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An Essay About Forums;

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Almost a year ago I was contacted and ask to write an article about Internet Fly Fishing Forums. When I submitted the document the publication ask if I could get this down to 500 words or less Yeah, right, needless to say this one has been on file for a while.

The Forum Lives On:
The Real Skinny on Forum Particippation

You may or may not know that the concept of the Public Forum has been around for over 2811 years, however over the past ten years the word ‘Forum’ has emerged from the obscurity of the classroom courses about Western Civilization to become much more mainstream in global culture.

I am going to address the modern version of the ancient Roman Forum, The Internet Forum. The experiences I’ve had in these sites vary widely but as you read on I will tell you where I found a home on the net so to say. I have registered and participated on some sites where there was some confusion as to whether the members were in a Forum or ‘The Coliseum’. If you know your history then you know this (The Coliseum) is where people were thrown to the lions or other wild animals or where the gladiators did battle for the enjoyment of the masses. I’ve seen sites where controversy and arguing get to the point where threads are finally removed along with members who were in the fray. Some others I have read seem to have no problem with keyboard combat and there is little in the way of control at all. Conversely I have found some sites where the discussion is nothing short of over refined and frankly out of my sphere of interest. I’ve joined groups where posts I entered were either ignored by the home team or I had some less than warm and friendly replies. I’ve tried fly tying forums where the people are so anal that they would criticized a fly posted by another member because it had one too many wraps of tinsel to be considered a proper fly. Of course there are always those places where 90% of the posts are dedicated to hair splitting. By this I mean long running discussions over which is the best rod, reel, line, or leader to use for fishing a certain species and very little content regarding actual fishing. Truly some forums are a tackle marketer’s dream with members just longing for someone to tell them what to buy. Many of the readers of this publication may already be familiar with Internet forums and for you this will be a heads up to the one that I found and joined going on 5 years ago.

For those who are not a member of any of these mysterious cyber groups you may find some value in the assessment that I am about to make. I think that there exists a forum for darn near everything you can imagine. If you have a question about doing your own tile work or replacing your roof, there’s a forum. If you own a Harley Davidson or Kawasaki KLR 650, there’s a forum, have some stained chrome you would like to shine, you guessed it………… The number of interactive groups out there is mind bending to say the least. I am by no stretch of the imagination ‘an Internet type’, whatever visions that moniker may conjure up for you. In the past I tended to think of a person who spends an inordinate amount of time ‘surfing the web’ as a net wiener. The worst case scenario would be the middle aged person living in their mothers basement crouched over a laptop computer writing and viewing God knows what, but let’s not go there OK. I don’t consider myself a surfer but more of a search type. When I want or need some insight on a topic the internet has become a welcome tool. Searching for information is what led me to the forum I call my home page.

The Beginning
One day in 2007 I typed some words into the text box on my Google page and hit enter. The top results of my search terms all led to ‘posts’ on an internet forum web site about fly fishing and so it began. No doubt this happens to millions of fly fishers around the globe every year but I followed the ‘link’ and then some. This was the first forum I had ever seen and has become the one by which I measure all others. But let’s get back to 2007, I was directed to The North American Fly Fishing Forum. With one simple click I was taken to the web page where the words contained in my search were being discussed by numerous people all of whom were unknown to me. It only took a few more clicks until I found that if you really want to explore the site you are ask to ‘Register’ as a member. So what the heck, I started filling out the membership info page. It was pretty benign and they didn’t want anything I wasn’t willing to share so I registered. Then came the ‘Choose a User Name’ box, this was new to me. I had never been a CB radio buff so I had to think on this a bit, what clever handle would I use to both identify myself and to retain some level of anonymity that goes along with a ‘user name’ society? Since I had been using a particular brand of fly reel for 30 years and had so many of them that some were still new or used only a couple times I chose to go by the name ‘Hardyreels’. After all these years and over 5600 posts and threads most of the members who are frequent visitors to the forum know who I am user name or not so secrecy is not a big deal. Learning the ropes when it came to mass communication; and that’s what you are exercising when you become active on an internet forum took some time, you don’t just push your way in. I found that it was like being the new guy on a job and you had to get to know people. Interacting with a very diverse group of people did not proceed without some minor misunderstandings but overall, having an affable personality seemed to be a great advantage.

As my visits to the mysterious cyber society of invisible fishermen and women became more frequent I began to see that this was a way to reestablish a social network, something I had left behind in the lower 48 and had a longing for. I had moved from North Central Pennsylvania to Alaska in 2004 and that move separated me from my fishing buddy of 24 years. When you are used to having someone like minded to yourself who comes to your home and sits in the den talking fishing and planning trips the separation from that camaraderie can be sobering. As I got to know some people from many different states and countries I found the level of social discourse I was lacking due to the relative isolation I experienced living in Alaska. Unlike some other forums I have visited over the past 3 years this is not a place where every post contains a picture where someone is jamming a fish into the lens of a digital camera and then hurriedly transferring the image to an Internet post. This is a place where people share ideas, information, fly tying techniques, and tackle reviews. Of course we have ‘Trip Reports’ where members share photographs taken while on a fishing trip. Some are from the typical weekend outing while others were collected while someone was on a ‘Dream’ trip. This is really and truly a place of growing and learning and I can make some pretty convincing examples to attest to this statement. I have watched members who when they joined a year or two back go from being someone who posted brief comments that were lacking in either form or substance to people who write some of the more eloquent reports about a fishing trip I have ever read. People who have been away from an academic environment that required them to actually write about something suddenly come to life when they write about what they love. Fly tying is another area where I have seen remarkable improvement in our membership also. As the forum acquired members who were skilled at tying all sorts of flies the posts from those members inspired many others to experiment with different types of fly patterns and therefore the membership benefited on a whole by the examples put forth by others. I can’t say too many good things about belonging to a quality fly fishing forum in the space I will have here but I’m trying. We have one giant thread full of photography and another where members post their own portrait. The Idea of putting a face along with the name or user name has went a long way toward removing that cold and anonymous sense that you can get when you hear a voice but have no idea of who is speaking. Recently one of our members began a salmon fly tying tutorial program in our fly tying forum and the results have been great.

This article is continued on the next entry down, it's almost over

Updated 02-08-2012 at 08:24 PM by Ard