I scarcely remember an internet where IMDB didn’t exist. It was one of the first truly incredible, big-picture website concepts I remember being inspired by. I’ve spent countless hours across the years scanning its pages, absorbing unnecessary trivia, connecting actors and films and learning about little-known projects. It has expanded my world of films in numerous ways, and for that I have always been and will always be grateful.
A few days ago, I was disheartened when I attempted to visit a particular film’s message board to find that particular feature of IMDB’s offering had been removed just two days prior. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of similar message boards filled with people’s thoughts, opinions, arguments, and banter about films were casually wiped from existence with little fanfare.
Why did this happen? The official reason is IMDB concluded their “message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience.” In an internet age where message boards are a thing of the past, a relic better suited for how people chatted online in 2001 and not 2017, that logic makes sense. Message boards are dead technology. Add to that the massive amount of hateful, condescending, judgmental, and downright useless trash so many trolls spewed all over those boards, it’s easy to see why, superficially, the boards were put to bed. Weeding through the boards’ trash could often be taxing, for sure, and that is the opposite of a positive, useful experience.
But if you visited the boards of any currently-popular mega-hit, classic film, cult favorite, or mega-star, you were bound to find more great discussions and insight than trash. You would see lively conversations that were ongoing and often hundreds of responses deep. The IMDB boards were a brilliant way to find out what other people were thinking about and talking about in regards to visual art. They were visited by people the world over with different perspectives, different opinions, and different interpretations of what they saw. And that’s exactly the kind of thing people need these days. Sure, we still have Reddit and other alternatives for that type of chat — but what is so bad about having a choice of outlets? And how am I supposed to know the top 100 things everyone learned from Super Troopers without it? Say Car Ramrod!
Anyone can post their thoughts about a film or TV show on Facebook and get comments and feedback from their friends. But, as we’re reminded every day, we’re in a culture of echo chambers. The current climate of internet discourse is in flux. It’s one of bad press, fake news, and people rehashing their opinions amongst like-minded, like-cultured people only to get similar opinions in return. The IMDB message boards were one place where, while certainly not exempt from plenty of misinformation and false facts, people were at least guaranteed to not merely reabsorb the exact thoughts they shared. Eliminating a popular spot where global thoughts and perspectives came together is the opposite of what global conversation needs right now — even if that discussion is about trivialities like movies and TV, and even if the trolls of Earth want to insult my affinity for Hollywood musicals.
As someone who was recently responsible for writing daily analytical film and television articles for ScreenPrism, I often discovered writing topics by thumbing through the IMDB message boards. They were an illuminating means of finding what elements of a production people were talking about. When I needed to write a Q&A piece about a particular show, I’d go to IMDB message boards to see what people were asking. When I needed to do deep analysis of a classic film trope or compare themes in a renowned picture to another cinematic masterwork, I would visit the boards as a springboard for my own interpretations. Even when I had no obligation beyond a simple personal interest in a particular work, I was always eager to visit the boards and feed my curiosity about what others noticed that perhaps I didn’t, and to gain new perspectives I hadn’t thought of organically while watching. People made friends on those boards through their insights and shared interests. The boards provided an avenue of dissemination for wild theories and pieces of inventive fanfiction. Quite simply, there was a lot going on there — much more than trolling and time-wasting.
In those ways, the post-by-post structure of the boards wasn’t outdated, but a staple of what kept people coming back to IMDB over all these years. Of course, IMDB isn’t going anywhere. The website itself is now a staple of the internet with hardly anyone over the age of five unfamiliar with its existence. But it quietly lost a bit of depth, however antiquated, and an important piece of film and television’s fiery social culture has been caught beneath the snuffer.