Enlarge / If that image doesn’t quite get the point across, a lot of wild stuff happens in the Ars forums.Getty Images / Aurich Lawson reader comments 7 with 7 posters participating Share this story Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit If you’ve ever looked at the whois info for Ars Technica,…
If you’ve ever looked at the whois info for Ars Technica, you might already be in on a little secret: our birthday is December 29, 1998, making 2019 the site’s official 20th anniversary year. For a site that wanted to do “bad, bad things like NT, Linux, and BeOS content under the same roof,” that’s an impressive run—about 7.5 million .beats, or more than a lifetime in doge years.
As one of the longtime Arsians on present-day staff, I feel quite safe in saying that we wouldn’t have made it this far if not for our community. I’m not talking so much about the people who just leave comments to articles we publish, although proud we are of all of them. No, I’m specifically referring to those of you who inhabit the OpenForum. This one’s for all of you.
In the beginning, there was Caesar
Once upon a time, Web fora were a big thing, and the Ars OpenForum was one of the biggest. Sure, in the year 2018 they are a little slower-moving than the olden days, but back then people didn’t have some of those new upstarts like MySpace and app.net and Brightkite to draw away their attention. Forums overall may have slowly faded away, but not so around Ars. Even today with all of those other distractions people have online, things aren’t quite at ghost town level in the OpenForum. And when I put out the call for peoples’ reminiscences, the memories came flooding in.
In truth, it’s hard to know where to start—perhaps at the very beginning, if we take advice from flying nannies, I suppose. At the time of writing, there are 24.2 million posts spread out across 987,786 different threads, though as the oldest of old timers will remind us, the first few months are missing in action. That’s why, even though the site started in 1998, the oldest registration date anyone is currently sporting is February 18, 1999. Because I’m a relative newcomer—my reg date is November 2000—and I don’t want to mangle the history by paraphrasing, I’ll let the boss explain what happened:
Ah, the history! From memory: the first WWWThreads forum was hosted on our main server (which was a shared FreeBSD box). When we moved to UBB, it was still hosted on the main server for a while until it got too unwieldy. Once the main site and the forum started taking off, we had to restrict the majority of httpd processes to handling our regular content. That meant a load of “too busy” and 501 errors for UBB, which meant that we needed to save our cashola and get a separate server for the forum. The first server dedicated, which also ran UBB, was server1.ars. UBB was (is still?) primarily Perl CGI, which means it was a major resource hog, and when we started hitting truly phat-traffic, it started to choke. Then along came OpenTopic, which runs on a cluster and frankly kicks much booty.
Anyone who remembers the Lounge’s “50,000” post limit can clearly see how much OpenTopic has improved our collective forum lives.
In any case, if and when ISIS is shutdown, we’ll move all such services to another box, including the old forum archives.
Yes kids, we evidently did have a server called Isis—not sure you could get away with that these days. Eventually, OpenTopic gave way to Infopop, which in turn gave way to phpBB. Despite these moves, every single post since February 1999 should be here and findable with the right search-fu. If that’s not a testament to the patience and skill of the Ars tech team over the years, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, many of those older threads are now missing their images, lost to the capriciousness of third-party hosts or old personal servers that got retired along the way.
Distilling almost a million threads and 24+ million posts into a single article is obviously impossible, and even covering all of the good suggestions from forum members would be impossible in the time allotted to me. So if anyone is looking for the full experience, I advise setting aside a day or three and starting here. In fact, I urge you to do just that—it’s OK, I’ll wait.
Much of the most memorable content for the Ars community comes from the Lounge. As the name suggests, it’s the off-topic hangout spot. Back in the old days, that meant a place to talk about all the things that didn’t have to do with overclocking, PC building, gaming, or fighting about operating systems. Eventually the off-topic stuff outgrew just the Lounge. We got the Soap Box for lengthy and substantiated arguments about important topics; it’s a place that more than one person credits as the reason they are no longer creationists.
Other Lounge spinoffs came along throughout the years—the Boardroom, Velvet Room, and then the Observatory—and the Lounge itself became subscriber-only to post in at some point in the timeline. (For a more complete explanation of the Lounge and many of its in-jokes, see this rough guide.)
We got new technical fora, too. Back in 2002, there was some contention at the idea of giving us Mac users a specific place to ask our questions rather than clog up the confrontational Battlefront. Remember, this place was originally a “PC Enthusiast” site, and people sure can get tribal about that sort of thing. Rereading that discussion, with the benefit of almost 18 years hindsight, is rather amusing. Particularly the idea that a “Mac forum, while small, would be the perfect housing for such discussion” (emphasis mine). As of today, the Macintosh Achaia has almost 50 percent more posts than the two combined Windows fora.
Along with the Mac Ach (as we tend to call it in the interest of brevity), there are now dedicated places to post about mobile computing and a place for makers, which is the newest addition of all. I also have to give a special shout-out to the Distributing Computing Arcana. Projects like SETI @ Home and RC5 are less popular than they used to be, but the combined power of Arsians’ spare CPU cycles saw our teams rank well among those efforts.