I used to love hanging out on the Runner’s World online forums. They were a treasure trove of information, support, and stories about running. I have met people from that site at races, and have challenged myself with online mileage games organized through the forums. Unfortunately, over the last year or so there has been a huge issue, so much so that it’s actually driven users away from the forum entirely. Want to know how Rodale is killing a thriving online community? Read on!
Step one: SPAM!
Everyone hates spam. Does any reasonable person actually click on the “make $1,000 a day from home” or “important message from your long-lost relatives multimillion dollar estate” emails? Of course not. Likewise, when a web forum is flooded with posts reading “L@@k Jets VS Patriots, W@tch L1ve!”, no one’s following those links. Unfortunately, the spammers are very persistent. All they need are a few gullible people, and they target large web communities to find the suckers. Apparently the suckers are all runners. The spam problem has been building, but this weekend is easily the peak. At this point, the first page of each forum is absolutely drowning in spam — there are maybe 5-6 legitimate threads — and the rest are invitations to watch soccer online.
Step Two: Spam? What spam?
Runner’s World and their parent company Rodale claim they are addressing the spam issue. During business hours from Monday-Friday. Not on holidays or weekends. So as the spam problem has gotten worse, the weekends have made it increasingly difficult to navigate the forums. By sometime Monday it’s likely the weekend spam will be zapped, but in the meantime during the weekend itself, when there’s more time to participate in web discussions, or share reports of how racing and training are going, there’s no one to listen. Except for the users who really loved your race report and think you’d really like to click-through to watch Manchester United LIVE RIGHT NOW.
Step Three: Ditch The Existing Running Log:
I have never used Runner’s World’s online log, but apparently it was an early version of the log I do use over at RunningAhead. They were created by the same guy, and RunningAhead is his personal development of the tool. He also maintains forums, which have a small but devoted community. As part of a change in the design of the overall Runner’s World site, they are changing out the RunningAhead style log for a different one, driving many users to RunningAhead. Which has better forums — and an admin who cares deeply about preventing spam and providing a stable platform for the community. And with this latest spam wave making the forums at Runner’s World unusable for four days straight, it’s not surprising that a huge influx of people have hit RunningAhead and begun participating there, instead.
So there you have it. Start with something annoying like spam, refuse to deal with it properly, and then drive your users to a competitor’s services with sudden changes that coincide nicely with steps one and two. What boggles my mind is that it isn’t a redesigned website, or a change in editorial style, or something specific to the website that is driving away users … it is something as universally bothersome as spam. Every website has to fight spam. This isn’t anything special that’s targeting one forum. Yet most websites have a system to zap what slips past them, and I have never seen any admin team let spam build up to the point of several hundred spam posts in a weekend! It shows a lack of respect for users and the community, and it isn’t shocking to see a mass exodus as a result! If this isn’t fixed soon, the forums will go from a thriving community to a ghost town … all in three simple steps.