The death of the wine bulletin board?

Just heard the news that the erobertparker.com wine forum is to go subscriber-only (see the announcement at http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/). While I can understand the reasons for this, I think it’s a mistake. The move to hide material behind paywalls limits the number of readers, viewers or listeners, and in any form of media, eyeballs (or ears for some?) are the currency. You really want as big an audience as possible. I’m not sure that erobertparker crew have ‘got’ web2.0 at all.

But aside from this, it probably signals the beginning of the end for the wine bulletin board. When I first started discussing wine online, back in 1997, the place to be was the Wine Lover’s Discussion Group. It felt exciting and vibrant, and there was a nice community feel. I learned a great deal, started a few fights, and through it met some great wine people.

In time, the WLDG fragmented, and people went off and discussed wine elsewhere. The UK wine forum has been, and still is, a civilized place with a nice community feel. But it’s alone, now. Wine Berserkers is good, but defines itself somewhat by what it is against (the erobertparker forum) than what it is. The erobertparker forum, moderated by Mark Squires, was the largest online community of wine nuts, but it had a tendency to be a rather fractious place. For a few years, now, these online bulletin boards haven’t been as interesting or dynamic as they used to be.

Times change. These days, online fora are being replaced by social networks – a sort of distributed model of communication, which is hard to control (so big media treat it with suspicion), but is actually more vibrant and compelling. Twitter, Facebook and Blogs are where it’s at if you want to connect with fellow wine nuts online.

17 comments to The death of the wine bulletin board?

  • My forum of choice has always been http://forums.winelibrary.com/

    What do you think about this from a public-private goods view? It seems to me that eRobertParker.com is now essentially selling content that was partly created by non-subscribers.

  • keith Prothero

    Nonsense Jamie, Forums such as Wine_Pages will continue to thrive ,especially as there is so much offline activity.
    The Ebob decision could be seen as short sighted but as over 70% of those posting are already subscribers,I think it will remain in a healthy state.

  • I blame it on R. Murdoch! :)

  • Alex Lake

    Stirry, stirry custard….

    I suspect you’re knowingly using journalistic hyperbole here, Jamie. Blogs such as yours are a fun light read but lack the emotional involvement of a well run forum. Bit like comparing Blossom Hill to Chave… ;-)

  • You’re right that the boards are on the way out, but they still have their place at the moment. Consider, for example, the discussion provoked by this post over on the UK Wine Forum compared with the discussion here. That’s perhaps something to do with preaching to the converted (here), as opposed to critising a loved institution (there). But I think it goes further than that – isn’t it obvious that boards are a better place for discussion?

  • Boards also have the advantage that you can edit your posts to correct spelling mistakes :(

  • I would bet WineBerserkers saw a huge jump in traffic immediately.

  • I hope I’m wrong – I do enjoy the wine-pages forum. But in 10 years time? In 5 years time?

  • Veronica Castro

    http://www.wineberserkers.com works for me.

    I think it IS a place where I can find like-minded people who care about wine, and a lot of times learn from their insight on wines I don’t get a chance to taste. It’s also a fun group and glad to say I’ve raised glasses with some very fine people from there.

  • Rajiv – there are srong parallels with the privatisation of publicly owned companies here in the UK. Someone in power takes what you thought was already yours, and then offers to sell it back to you. Irrespective of the pros and cons of the ownership model, the process of getting from A to B stinks.

  • Ben Smith

    I’ve never heard the expression ‘fora’ for a multitude of forums. Fora and flauna presumably!

  • Jem

    Wine fora will continue to survive if only because they fulfill many roles the pro cant offer. For example:-

    1) they are predominantly regionally focussed – Wine Pages is UK/Europe, Beserkers is North America – and the wine discussions are about what is available locally
    2) the members are often more knowledable than the pros as they are ITB or vv experienced amateurs with extensive regional experience
    3) they welcome knowledge sharing and respond to questions which many pros cant do as they dont have the time or the enquiry is too mundane
    4) they call a ‘spade a spade’/have more freedom of expression; something the pros might be reluctant to do. Yes, they are moderated but not so as to exclude the critic.
    5) healthy debate is encouraged and that’s what learning is all about
    6) they are social animals and organise dinners, events and wine tastings etc etc to share their knowledge AND their wines
    7) they alert members to potential scams – EP 2009 for example and the one and only, surplus wines.

    Long may they reign

  • Martin

    I’m genuinely curious – how do Twitter, Facebook and blogs allow you to communicate better than a forum? Or is that not what ‘to connect with fellow wine nuts’ means?

  • I’m not sure that wine forums will suffer from eBob becoming subscriber only. In fact I see it as a good thing. Non-members will now be looking elsewhere for sites to lurk and hopefully contribute. For example those interested in Australian wines can now turn to the Aussie forums (http://forum.auswine.com.au and http://www.winestar.com.au/forum/)where there is considerably more knowledge of the local product than among eBob members (who unfortunately were limited in their exposure by Parker’s view of what Australian wine should be).

    As for the eBob forum I believe it will grow even stronger because its now a closed club and with as with anything that restricts interaction with the accepted expert people will pay to sit at his feet. I doubt that Parker ever viewed the eBob forum as a permanent freebie. Its more likely that they have reached a subscriber number that now makes it quite profitable and so it can be sequestered away under the cloak of a pay to play wine forum.

  • I’m with you Jamie.

    I’ve dipped in and out of various fora over the years, but I find they have the feel of a private members’ club – either you’re in, or ah-hem you’re not. If you don’t visit for a few days, you are lost.

    With social media on the other hand – notably twitter and facebook – you can more easily dip in and out of discussions and they are much more fast-moving both to begin and to end.

    On a serious wine educational level, it’s true there’s more in-depth wine discussion on the boards, however, this will inevitably only attract a relatively small number of committed wine lovers, and risks putting off those who find the whole thing to cliquey/snobby. Twitter and Facebook (and blogs to a certain extent) attract the newbies, those just discovering that wine is interesting not only to drink, but to discuss/learn about. Of course big media view this with suspicion, but marketers of wines should ignore this development at their peril.

  • Tom Mann

    I have to disagree… most people I know in the trade certainly don’t have time to follow all the blogs, twitter things, etc etc. Twitter is fine for short things, but doesn’t really promote extensive discussion – neither do blogs in my view.

    I think the closing of the Parker board is less to do with the demise of the wine forum and more to do with internal (and external politics) within, and the slow demise of the Parker brand. (although that is a much more complicated topic for another time!)

  • tom, you may be right, and I may have overstated my position. We’ll see, I guess.

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