Thursday, June 28, 2018

Goodbye to the Rotten Tomatoes Forum

I spent a couple of weeks toying with the idea of writing up a post on the changes that happened over at the AV Club last year, where the website was redesigned to become part of the Gawker network, and the comments were migrated over to a new platform called Kinja, throwing the site's community into predictable chaos. Cue another mass exodus of disgruntled media fans who felt they had been evicted from their turf. They went off and founded a new site called The Avocado (https://the-avocado.org) to continue their discussion activities in peace. And they brought the Disquis commenting platform with them, which I find kinda hilarious.

But then I went and checked in on the Rotten Tomatoes discussion forums, another review site adjacent media fan community, and discovered that their forums had been deleted by Rotten Tomatoes at some point in November, 2017. And my heart promptly sank through the floor. While I read the AV Club discussions occasionally and enjoyed them, I never really participated. Rotten Tomatoes, or RT, was different. These were the forums I had visited daily for several years between 2003 and 2010, where I knew many of the regular posters by name, and where I participated frequently. This was my online home during the years I really became a film geek.

I didn't post nearly as much as some, but I did count myself as an active member of the RT community. I was one of the forum's resident animation obsessives, and wrote up several lengthy, multi-post lists of favorite movies and shows. Others used similar formats for retrospectives, marathons, and analysis pieces on a myriad of different geeky media subjects. It was a tradition that when you hit a new post count milestone (10 thousand, 20 thousand), you wrote up a new feature. And then there were the debates, the tournaments, the polls and the contests, the most famous of which was a weekly Photoshop challenge. The long-running in-joke involving Vin Diesel in a ridiculous action pose from "The Chronicles of Riddick" is the only reason I still remember that movie fondly. The tone on RT was informal and people frequently went off topic, even though there was a dedicated "Off Topic" forum. TV, sports, and wrestling threads were common. Sure, there were trolls and creeps, but also some of the most knowledgeable and creative and bored film nerds on the internet, who just wanted to hang out and talk and write about movies.

And it's all gone. Totally, irretrievably gone. Hundreds of thousands of posts, and all that geeky fan content have been lost to the electronic ether. I spent some time with Google and the Wayback Machine sneaking peeks at the old forums, from before the 2014 redesign that drove some members away for good. But long before that, the RT forums had been neglected for several years by the Rotten Tomatoes leadership, and were often buggy and temperamental. They weren't even linked to from the front page after the 2010 Flixter acquisition, when a few experiments in social networking features meant rearranging a lot of the original site's architecture. The forum's heyday was really in the early 2000s, when fandom discussion migrated out of Usenet and into message boards and forums.

I miss being part of that community. We were mostly anonymous, but the core group of users were prolific and friendly enough that you could get to know people on the forum. The number of active posters was only a few dozen, the moderators were very involved, and it was the era before the bots and 4Chan kids really started gumming up the works. There was a lot of passion, but little ego. Ongoing conversation threads could stretch out over months and years. Everyone just seemed happy to have a listening ear. You weren't always going to get a lot of responses on posts about an unpopular show or movie, but you certainly wouldn't get a hard time about it either. I didn't even mind most of the trolls so much, since the ones that stuck around usually just wanted to talk about cartoons or "Star Wars."

Of course it couldn't last. My own activity on the forums started to peter out after 2010, when I started spending less time online. I could tell that the community was also growing restless. Social media was started to siphon away some users, and the remaining ones felt increasingly insular. The site's technological bugs kept getting worse and most of the main review site's users didn't even know the forums existed anymore. I found other corners of fandom to spend time in, and tried my hand at blogging independently. I kept an eye out for other movie forums I might replace RT with, but never found anything remotely close. And every time I went back to RT, the users were fewer and fewer, the conversations slower, and the updates more infrequent.

There's no going back. Some of the RT posters seem to have gone to The Corrierino to regroup. The IMDB boards are being recreated on MovieChat. Letterboxd has emerged as the social network of choice for movie fans, and there are plenty of dedicated spaces on Reddit and Tumblr and all the rest for whatever movie or show you could name. But for a community as weird and wonderful as the one I knew on Rotten Tomatoes? Still not a lot of good options.

Bye RT. You'll be missed.

Love, Vienna
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