IMDb’s Message Boards and Why Trolls Don’t Force Communities to Close

IMDb will soon close and erase their 18 year old message boards. Media coverage of this announcement has generally followed a similar theme: Trolls forced them to close. Blame the trolls. They were unstoppable.

But that perspective is completely dismissive of the community profession, and the tools and strategies we have at our disposal. Trolls don’t force us to close communities. But apathy definitely does. Timo Tolonen, head of community at giffgaff, a community-first mobile phone service provider, joins the show for an in-depth discussion on the announcement and resulting impact. Plus:

  • The value that exists within the IMDb message board archives
  • Why quick community closures harm your most loyal members
  • How giffgaff restructured its community team to focus on specialization

Big Quotes

“Trolls don’t force companies to close communities. Apathy is what leads to communities being closed.” -@patrickokeefe

“I feel like moves like [IMDb closing their message boards] implicitly endorse the narrative of comment sections and communities being inherently worthless due to a minority, and that we are somehow powerless against those forces.” -@TimoTolonen

“IMDb is the definitive movie site, so it stands to reason that there are posts [in their message boards] that were written by wannabe filmmakers, who are now winning Oscars. Or there are posts there by people who were no-name actors, who are now stars. It’s not uncommon. There are old hip-hop forums people talk about where that rapper, who’s now a big deal, was on there, or that producer who’s now a hitmaker was on there. So, culturally, IMDb is very significant to film, especially film from the ’90s on and the discussion and critique of film. To wholesale clear that out, it just feels like there’s a lack of appreciation for the significance.” -@patrickokeefe

“[IMDb talks about] moving those people [from their message boards] over to social media – their Twitter account, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr. Aside from serving slightly different audiences at the moment, my concern [is] that they haven’t learned quite the right lesson out of all of this. It’s not a question of platform. It’s about how you manage that platform and what you do with your engaged people. It’s not so much about where you have them. It’s about what you do with them.” -@TimoTolonen

“If a community’s doing something or has become something, it’s the fault of the community manager, effectively. Either you were rewarding or recognizing the wrong behaviors or something else happened along the line. It doesn’t just happen overnight, and it also doesn’t mean that you’re stuck there. You can make changes. You can take ownership of the platform and the people on it. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s not easy, necessarily, and the solutions aren’t always readily apparent, but you’re never beholden to the direction you’re heading in at that moment.” -@TimoTolonen

“When it comes to closing a massive, 18-year-old community, I feel like you have to give people more than two weeks to connect elsewhere. You don’t have to keep the boards open for that long, but at least create a carve out so that people with a certain number of posts … can connect to other people that they have this strong connection to through your site. Some vacations are two weeks long. So, what? A decade-plus user of IMDb goes on vacation, comes back, and sees they are cut off from the friends they made years ago? That’s sad.” -@patrickokeefe

“The guy who came up with the idea for giffgaff, Gav Thompson, he had sort of an epiphany one night when he was looking for help fixing his motorcycle. He’d gotten a quote from a BMW garage, and they told him that’s it’s going to cost an arm and a leg to adjust his suspension. He was like, ‘Well, I’m not having that. I’m just going to ask some random people online,’ and he did so at midnight after a couple of drinks. What happened was, he immediately got some responses and not only did he get responses, he got this overwhelming amount of support from members on that community with pictures and everything else. He got a better level of service for free, from the comfort of his own home, and that kind of gave him the idea of, ‘Okay, how about we translate this model into mobile?’ That’s where the concept of giffgaff came from. When launching, I wasn’t there for the early days, but the whole point was that in order for this business to work, it needed to have a community at the heart of it. It needed to be the core of it.” -@TimoTolonen

“[After we won the uSwitch Best Network Customer Service] award from last year, we sent it to our members, and they’ve been passing it from one member to the other for a bit now. … Usually, when we have awards ceremonies for member support, or in this case, it was a customer support services, we tend to take members there to accept the awards on our behalf, because effectively, they’re the reason we’re winning.” -@TimoTolonen

“You have somebody on Twitter, and they’re doing amazing stuff. They really love Twitter because of their own personal connection to it, or the format or something about it that really resonates with them. Then, you see somebody on the forum using that platform the way it’s intended for long form content. … You can tell they love it as much as that person loves Twitter. Those two people, if they got into a room together without platform, in real life, they would have so much in common, and so much to talk about. They would get on like a house on fire. The only reason they don’t is because the forum user never wants to use Twitter, and the Twitter user doesn’t want to use forum, and the twain shall never meet.” -@TimoTolonen

About Timo Tolonen

Timo Tolonen is a people and project manager from the video games industry who saw the light and made the very sensible leap into community some 6 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. He is currently the head of community at giffgaff, a mobile phone provider in the UK that believes that together with their members anything is possible.

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9 comments

    Where do I press “like” for this cast? =)

    Just stumbled onto this via reddit whilst reading a topic on the imdb board shutdown.

    Liked this

    Sami

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