Saturday, June 3, 2017

An Eulogy for the IMDB Message Boards

Well, there goes another one. I had mixed feelings about the IMDB message boards being shut down. They functioned terribly, were poorly managed, and attracted the worst sort of trolls. However, they were unique, and some of the interactions and information there simply could not be found anywhere else on the internet.

Everybody uses the IMDB site, so everyone has run across the message boards at some point, I expect. I stayed away from the general discussion forums , because there were plenty like it, but I did occasionally post on some of the message boards that were attached to the specific IMDB pages. Every single IMDB page had one, every minor actor with only one credit, every short film, and every last movie and television show, no matter how minor. That meant that if anyone was looking for information about some obscurity, those message boards were often the first place that people looked.

By default, IMDB pages were often the most high profile spot to discuss any piece of media or the associated talent. Occasionally, they were the only spot. If I had a question about some forgotten TV movie from the 1980s, at least I could post it somewhere that other people who'd seen the same movie might actually be looking. For the most obscure titles, posters were forever helping other posters track down ways to watch. Over the years I ran across a few small, but dedicated communities that existed around the boards for old movies stars or certain cult films. In a few special cases, the talent connected to a particular piece of media might even show up to interact with fans. Sometimes the conversations would go back decades, since the IMDB boards were never deleted.

Well, that's not quite true. I found out around five years ago that most of the individual boards did have a limit to how many posts they could display, and the oldest ones were automatically deleted. During the "Avatar: the Last Airbender" casting debacle, I posted a lot to the film's IMDB board debating other posters. I must have posted dozens of times, but none of those posts showed up on the board after a few years, or even in my own posting history. They were all deleted to make room for newer postings, while some of my much older posts to more obscure boards remained. All of the boards with higher volumes of traffic had this problem.

Then again, the more popular an IMDB message board was, the worse it tended to be for any useful discussion. Moderation was essentially nonexistent, and the level of discourse depended entirely on the users, who tend to be younger and less discerning. Spammers and trolls often ran rampant. And then, of course, there was the extremely basic nested design of the boards, which often made more complex interactions difficult. I only visited the IMDB boards rarely as a result, when there were no other good alternatives, or when I was curious about the more popular reaction to a particular piece of media.

The speculation on the boards for upcoming projects was always fun. Back when a live action "The Last Unicorn" project was in the works, its IMDB board was always a good place to catch up on the latest rumors. You had to dig through a lot of casting wishlists and wild speculation to find the real information, but there really wasn't any place better for news. The project was small, and not being tracked by anyone but the most ardent fans. Eventually, plans for "The Last Unicorn" movie collapsed completely, revealed to be a pipe dream. But it was fun while it lasted.

There's not much left on the IMDB site that someone else on the internet isn't doing better in some way. Those tiny, obscure message boards, however, where one of the few unique features that it had left. Some kind souls tried to preserve what they could before the system was shut down, but nobody is offering any real comparable alternative. You'd need to build an entire new media database to do that. There are a couple of places that might have the structure in place to handle it - Icheckmovies, for instance - but you could never get the same kind of participation again without IMDB's clout.

And my search for another movie forum to call home continues.


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