"And sometimes he's so nameless"

The End of an Era: Richard Dawkins forum to close


I was going to write a brief piece tonight on my new board game “Earth: Our Home” I created for the the Richard Dawkins Science Writing Contest. I test played it with Luke, Kev and Tom tonight, and we had a wonderful time slaughtering each other species and fighting for control of this pale blue dot.  500 million years passed in two hours, and at the end it was incredibly close, but I won. :)

Unfortunately I popped over to RD.net to see what was going on, and found that an announcement had been made that the forum is to close. It will remain live for 30 days to allow us to retrieve anything we want to save: given I had written over 10,000 posts (7,000+ remain after an earlier purge)  and I guess many million words as I am not known for my brevity, that will prove immensely difficult. Given that the search has not worked for months, in order to protect other parts of the website and keep the bandwidth manageable, well it will be next to impossible. I have tried waybackmachine: no good. :(

Jerome's avatar

My RD.net avatar designed by Thwoth to mark my Science Writing victory...

I had a hilarious exchange on this blog once before with someone who had a rather bizarre view of the history of RD.net: the details don’t matter, but I will briefly now discuss the matter. A few years ago the great man Dawkins0 became aware that there were forum posts which were rather er, colourful (“What does sperm taste like? was the infamous example always cited) and suddenly over night a large part of the forum was just deleted.  The bit which went comprised the chatty silly areas –  I lost about 20% of my posts, as i tended ot post mainly in the Faith & Religion and General Science areas anyway. This led to a major row, with a  number of atheist who saw this as censorship buggering off to create their own communities: it was not really the imposition of community standards which did it, but the clunky way it was handled. We lost the original admins (OBC, Kevin Ronayne)  about that point, and by 2009 a new set of mods had taken over. It was still a great site though, though I miss the early days – but nostalgia ain’t what it used to be… :)

Tonight the proverbial has really hit the fan. Again the closure of the forum may NOT be all it seems: a new kind of heavily moderated discussion area will exist, and approved topic can be discussed. What it does mean is the death of the forum community, and like the end of the Living TV Most Haunted forum dozens of new forums will spring up, but I’lll lose touch with most of the friends I made in my years over there since December 2006.  We can’t even talk about iot now – I tried to log back in and found a message telling me “Sorry but this board is currently unavailable.”

It is such a blasted shame: to try and name them all would be impossible, but my thoughts really go out to all those who worked so hard to make it a success – firstly Sciwoman, so long a mod, then an admin, and a good friend. We shared a lot of laughs and a lot of misery, and she has been a good friend to me. Then there is the excellent CJ – no not me, CJ was an admin or possibly just a mod I think and was one of the best, and used to welcome every new poster. In the great purge he was demoted to ordinary member status for something that had nothing to do with his work as a mod: the backstairs politics of the forum was always machiavellian, but CJ happened ot have publicly discussed things which were considered verboten from his own personal life – ironically things this CJ discusses just as openly.  Who else? The Old Farts were all great, and much missed – they were a loose collective of posters who had a great time. JimC was always one of my faves, a wonderful Australian biologist with a sharp sense of humour.

My life will be poorer for not hearing from the splendid Aussie atheist Goldenmane: I’ll miss Hackenslash, Ilovelucy, Durro, MedGen, Mechtheist, MacDoc, FlyingScot, Natselrox, and me and Tim O’ Neil had a wonderful time together fighting Jesus Mythers and the terminally ill informed. Mercer is a thoroughly fine fellow: and my companions in faith Imperiatorium and of course my good mate Grahbudd, plus the really decent Jewish engineering student whose name I  just can;’t for the life of me recollect right now.

There are SO many others – Darren from Canada, whose profanity was always laced with awesome humour; Mazille, who brought me back to the forum with the science writing contest I have invested so much time on, Thwoth the brilliant artist and sharp wit, Hyrax a truly lovely guy and great mod, Campermom who was always great on science,  the simply awesome FedupwithFaith, and one of the sharpest minds of all Spaghettisawus who is a really top bloke.

So I’m sad: rather than carry on with the litany of names, which is so difficult as i’m missing dozens of really great people out (Topmum?- I just can’t recollect user names right now) I’ll make a few general comments… (but not forget Jerome Serpenti, Homo Economicus, Matalnifesto, Dave C, Pdavid…)   The sad thing about the death of an internet forum is in some sense all these people become part of your life, and they touch you. I really got to care about people I only ever knew as words on a screen. Sad? Maybe, but its a part of life in the 21st century – some of our friendships are with people we may never physcialy meet. (I was lucky enough to meet three members – sadly the accounts of our meetings were lsot in the first great purge.)

I enjoyed being Jerome (a contraction of Jensen Romer), the Anglican who always had something controversial to say. I enjoyed my arguments with the great and the good, my ill fated challenge to Richard Dawkins to a debate on the history of Science, my fun debates on the rationality of theism and on life after death.  Most of all though I enjoyed the people, the new ideas, the constant challenge to my beliefs, and the ability to ask others to question theirs.

Apparently the new website to replace the forum will only allow posts clearly in the areas of Reason and Science, and that is in itself interesting. I wonder what that means? Will Atheism cease to be a major plank of the new website? Will religious believers like me now be officially banned? In my more more egotistical twat moments I’d like to think my success at arguing for actual history over myths may have hastened the demise of the old forum, and this is a ridiculous attempt at censorship — but I VERY much doubt it: in fact it’s absurd.  What I doubt will ever happen on the new website is that someone will win the say writing contest with an essay ripping to shreds the nonsense about the conflict of religion and science, or we will have a sensible discussion about parapsychology, or the evidence for the historical Jesus, or any of the things I spent so much time  writing about on the forum.

That’s a damned shame. Reason and Science were furthered by those discussions I think: people came to examine their personal beliefs (I certainly did) and were exposed to opinions sharply divergent from there own. I learned a helluva lot, but above all I learned tolerance and respect for my opponents, even if I still disagreed with them after all the shouting. :)

So why has it happened?  No one actually knows. The mods have been dismissed, or rather given notice, and the website administrators made a unilateral decision to withdraw the forum for the new website. My utterly cynical guess is simple: it comes down to money. I have no idea how well offf the Richard Dawkins Foundation is, though it’s a registered charity so the accounts are public domain I think: but ultimately the forum must have eaten a hug amount of resources and bandwidth.  I have no idea if the Rational Response Squad is till going after their troubles in 2008 , but running an atheist forum is probbaly a license to lose money. People loved the forum, but did they buy from the shop, read the main pages and support the RDF? I don’t know, but I suspect most forum users went staright to the forum and ignored all that stuff.

And so I appreciate this may have well been a sound commercial decision: to support the RDF,  more traffic needs to be routed through the main site.  Looking at ALEXA the site had continued to grow slowly in popularity, and was ranked 14,799 in the world (top 2000 in New Zealand and South Africa, top 4,000 in the UK, top 9,000 in the USA) – a tremendous success.  Yet the search function had gone, and as always the forum often fell over through sheer weight of numbers. It desperately needed investment in servers and infrastructure: instead it has been decided to kill the forum, and create a new streamlined website.  I can see why — but it does not help those of us who invested so much in making the site what it is.

Ultimately the decision is one man’s: Richard Dawkins.  I never really got to know the bloke in all my time on the forum, as he posted less and less, and when he did it was often after something like this, when he gets the stick. The Great Purge was necessary to protect his reputation and that of the rDF when it was going for charitable status: some of the stuffon the site might have upset the Charity Commissioners, but I think they could differentiate between what the RDF stood for and the opinions voiced on an internet forum – but maybe not.  Still, if he is digging deep in to his own pockets to support the forum, and would rather spend his money on “God probably does not exist” adverts on the side on buses who are we to complain. Ultimately it’s Richard’s site – and Richard calls the shots.

Still, I think a lot of people are as usual not so much upset that it has happened but at the usual complete lack of communication that have left us with thirty days to save what we can and make our escape plans. And that si really not something i can forgive lightly. Oh well, so be it…

I returned to the forum to say my good byes and found I could not actually post any more.  What I found was a hilarious piece of craven cowardice and stupidity. A notice appended to the previous announcement, which reads –

Update: We had intended to leave the forum fully-funtioning (sic) for 30 days, but due to the inappropriate posts by some users and moderators, we have decided to leave the forum in a read-only state. You can still download and archive your posts and private messages, but the ability to enter new posts has been disabled. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this. We know that change can be difficult and sometimes frightening, but we are all very excited about the direction of the website and the future.

I’m not, and I suspect over 85,000 other forum users will join me in calling on Richard Dawkins to sack those responsible for what has been a lousy piece of absolutely moronic administration, and boycotting the new website entirely. I don’t mean the decision to close the forum – I can understand if that is necessary – I mean the appalling, insensitive and now frankly ridiculous way it has been done. I wait with interest to see what Dawkins himself makes of all this. To be honest it is a particular kick in the teeth for everyone who has worked so hard on their entries for the Science Writing Contest — voting was due to start tomorrow.

If any one from the old forum reads this, please do comment, I want to stay in touch!

I’ll end with a public service announcement

Atheist forums you might want to try

http://www.rationalskepticism.org/

(a forum specifically set by poster Life up for ex-RD.net folks, where I also happen to be a mod)

http://rationalia.com/forum/

http://forum.herd-of-cats.com/

http://freethought-forum.com/

http://thinkingaloudforum.com/

http://www.thinkatheist.com/


and forums that are intelligent fun and atheists may enjoy, but which are NOT atheist forums

http://www.ukskeptics.com/forum.php

http://forums.randi.org/

have fun guys, and may your gods go with you…  ;)

UPDATE: Former mod Darkchilde’s blog offers inside perspective  on this extraordinary mess:  http://tenebra98.blogspot.com/2010/02/death-of-forum-death-of-rdnet-forum.html

UPDATE: Hackenslash rallys the refugees! – Good on you man… (YouTube link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyLnxu19DM8&feature=player_embedded

UPDATE: Several mods deleted, along with all their posts.. Mazille, CJ (the other one), Valden, kiki and Darwinsbulldog — about a 30.000 posts gone in this most peculiar purge.

http://rationalia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=75&t=8864

UPDATE: Former mod  Peter Harrison blogs on events at the forum -

http://realityismyreligion.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/locked-entry-will-open-soon/

Update: Richard Dawkins responds

http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=60&t=110356

As I have engaged in no such vitriolic attacks i will not be apologizing: they are ridiculously over the top, and i’d love to know where they were posted and take the idiots who said it to task.  I will apologise I personally villified Richard Dawkins in anyway. Yet I stand by EVERY WORD I wrote: this whol ematter was dealt with dreadfully, and the deletion of the mods posts was shameful.

J x  (who is an Anglican: prejudice declared!)

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