interesting post he has some real insights on, want to share his experience in the few minutes he has for lunch, it's a hassle. Well maybe next time. And he never comes back.
You're pretty typical in J engineer types declaring how things should be, and tracking and demanding emails and user info and extra useless steps you have convinced yourself are relevant. Meanwhile your business fails or just straggles along.
I know it's been discussed before, but I think the blow up of Things Other Than Desktop Apps may have been related to this. I know when I've discussed selling a desktop app with two savvy friends for the last, I'd say 5 years, they both mention iOS. Now, of course, iOS apps are software, sure, as are SaaS businesses, but I wonder if for some reason people associate this forum with desktop apps and that's *part of* the explanation for the decline?
I also bet Joel's not blogging about related topics is one of the biggest issues; I didn't even know about this forum until someone told me about it, so to keep numbers up you need fairly constant publicity.
This topic is actually highly relevant to Business of Software.
Every unneeded step you add to process increases the chance it will fail or not be completed.
With order forms, the more pages you have, the more abandoned shopping carts you have.
The harder you make it for the customer to find out what his shipping costs are really going to be, the higher the chance of failure. This is why amazon shows the shipping cost right next to the product price now. They didn't used to do that, but they tested it and it increased sales and conversions.
The more fields you have, the more fields you require, the more personal information you ask for, the more likely you are to lose a customer.
Add a bunch of steps is just the sort of things accountants and MBAs and other useless paper pushers and busybodies like to do.
Google wants your mobile phone number to have an email account. As a result, there are fewer new gmail accounts, and Google+ is finding it impossible to get traction. Google's bean counters know if they can tie your real name, phone number and address to an account, information can be sold for more money to companies whose bean counters have decided they want to know your sexual preferences before they will show you an ad for their product.
I don't care what my customers sexual preferences are, and it's none of my business. I don't even care what their real names are. I want to know if their credit card or paypal payment goes through, and if I have a correct shippable address if they are requesting the product in a box.
If the box is address to Osama bin Laden, I just don't care.
As a result I sell a lot of product.
"Does Joel promote/advertise stackoverflow? "
Doesn't have to, search for a solution to a programming problem and 4 of the first 5 results point to StackOverflow. Think of the resources people like us spend on SEO, SO is so full of Google juice, it's running over. Joel On Software was designed to promote Fog Creek products, StackOverflow is its own integrated product line, with the promise of big time revenue streams, which attracted serious VC money. About the time Joel was due for a mid-life crisis along came an opportunity to move from a successful niche player to the next Larry Page. If only the other 91 Q&A forums built on StackExchange were as successful and could product similar revenue streams.
"Does Joel promote/advertise stackoverflow? "
Of course he did/does. You can Google stackoverflow.com and Joel and find blog posts, interview videos, mentions on Twitter, etc., from Joel and also from Jeff Atwood while he was involved. Howard's right, though, that it's got such a life of its own now that there is not much need (any need?) to promote it. But that's such a quantitative difference that it crosses over to a qualitative one, such that comparing the BOS forum to Stack Overflow is comparing apples and oranges.
Yeah, I can remember the old days and there was more about the actual business of software. FWIW i was a registered user before it was mandatory, I don't think the anon issue is the cause.
IMHO the time spent of discussion boards in inversely proportional to the time spent working on your business. The recession hit and people spent less time asking/answering/debating and got back to work on product, sales, service and marketing.
IIRC stackoverflow was part of the reason for shutting down the programming discussion forum here. And in the top left corner of this web page is a link to answers.onstartups.com ... maybe that is where the action went?? A nice UI, easy to search.
There's a certain convergence here toward an inescapable conclusion - who the eff cares? Things have moved on.
I see it partially as a fashion thing, in addition to other factors cited. Forums are somewhat passe' and less structured things like Twitter and Facebook are now "it". Early JoS before registration promoted quick exchanges of ideas. Once formality and "professionalism" became a big priority people dropped away.
Forums don't fit the mental model of reality of today's early 20-somethings, who often can't be bothered to converse sensibly or to attach a subject line to a message.
For the highly anal and logic obsessed there is Stackexchange and Onstartups.com for those whose main pleasure in life is downvoting instead of exchanging ideas because they're too good to be bothered with conversation. You see arrogant Asperger's nut jobs on the meta sections of these boards proclaiming that they WILL downvote and they WILL not deign to say why.
So, BoS/JoS is both too formal for today's mISVs and too loosely structured for many others.
Also, Scott just spent a lot of effort hammering my recession based theory but I stand by it:
> The recession hit and people spent less time asking/answering/debating and got back to work on product, sales, service and marketing.
I neglected this part - it's a double whammy. Fewer mISVS because people gravitate toward certain outcomes, and the experienced hands don't have the time to bother with chit chat.
Can someone graph over the last 10 years how often someone has proclaimed this forum dead and/or dying?
Monday, January 28, 2013
It is the most popular topic around here ;-)
Monday, January 28, 2013
Just curious, but how many of you are primarily Windows developers as opposed to "app" developers on iOS or Android?. Would you think of this forum as primarily a Windows uISV?
Sunday, February 03, 2013
Mobile apps were a popular topic here a couple of years ago, but as a business proposition for more than 90 days, they suck. And your opportunities to out-market your competitors are pretty meagre. There are Mac developers here, and apparently OSX is gaining market share, but if you can't make it as a Windows developer, your odds of making it as a Mac developer are slim. Too narrow of a focus on the Windows OS is not the reason this forum is dwindling.
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