Note: Reposted with permission from Lynk Former with moderation points removed to avoid debate in an idea-driven thread.
I've had my issues with this place. Boy, have I had issues. But I'm not the stunted, frustrated adolescent I was back in 2005. I genuinely lament the potential friendships I let my immaturity prevent me from making with some really awesome people. There was actually a time I'd have loved to see this place fail, because all I cared about was my own selfish satisfaction. That's nowhere near the case anymore - I feel I owe this community, its members, and its leaders something in return for all the drama I've inspired over the last 8 years. Drama that likely only still matters to me, probably.
I think part of what keeps an online community thriving is the sense of... well, community. The very thing that's kept many of our older members, myself included, coming back even just as lurkers is what we need to focus on in order to make this place hum again. It has to be about more than the games and movies. Anything we can do to encourage the forging of relationships with the people behind the avatars should be our top priority.
I feel we need something a little more personal sometimes than the "Getting to Know You" thread. I know the old SWKnights website had a chatroom, and I know that many members forged friendships through it that stand quite apart from LucasForums itself now. And yes, I'm aware that one or more the people in this group became a problem for a number of members who felt excluded, alienated, paranoid, blah blah drama blah. The point is that it was not the existence of these friendships that led to the ensuing drama. The problem was that these perfectly wonderful people were forced to take their discussions and growing social circle to a more technologically reliable medium inaccessible directly from the forums themselves, creating the illusion of an exclusionist clique. If we could find a more reliable way of engaging each other in chatroom style discussions, I think that alone could go a long way towards making the community feel a lot warmer and more approachable - as it is now, all a new member sees is the dozens of different message boards each with a dozen or more areas with hundreds or thousands of topics. It's a little intimidating making your first post, regardless of how you do it. It's a lot easier for someone to say hi in a chatroom and get their feet wet, as it were, before diving into the forums themselves. I know for a fact that such chat interfaces exist for vBulletin, as I've been a member of vB forums that've used them in the past. There must be one that would allow for friendly, open conversation with simple moderation tools.
I could be accused of bias when it comes to the creative boards here at LF. They're where I spent a great deal of my time over the years and where I met a number of people who are still my friends today. But I think part of what drags that section down is the stigma surrounding fan fiction, fan art, and text-based roleplaying. These kinds of boards need more than just someone to enforce the rules - I mean, the rules are pretty minimal in such boards. Basically so long as you don't involve genitals, your post is basically in the clear. What they need is leaders. Story builders to inspire new worlds and characters (Star Wars/LucasArts related or otherwise), community organisers to properly coordinate contests and events, and experienced artists/authors with the tools to help people who want to become better at what they enjoy. Make these boards a destination, not just a side show or extra feature. A properly cultivated creative community can stimulate any themed discussion boards. Let a creative community grow around and expand on an existing idea or universe, and you've got the makings of a thriving forum for years to come.
In the same vein, a community focussing on any specific theme - be it gaming, movies, television, or whatever - needs leaders who do more than just enforce the rules. And I don't think this community's leaders have been given the proper tools to be leaders beyond rule-related buttons. Disney's acquisition of LucasArts is probably the biggest news to happen to Star Wars since the prequel trilogy, and the news was broken in the form of a link to a third party website, in three or four different threads scattered across multiple forums about different elements of the same basic thing. I guess this comes down to the forum structure that's already been acknowledged multiple times as being outdated. But it's more than that - not only should we have one place where all discussions about these different elements can be seen at once, but we need people who will actually gather information as vital to the community's interest and tell people about it themselves rather than simply posting a link to a third party website and inviting comments. We should be the place people use as a source for such information, not a place where we say "I'll believe it when a reputable source says something". We should be a reputable source.
That's all I can think of for now. Though I'll definitely have the matter on my mind over the coming weeks, for sure. I'm definitely eager to help this place become a destination for fans again. It's a shadow of what it once was, but it's not too late to restore it to its glory days again.