I realize they’re still active, some more so than others, but outside of the specific communities, they largely seem to be ignored. It used to be that if you searched google for a how-to, or some form of diagnostic, etc, you’d get a bunch of forum posts as results. But then a few years ago, Google did away with the “discussions” search, almost entirely denying access to the places that hold the information. And I mean actual information. Not just the first guy posting the how-to or asking the question, but also comments on it from other users: suggestions for better alternatives, tools that make steps easier, questions and answers clarifying the original post.

Now the end of the discussions search wasn’t the end of the forum post. Up until recently, the first page would have many different results come up from several different forums. Google would even group similar posts from some forums together, making it easier to find specific knowledge, as eventually you learn to recognize certain users across several forums as having more knowledge to share than others, some forums as better sources, etc. Until recently, that is. But now when you search Google for a how-to, what do you get? Half a page of mostly useless YouTube videos, and three pages of various online stores trying to sell you a cheap aftermarket knock-off part. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll find an ehow or an orphan thread about it before you get to page 6 of the results. But YOUTUBE VIDEOS! I hear you cry. No. I already said they’re useless. For several reasons.

I’m a reasonably mechanically inclined person. I have a reasonable amount of experience wrenching. It’s what I do all day at work, on a huge variety of equipment, although I’m not a professional by any stretch of the word. If I’m searching for a how-to before I’ve started a project, it’s because I want a quick overview of what all needs done, what tools I need, etc. I want something I can quickly scan and make sure I’m not forgetting some critical step. But more often, it’s because I’ve started something, and I need a tiny piece of information; a better strategy for undoing a clip I can barely see, what order to take out specific fasteners, how to pop apart this thing that looks like it should pop apart but is refusing to do so, or the part doesn’t want to go back together the way I expected it would.

Why are YouTube videos useless? Half the time they’re some halting “figure it out as I go” style, which means the first half is the wrong way to do it. The rest of the time, you get to where you’re struggling, and they’ve skipped over that part entirely; “just do x, y, and, z” and then it cuts to “x, y, and z are done”. If you’re looking for a specific task, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find it by skipping ahead, and I can guarantee I won’t be paying attention by the time it comes around after watching painfully slow explanation of a bunch of stuff I’ve already done. And the clear, concise videos that do cover much of this are almost exclusively filmed by professionals who skip over details that are obvious to them after years of experience, not the home-gamer who hasn’t picked up on all the tricks of the trade. Plus, half the time I’m on my phone away from wifi, and simply don’t have the data to watch 20-minute videos that probably aren’t going to be helpful.

YouTube videos are a source of entertainment. I enjoy watching builds, and I have quite a few channels I’m subscribed to that have taught me many things. But like with cable TV, it’s still just entertainment. You don’t go to your TV when you need to find out a piece of information. You may be able to flip through the channels to find something applicable to your interests, but you don’t sit through an episode of Forged in Fire to learn how to sharpen a knife.

A forum post is effectively asking your peers, except unlike most of our peers, the guys posting on forums are actually knowledgeable about the subject. Most aren’t professional mechanics, which means they’re at around the same level as you on a lot of things. At least it means they know they don’t necessarily have all the right answers... at least for the most part. And there’s ALWAYS conversation about it, and it’s very infrequent you’ll find that someone else hasn’t already struggled with the same issue you’re facing. Even years later, people return to these same posts and ask questions, AND THEY GET ANSWERED. YouTube comments may get answered within the first few weeks, but they’re not searchable, they’re poorly formatted for transfer of knowledge, and after a month or two, no one else is looking at them anyway. You can scan a forum post pretty quickly too, and it’s easy to see who is contributing useful info and who isn’t.

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I’m also a member of a ton of Facebook groups. Some are better than others, but some are full of just garbage. Half the posts are no better than trying to read YouTube comments. Good knowledge gets lost in a sea of misinformation because Facebook is trying to sell you content, not teach you things. Half the questions that get asked are the same ones over and over and over because there’s no retention of knowledge in a facebook group; nothing is searchable, everything is lost as soon as it gets ten posts deep. The people with the answers get tired of answering the same questions again and again, and leave. They’re still posting on the forums of enthusiasts who care enough to help other people keep their passions alive. They’re still posting where common questions and problems are in threads that are pinned to the top of boards. They’re still posting where content is searchable, where questions get answered, where they know if they have one little questions about something stupidly specific, someone else has the answer. They’re still posting where there’s a community of people who’ve been around for years sharing information.

Why are forums disappearing? They’re not trying to sell you something. They’re not trying to show you ads. They’re there to give knowledge away freely, not shouting and dancing, trying to get in your face so you consume their product and let them make money off you. They’re not truly disappearing, they’re just getting lost in a sea of consumerism. It’s a damn shame that the world is like that.