Are forums a community or a business?

I had to post this. I was visiting a queer site today and noticed someone who was banned. And it seemed, that they were banned for being an FTM who was straight. Now, there are other FTMs on the site but this just kinda stood out. There may have been other issues at play here since the member was identified as being previously banned but the way the admin had stated it, it came across as being banned for being a straight FTM (he was asking if others were straight identified as well).

And this does make me think about how sites are managed. Are forums just a business or are they a community? If the site is charging at what lines does it become a business? At one point in the life of the internet (oh, around the early 90s-to-mid 90s) the internet was about information and community. It was a big part of what it was and how it developed. People wanted to connect with others to learn, rant, rave and find a connection that otherwise was hard to do. Distance and too few like-minded individuals made it hard to do. Additionally, only the truly geeky could setup a site and move it forward because they had the all powerful know-how.

But the reality of costs began to impede on the viability of continuing communities as they were. When I think of it, it’s not really costs that kill communities but rather when a community gets too big too fast and doesn’t allow for the core group (depending on the size of the community but can range from 5-50 individuals) from forming a strong cohesion, then it can die. On the flip side, however, is the issue that if there is ONLY the core group, a community can die. Being too heavy handed is just as bad as being too light handed.

I have come to the belief that being communicative as to goals and dreams in a big way with the community is the best way to keep things moving. An open line where community thoughts are taken into consideration — and USED on occassion — as much owner/admin thoughts are. While most sites I’ve admin’d or moderated on have a hard rule about not letting individuals back after banned, I do believe that exceptions can be made. Perhaps I’m too much of a softy but even in our own judicial systems there are opportunities for individuals to make amends and earn back “societal” points, if you will.

So all this said, where are our internet communities now going? Facebook and MySpace are hardly communities. They are, if you will, fly-by-night friends who spam each other with garish comments and applications (it can be fun but let’s call them what they are at times). Blogs like Livejournal and Blogger are forms of massive bookmarks that few people seem to get a chance to read. And our community forums are… well, their permanence and actual cohesiveness seem to be in question these days.

Do you remember newsgroups? If you do, you’ll remember that they were in their hay day during the early formation of the internet up to about the mid-90s when forums began to really appear. It makes me wonder if this is the future of forums: sluffed away in favour of fly-by-night “communities”.