I like the forum and I’d be sad to see it go, but it does seem like it’s not utilized all that much. I check it nearly every day and it’s rare there is something new. I suspect that many if not most of your readers don’t bother to visit. You can probably change that by finding ways to drive more readers here. Perhaps consider posting some of your own articles here rather than on your main toolguyd “blog”. I think that makes a lot of sense for those topics where you want to engage with your readership more rather than just announcing a new sale. The forum allows more HTML and so on, it’s better for more detailed discussions. Perhaps “trending” topics in the forum might get a link from your main page? Do that and I think you’ll have more people visiting the forums.
I know it’s not very active, but it’s been very helpful to me, and I would hate to see it go. The signal to noise ratio is maybe the highest of all the forums I visit, mostly because of extremely knowledgeable and generous people like MechaMan, Napalm and the amazing fred. I check it daily to see if I can be at all useful, just to pay it back. I’m happy just knowing it’s there.
Is there a time or money cost to keeping it going?
The monetary cost is manageable short-term, but frustrating when I see the full total at the end of the year. The maintenance time commitment is usually minor except for when major work is required (such as now).
There was just a little activity in June and July. There was activity in 2 posts in August 2023. One had a single reply to a thread from 2016, and the other was a new topic.
There has been zero post activity in the past 5 weeks.
This follows a couple of years of low activity.
Social media better satisfies most of the purposes I created the forum for.
Search engine behaviors have also changed to where the forum is unlikely to attract much fresh attention. There’s still a link on the blog, but it’s in the desktop sidebar or below content on the mobile page and rarely visible to the 80% of visitors that browse via a smartphone.
The forum has been all-but-dead.
Realistically, I don’t see it as being sustainable. Growth - even if I had the energy for, which I don’t - would be near impossible today.
There are alternatives, such as Discord or other public boards where content can be more community-driven.
I’m not going to pull the plug tomorrow and am open to thoughts and potential options.
Hm. I wonder if you could outsource some of the work related to administering the forum. Divided up among several people, it likely wouldn’t be much work. And that would give you capacity to market the forum and increase traffic. Marketing would be an added task of course, but it might not be necessary for very long.
The nice thing abouf forums is that the users create the content themselves. All you have to do is set the rules and enforce them. That last is what creates real value, and is why places like reddit are so useful and vital, and why places like Twitter/X are so full of toxic garbage. You already have gained a lot of respect for how you do that on the posts. In fact it’s part of your brand (to use marketing-speak.) The same would apply to the forum.
“guilty as charged”
In theory it is great of an idea for consumers to have a discussion in-between about anything tool related, but only to learn things and ask questions is good fun to be answered, but to keep on making tool reviews, and to be answering other peoples questions (some are truly mundane) is taking the time and as people on the tools, we barely get free time for such…
Never mind, farewell, if it’ll come to it, I’ll keep on popping over for a browse- nose in regardless
Stuart - I’d like to offer this perspective. I’ve been visiting the site for about 3 years. I’ve been commenting on articles for a while, and that’s grown considerably. I only found the forum last year, and haven’t used it much.
Forums are useful, they allow questions to be asked, and I often check reddit (which I generally dislike, but have found some decent information on). I also check out some of the woodworking forums.
The essential problem, I think is one of branding, is Toolguyd a review and PR aggregator (which sounds bad, but I see as a good thing since it informs us of industry and consumer trends), or is it a forum? There’s only a few websites that have been truly effective at combining them. Maybe Slashdot.org in the early '00s. FineWoodworking magazine seems to have a reasonably functional forum.
A few posts on the “wall” about forum activity could help drive activity. Right now these seem like two adjacent, but very independent website features. They’re not really promoting each other. A few articles on the main page with: “Hey, I’m looking at table saws/miter saws/test equipment. I have a pinned post in the forums. Please give me your feedback” could help drive forum activity.
This isn’t criticism, but just some thoughts. You are doing a ton of work on Toolguyd, and “building synergies” between the site and the forum is a big ask.
An area where the forum shines is the ability to search for relevant posts on a topic. I haven’t found a way to do that in the article comments. Am I missing something? Also, can we get a way to edit posts after entering them, there’s too many times where I am typing on the phone and I would love to edit the comment after the fact.
In Google’s search box type “site:toolguyd.com ???” with ??? being the text of the comment you want to find. It’s not as nice as a forum search, but say you want to find all of fred’s comments and read them it works.
I’m sure Stuart can answer, but I’ll just say that opening up editing comments either involves using a third party service (and all the issues that creates), or creating an account on ToolGuyd, which is something Stuart hasn’t wanted to manage in the past…
Thanks! Understood on all points. I work in IT and have some Google-fu skills. Nonetheless, it’s not my preferred means of finding information. I was simply offering perspective on what might drive user behavior and what I find as limitations on the usefulness of the site. That said, I’m still visiting regularly, so these are probably just desires rather than necessities.
Regarding editing comments on the main blog, it doesn’t just require a user account, it requires full editing capabilities. For one to be able to edit a comment, they need broad post editing capabilities as well.
There are plugins that allow for editing, but there are too many problems and security risks.
It’s really the choice between an open commenting system, where anyone can leave a comment under whatever name they choose, or a 3rd party system that i) requires additional services to be run on top of everything, and ii) collects more information. If you login with say Facebook, that’s additional integrations that I’d rather do without.
I have seen some 3rd party comment integrations, and they’re slow and clunky.
There’s really no easy way to combine a blog or magazine-like structure with a forum structure.
Yes, and no.
A forum requires a very large community of frequent contributors to be successful.
Could I work towards that, answer questions, ask questions and post my own content, send readers or potential contributors back and forth between sites? Yes. With the time I have and as many things falling off my plate as it is? No.
Yes, but what about when no one is frequently monitoring the forum to answer the questions?
Agreed. That’s part of my point. The forum is stagnant and largely under utilized, and there’s nothing I am reasonably able to do about it.
Even if it were possible, I wouldn’t implement something like that. There are less than 9000 posts and 218,000 comments. Searching the comment tables in the database would grind the server to a crawl. Wordpress’s comment system wasn’t designed for that, it was designed as a content management system where visitors could leave replies.
If you want to search on-page comments, most browsers have that functionality.
Searching comments is kind of like trying to open a 2GB error log in Windows Notepad. Sure, it’ll open the text file in theory, but the app simply wasn’t built to handle documents of that size.
There are back-end costs and time commitments. On the front end, there’s generally not much to do. Ben flagged spammers in between my infrequent visits. The forum software is designed for community policing as well.
Approaching this from a similar standpoint as a blog, the top priority for a forum is content. A successful forum has a steady pace of new threads being created, and a steady level of replies and discussion.
With content comes traffic. With traffic comes more visitors, and with more visitors 1 out of every 500 people might have something they want to share or ask about.
Content comes from a community with interesting things to share, and the eagerness to answer questions.
It’s not the lack of content that prompted this. It’s that when I’m able to finally log in, I see a question from 3 months ago that maybe I could have answered but didn’t see. Or when someone puts time and effort into sharing something, but there are few people to appreciate or comment on their post.
When there’s a 2-month gap with no new activity, the forum is practically starting from a zero-point state. Ignoring any considerations about existing content, would I launch a forum today? Absolutely not, for various reasons.
Can I feasibly build the forum into a thriving and active community? I really don’t believe so, not given the very little time I am able to commit.
Can others feasibly build the forum into an active community? Yes, but that’s an unfair ask. Ideally, this should happen naturally, with just a little coaxing from myself - which I admittedly haven’t done and don’t see myself being able to do anytime soon.
There are also other options, such as subReddit or a Discord channel. That could maintain the connection to the main site without my having to manage the infrastructure or maintain ownership, literally or figuratively.
The forum has been around for more than 7-1/2 years. The community is not going to grow itself or increase activity in a self-sustaining manner without added energy. Where should the effort to do this come from? Me. And I cannot. To be frank, this is down the list of things I’d like to do but cannot budget the time for.
With an apparent lack of natural interest in the forum or momentum, and my unfortunate inability to do anything to change this, how many options do we really have?
In 4 weeks since I mentioning being open to ideas and opinions, how many people chimed in? How many new topics have there been in 6 months? Replies to new or existing topics?
There are definitely ways the forum can be used, but I am already stretched too thin.
The efforts it deserves goes way beyond simply moderating spam comments or similar.
I’ve looked at this from many different angles, and there’s no scenario where the forum becomes a utilized - let alone well-utilized - space without a significant investment of time and effort.
I do have some ideas in case I change my mind, but nothing I would be able to explore until maybe January at the earliest.
I should add that my thoughts about shutting down the forum aren’t recent. If not for how much it pains me to see anyone’s efforts sent into the void, I would have pulled the plug a while ago.
Something recent really prompted me to move much closer to the decision.
On the blog, I uncovered a pattern of comments that can be described as sophisticated trolling (at best) or methodical manipulation (at worst). That’s on top of spam, shilling, and other comments that come with the territory.
The comments passed under my radar until the people responsible screwed up and an underlying and seemingly nefarious agenda became clear.
Because of that, I have grown extremely unwilling to be responsible for a completely free and open forum.
The rolling idea of “I’ll put energy into building the forum down the line when I can” was quickly replaced by a newfound hesitation towards potential growth.
Essentially, the forum has low activity and is not well-utilized, the costs and maintenance/management requirements are ongoing, and I am unable to input the energy needed to change this. Even if I could change the last part, the recent happenings give me good reason for believing successful growth under my watch (whether idle or active) would only lead to bigger headaches.
Nate summarized my thoughts exactly. I don’t think it would take much time and effort to drive more traffic to the forum, just link to it now and then on the main site feed. If someone needs help with something, writes a helpful review, etc, then post a link to that just like you would any other article. In my opinion long user reviews are well worth reading, and that’s something which I think would benefit Toolguyd. There are far too many tool blogs out there that just regurgitate factory specs and announce new products. That information is important of course but nothing beats a real, lengthy, review. Original content, especially with photos or video, beats stock images and marketing talking points any day.
But, it sounds like driving more users here isn’t the only problem. If moderating the spam really takes that much time and effort and those resources aren’t available there’s not much point in trying.
Thanks for the reply, Stuart. I have these responses:
“When there’s a 2-month gap with no new activity, the forum is practically starting from a zero-point state.”
I’ll respectfully disagree. Even after two months, or six months or a year of being away, I’m still aware of the forum, I know how useful it can be, and I know I can rely on it. I also remember some major contributors like fred, MM, Napalm and others. It is not starting from zero, at least in our minds.
So from your response, I’m seeing three tasks or priorities you’ve set yourself. Here’s the text I’m drawing from:
“Can I feasibly build the forum into a thriving and active community? I really don’t believe so, not given the very little time I am able to commit.” … “The community is not going to grow itself or increase activity in a self-sustaining manner without added energy.”
“It’s that when I’m able to finally log in, I see a question from 3 months ago that maybe I could have answered but didn’t see.”
“On the blog, I uncovered a pattern of comments that can be described as sophisticated trolling…” " Even if I could change the last part, the recent happenings give me good reason for believing successful growth under my watch (whether idle or active) would only lead to bigger headaches."
So I think the three tasks or duties you’ve set for yourself are: increasing forum traffic and posts, responding to forum questions, and preventing/squelching nefarious activity.
Re the first: to grow the activity, there are simple things you can do, as people have suggested.
Re the second: I don’t think we expect you to respond to forum questions. Anyway, all of my questions have been answered very well by other community members. If we have questions for you, maybe we could @ you or use some other flag. I think you could get by with glancing at it once in a while, or perhaps responding to specific posts addressed to you (or not.)
Re the third: I know you’ve had some bad actors in the blog comments, but I question how responsible you have to be for preventing that. It seems like a sisyphean problem, something that, like weeds, cannot be eliminated but only managed. Anyway, the forum seems mostly free of that. There have been a few spammers, but they’re easy to spot, and at least when I’ve report them, they’ve been taken care of quickly. Anyway, we all expect some level of garbage in any internet forum (or at least I do.) It doesn’t have to ruin the forum, and it doesn’t have to be your sole responsibility to handle it.
But the reality is that it requires regular if not constant effort and energy.
It’s not like an engine that you can pull-start or just put your foot on the gas and press the button. You have to keep cranking it until eventually there’s enough momentum.
In today’s internet landscape, forum visibility and activity has been greatly diminished compared to 5+ years ago. It will require a lot more energy today - energy I simply don’t have.
Let’s say I attempt to tackle the first one:
I can’t just copy/paste and let readers answer it in comments there. Setting up a post for that isn’t a 30 second effort.
I don’t have time for YouTube or Instagram. Aside from both being potential revenue sources, they’re mediums I need to spend more time growing into.
I don’t have time for maybe 50% of higher-interest blog topics, let alone lower interest ones. The topics queue keeps growing and growing.
I can only do so much on any given day. One solution is to hire more contributors. But if I’m going to do that, it would be for the blog.
Let me ask this - can the forum be adequately replaced with an external community, such as Facebook group, subReddit page, Discord channel, or similar?
Regarding blog comments, it wasn’t just spam, but a pattern of manipulative interference. Either that or sophisticated and coordinated trolling in the subtlest way I’ve ever seen.
When there are 2 months of zero posts and zero replies, growing the forum from that point is essentially starting from zero.
There are all kinds of back-end analytics I can see. If the forum were taken offline today, a very small handful of people would notice.
increasing forum traffic and posts - I can’t do that.
responding to forum questions - I can’t do that.
spam/trolling/interfering activity - that requires a regular presence.
I have been turning down fitting sponsored opportunities, because I simply don’t have the time for more work, profitable or not.
The forum is not profitable, and I don’t expect to monetize it - at least not anytime soon. The monthly bills are a nuisance, which I wouldn’t mind as much if it were well-utilized. But it’s not - a majority of the expenditure goes towards paying for bot activity and spammers who find the forum, grab my contact info, and send more bloat to my inbox.
I don’t want to pull it away from regulars who contribute and value it.
In theory I can create a blog post simply pointing to a forum post. In reality, that kind of activity hurts the blog via Google rankings, advertising, and similar.
In theory maybe I could do a weekly or monthly roundup with added discussion that provides value without sending the blog reader immediately off the page. Realistically, I might do one or two before it falls off my plate.
From a business sense, if I have 30 minutes to spare, where should it go?
Emails? (I’ve fallen way behind)
The forum cannot grow without time and energy. I don’t have any to spare.
But it wasn’t worth the time. These days, it would have significant negative impact with respect to google and SEO. Actually, I need to take that post down soon the next time I can work some back-end maintenance.
With quick linking out of the question, that leaves longer format roundups or answers to questions, which requires again a larger strategy over time that requires considerably time and effort.
How many users will wish to save the forum? Many. How many would realize if I pulled the plug and didn’t say anything?
I don’t want people to be upset, and I don’t want the existing content to simply disappear.
But growing the forum isn’t feasible. I don’t have the time, and every long-term plan would require this.
So the question is, what other options are there, besides pulling the plug, that aren’t contingent on my expending time and effort I really don’t have?
@MechaMan I saw your post on the DowelMax. But here’s the thing. That took you time and energy - which I do appreciate. If you have the drive to create more content like that on a regular basis, ignoring for a moment any regard to replying to others’ forum questions or threads, would you rather do that on the forum, or on the blog - with payment?
That’s something I thought about too.
Anyone who might be interested in regularly creating new content to help grow the forum would likely be a good candidate for a paid ToolGuyd contributor.
Posts that answer questions tend to be interesting and in some cases rank well. So let’s say we go back to Mosh’s question about laser levels. Would that be a question I can potentially answer in a post? Yes. I can cover that in a blog post that serves the needs of the blog, and I can try to promote the forum but it’s not going to be very effective. That’s simply how the internet works these days.
Have you looked for answers to popular questions? When does the next episode of a streaming show come out? When does a movie come to streaming? What’s a good recipe for chicken soup? Can you use an impact driver to drill holes?
The trend has been to bury the answer after paragraphs of loosely related keywords, with the goal of keeping you on the page. Longer dwell times are good for SEO and advertising.
I hate this and would strive to answer the question in a post itself. So will a link at the end really help the forum?
I sometimes get comments to the auto-posted Facebook posts, which feature an image, headline, and short excerpt. There aren’t a lot of comments there, but I frequently get the feeling that the commentor never read the article and is commenting based on just the image and headline.
That’s what makes this complicated.
One blog post will do nothing. Ten will do little. Fifty might have an impact. Might
And in between, there will be few replies and even fewer new threads - if any.
Not wanting to disappoint a couple of people isn’t a good reason to keep the forum going. Objectively speaking, I don’t see a path forward under my direction, at least not feasibly.
A quick reply with just a bit of perspective to your replies:
As a user, I don’t really care that you run the site with WordPress, Slashcode, or if you have intermediate code somewhere that translates everything into Morse. I just see a website with content I like, run by someone whose perspectives I generally appreciate. I mentioned those features (editing, etc) because I see them on other sites. As a guy who has run several IT projects, I know this kind of feedback can create enormous amounts of work. So thanks for listening and engaging. My comments question were simply “I sure wish I could edit” and “a native Search feature would be nice.” I’m fine being told no.
As far as the forum, I only found it from a comment to a post from a user one year ago. That’s after visiting the site for a good two-three years before that point. There’s only a brown button on the side of the front page. It’s not linked below articles as a button. It doesn’t appear on mobile at all (at least as I can tell). It is, for me, hard to find and generally invisible. A poll on the blog wall could give you some feedback about how many of your visitors are actually aware of its’ existence. My hypothesis is: “not many.” Your comments about whether its’ worthwhile to host a forum in 2023 are something I can’t really answer.
I offer the following from a position of kindness and respect, but it might be difficult to read for you. Your responses to these questions you’ve asked the forum (with the embedded quotes for those of us who have commented to you), could be interpreted as refutations of feedback that you solicited us for. Some are quite lengthy. Your mind already seems made up to shut the forum down. Who are you trying to convince? Us or yourself? Frankly, if you want to shut down the forum, just do it. It’s your decision. Most of us big boys/girls and we’ll live with it. We aren’t paying the bill.
Finally, and this might also be difficult to read, it may be worth considering what you want to do with Toolguyd long term. Running a site like this takes a lot of energy, do you still have it? Do you still want to do it? I’d hate to see you go, as I really do like the site and your input, but this is a business.
Do you have an exit strategy? Have you considered selling? Does driving more engagement lead to higher valuation for selling it? Do you just cut losses and shut it down? If you do consider selling, how does community engagement affect pricing? Finally, and this is probably the toughest question I’ll ask: does your current energy level mean this site devolves into a “deal of the week” site with links to current specials and affiliate links? There’s a ton of those around and they probably aren’t worth much.
There’s no need to answer these questions, but I offer them because you do sound tired. You have a life beyond Toolguyd. I found myself being increasingly frustrated at the tail end of my 22 year Army career. I retired, left it behind, and my life is the better for it. It’s okay to consider changes in your life. We’ll live without the site, or without you being the one who runs it. We’ll also live without the forum. Do what you want to do. I would miss your contributions, but you only have one life. Live it the way you want to.
I know all of that might be difficult to read, but it is offered from a position of respect and kindness. I don’t expect a response, and I don’t think it would further this thread anyway. Best of luck in your decision on the forums.
Both? Talking things through brushes the dust off of hidden paths. It’s a habit. My intent isn’t so much to refute but to share more background, especially in regard to things I’ve considered and thought long about.
Business as usual, but more attention to video - eventually.
I appreciate your candor! They’re difficult to answer, but the questions seem to come from a good place.
I originally envisioned the forum as a place I could share behind the scenes coverage, early reviews, or similar. But social media took the place of that a bit. And then all of the platforms started charging in order to show posts to followers and subscribers. Now, it’s all about reels and keeping people on the platform, which I’m not very attuned to.
Yes and yes.
It will soon be 15 years. I’m not anywhere close to being done.
No. Every year I hear from maybe one serious buyer (usually a media conglomerate) and ten “I’m retiring and wanna buy a website” people. I haven’t seriously considered it. Growth, on the other hand, always remains an option, but I tend to stand in my own way of that.
I don’t think the forum makes any difference to valuation.
I was approached by a company that wanted to buy the forum. I looked into them for giggles and found that they have nasty practices. I would rather sunset the forum than to sell it to a company.
Not anytime soon. Even before I started ToolGuyd I enjoyed sharing deals. It’s an ingrained part of regular coverage, with more or less frequency based on the season and interest.
Not at all. It’s still very much exciting, and I love what I do.
I do want to find a way back to working on more personal projects, and I can work that into site content too.
The holiday season is coming up, and while exhausting, it’s always a blast. I have been working on fun things as well for more variety.
As strange or maybe as obvious as it sounds, I am constantly learning, which adds to the enjoyment. The comments sections also add to that.
I’ve been told maybe I should hire more people so I can sit back and relax more. But then what am I going to do, manage people? Where’s the fun in that?
All that said, I appreciate your questions and sentiments!
Back to the forum, I tend to have a deep aversion to having a platform pulled out from under people. Part of why I started ToolGuyd is because a forum admin was deleting entire threads due to others’ political digressions. It’s that aversion and not willing to disappoint anyone that kept the forum lights on for a few years too long.
I am unclear what you were going for by embedding some of the topics I started. Is it that they went unanswered, commented on?
I am guilty of not coming to the blog that often anymore because of the reason you stated- it’s dead here. I have dutifully written a number of lengthy posts over the years that gained little traffic of comments… I wasn’t necessarily doing it for that purpose and more to share my feedback on tools and experiences in a forum of likeminded individuals where there aren’t many trolls and spammers. Sites like FOG have less appeal to me for a number of reasons: 1. so many users simply post on threads offering little value to that thread, 2. so many new daily posts that if you aren’t constantly on there the backlog of content can be overwhelming when you do try and “catch up”, 3. not enough non-festool content, I love festoon and have moved more towards the brand in recent years - in fact I just bought the CSC SYS 50 saw this week and cant wait for it to arrive and had planned to possibly post on my impressions and comments pertaining to the review you had done on ToolGuy’d.
All that said, if there is a financial decision to be made, it’s a no brainer. Youre a professional having moved to this full time as your career. “wasting money” on something where there is only hassle/overhead, etc… isn’t a good business practice and I would be disappointed but respect your decision. I also cant say I blame you about not wanting to be “responsible” for a forum in todays climate.
I would like to know though- were you upset or concerned about the posts I made and them being nefarious or other.