I put out a little survey on Mastodon a short while ago, to see if there’d be any interest in a new forum themed around “UK Retro”.
(If you haven’t filled it in, please consider doing so – your opinions would be appreciated!)
Turns out, there is quite a bit of interest! Let’s take a quick look at the results.
If there was a forum based around the theme ‘UK Retro’, would you sign up?
A fairly even split here. The fourth option, with no responses, was “no, I would not sign up or interact at all”. A little biased, I feel, since why would you bother filling in a survey if you have no interest in what the survey’s about?
I’ve come across my fair share of forums which are remarkably draconian with their content, asking you to sign up for every little thing. Someone uploads an image? Better sign up to see it! You want to see all the posts from a particular user? Oh dear, you need to log in! I even came across one yesterday; it had a very useful modification for phpBB, one which a ton of users seem to want… but all it says is “you must log in to see this post”. Great.
I can’t say I understand this line of thinking. Sure, you might gain a valued member of your community – but that’s a very best case scenario. What you’ll realistically end up with is hundreds of user accounts that sign in exactly once, download your file, and then you never hear from them again. That’s not the sort of attitude I really want to foster, and I think it’s important to give lurkers and guests the opportunity to at least see your forum. After all, it’s not as if you’re getting commission from each registered user… right?
The other advantage is that having your forum open to view means it’s so much easier to archive everything. Part of the point of making a forum in this day and age is to combat the ephemeral nature of, say, Discord servers. You upload a file to Discord, or have an important discussion – basically, you do anything that’s worth documenting – and you’re going to have a difficult time finding any of it three months down the line. Three years down the line, the admin gets bored and deletes the server; then what? It’s all gone, and unless an enterprising member of that server has copies of all the files, they’re gone too. We’re destroying our own history, and we don’t even know it!
Dramatic, huh? Let’s move on.
If you answered ‘no’ above, why did you pick this?
Straightforward, this one. One of the responses re-iterated the option they picked in the first question – thanks for the clarification – and one said that they’d be happier lurking as they don’t feel they’d have much to contribute. An understandable response, which goes back to my point above.
The third response was very interesting, though, and something that needs addressing.
I’m not in the UK but am interested in retro in that country. a UK focused forum seems unnecessarily exclusive on a borderless internet but a club’s a club, I guess
There is a later response that fits well with this, so I’ll come back to it; but I leave it with you to mentally digest while we go through some more questions.
On such a forum, how interested would you be in the below topics?
Unsurprisingly, ‘video games and computing’ took the top spot for this one, followed by ‘technology’. Another one with quite heavy bias, I feel, since these are the circles I run in; and so most of the responses will have come from video game enthusiasts.
I was interested to see ‘books, magazines, and comics’ take third place – I suspect this may be heavily slanted in favour of ‘comics’, but I could be wrong! Maybe I should do UK Retro Book Club instead?
‘Movies and TV’ is next. This is an interesting one; from my perspective, movies don’t have the same “retro”-ness that an old video game has. Sure, you have older sensibilities and older technology, but a movie is a movie, whatever era it’s from. I could be totally off the mark on this one, but that’s how it feels to me. TV is a little different – the likes of Clangers and the Magic Roundabout are decidedly “retro”.
Following that, we have ‘action figures, toys, and collectables’. I’m aware there’s quite the scene for this in the UK – and I perhaps should’ve included ‘models’ in this as well – so it makes sense to include this. Action figures probably don’t factor in that much with younger peoples’ idea of ‘retro’, but for millennials like me, they were an important part of growing up.
The final three options, which I suspected would be quite low down, are ‘art and design’; ‘food and drink’; and ‘travel and culture’, in that order. Undoubtedly these topics factor in when it comes to retro; but for most, I feel like these sorts of things are always attached to something else. Unless you’re invested in art and design, you’re not really discussing it much outside of the context of, say, film packaging or video game cover art. Food and drink gets mentioned a lot, but realistically, it’s not changed enough to be a discussion itself. There’s only so much you can say about Opal Fruits and Marathons. Travel and culture is a similar one: oh, you went to Butlins in 1982, and it was exactly the same when you went back in 2022?
I don’t wish to diminish these topics, since they’re all part of our social history – and really, that’s what this is all about. But that doesn’t mean we have to have a specific little box for everything.
If you have any other suggestions for topics, please write them below.
Can’t believe I didn’t think of this one when writing the survey, but there was one response to this, and it read:
Music! Especially physical media, vinyl, cassettes, 8-track, mini discs etc
An absolute shoe-in for the forum, right? Music is a crucial part of our culture, particularly in the UK. Collecting music is a pretty big part of that, too. Absolutely worth including.
Which of the following features would you use in addition to a forum, if any?
One of the things I wanted to do with this project was to make a sort of hub – a central place where you can go for the latest news in the world of retro, and to offer a directory of retro businesses within the UK. Rather happily, these two options have the most votes. I’m still not entirely sure of the logistics, but it’s good that there’s plenty of interest in these areas.
In third place, it’s the chat room option. I’m in two minds about this. It would be nice to have an instant messaging platform (for example, a Discord server), but then we may fall into the trap of exclusively using said platform, which would then totally defeat the point of everything else I’ve said in this blog post. Clearly it’s something that forum-goers would use, though, so it’s something to consider.
Quizzes are next. I like a good quiz, and I made a boatload of them during lockdown as a way to amuse myself and my followers on Twitter. Bringing these back would be fun, and correspondents seem to agree! I just need to work out how on earth to do it; currently, they’re all hosted on a third-party platform, and if possible I’d like to be able to host the quizzes on my own site. Haven’t found a good solution for that yet, but there must be something out there!
Polls take the fifth spot. Since phpBB has in-built poll support, this one’s very easy to implement. My thought when writing the survey would be to have a regular poll, perhaps monthly, that’s just something like ‘which is the best computer?’ and then you’d pick ZX Spectrum instead of Commodore 64. That sort of silly thing. However, it might turn out that users end up creating such polls themselves; so maybe that’s not something I even need to worry about.
The final two spots are taken by ‘user-submitted blogs’ and ‘online game servers’, in that order. The blog idea seems a little pointless in retrospect; it’s a forum, after all. You can write whatever you want! And I think I’d sooner foster the idea of a user creating their own blog, rather than having it all on the same site. Bringing back the idea of having our own web spaces is one of the goals of this project, and itself ties into the idea of ‘retro’, so perhaps this one can be shelved indefinitely.
‘Online game servers’ is a little nebulous. I was thinking of Minecraft when I added that option. Clearly there’s not much interest in that anyway, and the overheads would be difficult to manage. Maybe one to come back to.
Do you have any other comments regarding a service such as this?
Lots of interesting comments here. Most of them concern what actually constitutes retro. I’ll quote a reply I wrote to a correspondent on Mastodon:
Realistically, there’s no concrete way to define it. My approach: if you consider it retro, it’s retro enough to discuss on the forum.
I’m not here to dictate what you enjoy, and I’m not in a position to tell you what’s retro and what isn’t. Nobody is but you. I have a hard time seeing the PlayStation 3 as a ‘retro’ console, but someone born five years ago would almost certainly consider it such.
There are, of course, discussions to be had around this topic. That’s what a forum is for, right? And here’s the kicker: it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’d call it retro or not. Let’s say we want to discuss retro games, and we might talk about, I dunno, Super Mario Bros. At that point, we’re talking about Super Mario Bros., the video game… we’ve already got past the fact that it’s retro. It’s just a game at this point.
Retro is a starting point, a gateway into much more interesting discussions. And if we really want to be pedantic, ‘retro’ technically means something that’s new, but made to appear old.
My point is, retro is for you to decide. Not me, not Firstname Bunchofnumbers, not the grumpy old bloke browsing the music stall at Huddersfield open market… just you. That’s the attitude I want to foster with this thing.
Another recurring comment is the fact that, even though it’s called ‘UK Retro’, invariably it’s going to attract other English-speaking folks from around the world. This also links back to the comment from earlier. And my response is thus: it’s called UK Retro because it’s focussed on retro things made in the UK. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a retro forum for people in the UK. Granted, that’s the primary market – no denying that – but it also means I’m not about to exclude New Zealanders who really love Led Zeppelin, or the little Filipino group who meet in the library every week to discuss the Dragon 32 and which I’m sure totally exists. I don’t especially care where you’re from, and I’m not here to gatekeep.
Essentially: if you’re interested in the UK’s retro culture, then you’re welcome on the forum. That’s it.
I recognise that letting people in isn’t exactly the same as making people feel welcome; but it’s a start. On a similar note, I’m going on record to say that I want this space to be friendly to LGBTQIA+ individuals. Your orientation, gender, and preferences are not a valid reason to exclude you from a retro space. I should say that it’s an unfortunate fact that retro spaces tend to be very male-dominated; nevertheless, I want to do all I can to welcome everyone, and make our space as diverse as possible. Not just because it looks good, but because it is good, and makes for much stronger and healthier communities. I want it to be a happy place.
Final point, and to directly address another comment I’ve received: it is going to be a hard sell. Forums are old-hat, and established social networks have much less friction in comparison. If it doesn’t get any traction, then we can at least say we tried. If it does, well, then we’ve got ourselves a brand new community that’s all ours, and isn’t run by a faceless corporation (or, even worse, by a known Bad Person).
Besides, forums are retro! It doesn’t get more ideal than that.
I’m currently putting the finishing touches on version one of the forum, which will be available soon at the following link: https://ukretro.online/forum.
In the first instance, there’s going to be an emphasis on video games, but there will also be dedicated forums available for each of the other topics. Thing is, I know more about video games than any of the other things, so I’m not even sure how I’d make meaningful subforums for each of those; as such, we’ll just have to see how it goes.
That’s pretty much it! I’m looking forward to getting this going. See you there!