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Post by Eldorion Tue Dec 30, 2014 5:21 am

A couple people seemed to find my forum activity statistics project interesting when I shared it last year, so I figured I'd post this year's results as well.

Eldorion wrote:A few notes on methodology.  I limited the scope of this project to forums that were in English since those forums have considerable overlap in membership, and because I don't know much about Tolkien fandom in other languages and its harder to find such sites via Google.  I also excluded sites whose primary focus was games (video or otherwise) based on Tolkien's work since those forums tend to cater to a largely different crowd than other book- or movie-centric Tolkien forums.  Also, there are a number of corporate-run Tolkien game forums that double as customer service and thus have inflated levels of activity compared to fan-run forums.

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ppd = posts per day


  1. TheOneRing.net: 341.3 ppd
  2. Forumshire: 113.3 ppd
  3. TheOneRing.com: 76.1 ppd
  4. LOTR Fanatics Plaza: 69.5 ppd
  5. The Hall of Fire: 54.0 ppd
  6. Council of Elrond: 43.0 ppd*
  7. The Barrow-downs: 21.7 ppd
  8. Arwen-Undomiel.com: 16.4 ppd
  9. Minas Tirith: 7.5 ppd
  10. board77: 6.3 ppd

*Approximate value

It needs to be said right off the bat that these numbers are not very impressive.  Tolkien forums have been a major part of online Tolkien forum for a long time -- several forums celebrated their 15th anniversaries this past year -- but they've been in decline since the end of the LOTR hype period in 2004-05.  It was hoped that The Hobbit films would herald a turn-around, but this failed to materialize for a number of reasons.  Two of the biggest reasons are probably the lukewarm reaction the films received and the overall decline of forums as a medium for online interaction.  This decline has been gradual, but it can be seen even in the comparison to last year's numbers.  There isn't a lot of turnover here: all of the Top 10 forums from 2013 repeated here except for Bree, which shut down.  (Nine out of ten was also the number of forums that appeared on both the 2012 and 2013 lists, and again, the only omission was a site that shut its doors.)  However, of the nine forums that appeared on both lists, seven saw their ppd rate go down.  The only exceptions were the Barrow-downs, which has so little activity it's marginal increase can probably be chalked up to chance, and TORn, which has been the big success story for the fandom in recent years.

To appreciate the success of TORn here, it's important to have a bit of context.  TORn is one of the oldest forums in the game (they were part of that first generation in 1999), but they were a second-tier forum in terms of activity for a long time.  This seems a little weird in retrospect, given the popularity of TORn's blog even then, but that's how it was.  Reconstructed data shows that the biggest forums in the early- and mid-2000s were the LOTR Fanatics Plaza and TheOneRing.com.  However, even second-tier forums from that period (of which there were many) had post totals that rivaled those of modern day TORn.  The fandom as a whole was just a lot bigger, because the LOTR films had generated a Tolkien renaissance the likes of which hadn't been seen since his first pop cultural heyday in the 1960s.  However, within a couple years of ROTK's release, the level of activity was much, much lower, and for most forums it continued to gradually decline.  But the big forums at the end of the last decade were still much bigger than any forums around today, except TORn.

People were aware of this decline, and tried to take measures to reverse it.  Many, many hopes were pinned on The Hobbit movies to bring back the glory days of activity.  However, the big question was how to harness the general interest the films would provoke.  Tolkien forums had spent a decade-plus working on their search engine rankings for LOTR keywords, and many had LOTR references in their names and URLs.  Several forums bought new URLs with Hobbit-related words in them and set them to redirect to their sites.  Some just tweaked titles and subtitles to include references to The Hobbit.  Many started new subforums for fans to discuss The Hobbit and tried to gather news about the movies in the hopes of turning themselves into a resource of information.  And this has sort of worked; search for "hobbit discussion" and the like and you'll find plenty of LOTR-era forums cropping up in the links there.  But this took a long time to achieve, and no site made the transition as thoroughly, or as early, as TORn.  TORn had already made the jump to being a Hobbit site first and foremost before most others had even started thinking about it.

The one exception to that statement is what I have previously termed the "new wave of hobbit movie forums".  That is: those forums that were founded after the green-lighting of The Hobbit films and took a Hobbit-centric focus from day one.  The problem for these forums was that they were trying to build communities during the middle of the dark ages, when both LOTR and Hobbit-related searches were at their lowest points in years (as Google Analytics shows).  There were quite a few forums that tried to put down roots at this point, but they had a hard time competing with the larger, more established, and far more active LOTR forums.  Ultimately, the only ones that really succeeded at building self-sustaining communities were the sister sites of Forumshire and Bree, probably because we had the benefit of Ady's mad SEO skills to bring whatever forum was hosted at the-hobbit-movie.com to major prominence.  Not as prominent as TORn, but enough that we were able to grow in size even while the older forums continued to wither around us, until we were second only to TORn (a mark that we first achieved last year).

Unfortunately, 2013 turned out to be our peak year.  DOS' reception was lukewarm even compared to AUJ (which was itself a major step down from LOTR, and which surprised a lot of people by failing to make as much money as any of the LOTR films, even with 10 years of inflation and 3D premiums).  Web traffic for DOS was also lower, which eventually caught up to us.  The final demise of Bree in late 2013 took away one of our big sources of new members (through the outreach program) as well.  That's not to say this was a bad year by any means -- it was about the same as we did in 2012 -- but it was our first year-over-year decline.  It's also interesting to note that in 2012 we ranked fourth among Tolkien forums (behind TORn, LOTR Plaza, and TORC, in that order), whereas this year a comparable performance was good enough to put us comfortably in second.

The big question that we have gone over again and again is where we go from here.  In terms of numbers, it's not hard to predict.  There will probably be decline in activity for us and TORn both now that the films are over.  It will probably be less dramatic than the post-LOTR decline since we're not starting from such a lofty position, but it will probably happen nonetheless.  The majority of Tolkien forums probably won't notice anything but continual incremental declines, though, so we should probably count ourselves lucky to have done well enough that we have to face such a drop-off now.  On the other hand, the fact that such an outsized portion of our activity has always come from a small, dedicated core group of posters is further reason to hope that our decline will be relatively modest.  Probably the greater risk for us is not fewer newbies coming in (there will always be a trickle), but that we'll have pretty much exhausted all Hobbit discussions we can have.  However, this is where the number of other topics we've fostered over the years come into play, and provide us with reason to be optimistic that we'll continue to have interesting threads that will draw people back and catch the eye of wandering newbies who are looking for something a little different.

And who knows, maybe there will be a spin-off movie or TV series in a few years that will make us dream of restoring the glory days of 2012-2014.  Hopefully we'll be able to learn from the lessons of older sites when it comes to try stage a forum renaissance. Razz
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Post by bungobaggins Tue Dec 30, 2014 6:51 am

Always good to read what you have to say on this topic, Eldo. Smile

It's no doubt the way we discuss media has drastically changed since the LOTR heydays. The closest most people will get to an online place to discuss the hobbit movies will be liking the official Hobbit Movie page on facebook. And I think most of us know that facebook is not very conducive to conversation and debate. As you've mentioned before, sorting content and comments by most "likes" or "upvotes" does not foster positive growth for a coherent discussion.

I'm hoping that we can weather the storm, or lack there of. At least until there is some major development in the Tolkien fandom.

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Post by Lancebloke Tue Dec 30, 2014 7:50 am

I actually stopped posting on anything Tolkein related here a while back... pretty much after AUJ as I decided I wasnt going to waste my money on the new films and I think we have had debate about every other book related thing possible.

I am sure my own post count (including back in old Bree [may in rest in peace]) is far less now but still a few threads keeping things interesting.
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Post by Forest Shepherd Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:23 am

Thankfully new users coming to the forum keep refreshing old debates and discussions, so these topics get an airing out every once in a while.

Now to go check out all these forums you've mentioned!

Also, to be fair, I don't know how much time you spent deciding that game-related Tolkienish forums should not count, but I would not be surprised if the LotRO forums held some worthwhile Tolkien discussion. The user-base was always more mature and friendlier than you might expect from an MMO community, and there could certainly be some quality Tolkien discussion happening there.
Of course that doesn't mean you would have any way to figure out how many of the posts on the game forums are lore-related, the thought simply reminded me that the list of ten sites or so is not the end-all of Online Tolkien Discussions in English.

Edit:
Oh geez, that Barrow-downs lot really are the critical type! They even refer to themselves as "downers". Razz

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Last edited by Forest Shepherd on Tue Dec 30, 2014 9:30 am; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Eldorion Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:49 am

Thanks for the feedback, guys. Smile

Forest: there were a couple of Tolkien gaming forums that I thought about adding to the list (some of which I was keeping tabs on during this project), but I ultimately decided to stick to my initial guidelines instead of trying to create and justify exceptions.  I almost tossed Middle-earth Center into the mix since they have so much member overlap with non-gaming Tolkien forums, but they're basically dead now anyway.  To be honest, LOTRO was not one of the forums that I spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of including, mainly because their lore forum (>link<) is such a small part of their overall forum.  Of course, the main medium for interaction on LOTRO is the game itself, not the support forum, but that's harder to quantify and impossible to use in a comparison with traditional forums.

You raise a very good point though; there are certainly many other places to talk about Tolkien.  Many major forums that specialize in geek culture topics have dedicated Tolkien threads or subforums.  Reddit of course has a couple Tolkien subreddits.  There's an entire Tolkien-themed social network called My Middle-earth (edit: well, there used to be), and you can find pages and communities for Tolkien on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other mainstream social networks as well.  In my experience, however, dedicated forums tend to attract the highest quality of discussion on niche topics, in part because they attract more experts and dedicated hobbyists, particularly when measured as a percentage of the total number of people participating in the discussion.

Even if you stick to the guideline that the site has to be primarily about Tolkien, you can find discussions on Tolkien blogs and wikis too, but here the quantification and comparison problem rears it's head again.
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Post by azriel Tue Dec 30, 2014 9:54 am

I enjoy your updates Eldo. Its always a good intelligent read, concisely put & plain speaking. I often wonder how you keep track of all this ? Very Happy But its nice that you do & well appreciated. We are lucky here in that we do have a varied mix of things to talk about & share. That in itself builds a bond, a solid feeling of friendship,which is always nice Very Happy really to the point of feeling that if one of us in 'bother' you feel like trying to help them ! Would you get that feeling anywhere else ? Theres also an understanding of respect for, & to, each other. Luck or fate ? Whatever you choose, its a nice place here to come home to.

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Post by malickfan Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:14 pm

Once again Eldo a very interesting, very length post. Good work Smile

It's kinda sobering to see such stats put so bluntly (On occasion I browse the archives of some of the forums you listed above, the downward trend in posts is quickly apparent), and slightly alarming to see us in no 2 position considering there is less than 30 regulars here Shocked

I'm aware of several other Tolkien related forums that remain rather busy (Good reads and IMDB, though both are very high traffic sites that happen to have minor Tolkien sub forums), but very few have weathered the storm it seems.

I assume this is only focusing on English Language forums?


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I think what comes out of a pig's rear end is more akin to what Peejers has given us-Azriel 20/9/2014
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Dec 30, 2014 9:30 pm

As always Eldo fascinating, interesting and thoughtful.
Forumshire fortunately is both broad and essentially built on the spirit of Tolkien's works, and that is not, and never has been, dependent on films. Nor has relative poster numbers ever bothered us, much better in a village where you can get to know one another better and include all than a town or city where you simply can't.

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Post by Mrs Figg Tue Dec 30, 2014 10:58 pm

weird shit happens in villages. Shocked
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Wed Dec 31, 2014 6:42 pm

Does in this one, yes. Very Happy

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Post by malickfan Wed Dec 31, 2014 7:20 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:Does in this one, yes. Very Happy

Just realized...if Bungo is Mayor does that make you Village Drunk Wink

In fairness 'weird shit' is such a regular occurrence, I'd be more concerned if things were to go normal Suspect

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I think what comes out of a pig's rear end is more akin to what Peejers has given us-Azriel 20/9/2014
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Post by halfwise Wed Dec 31, 2014 7:50 pm

Since TORN has always been so movie specific, I'm rather thinking they may fade away with the movies (though there will be lots of Hobbit related post discussion). Since most of what we discuss is NOT about the movies, I'm thinking we have a chance a year or so down the line to surpass them in post count! Nothing more than a dream, perhaps....

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Wed Dec 31, 2014 7:56 pm

if Bungo is Mayor does that make you Village Drunk- Malick

I can but dream. Village Drunk- my Paw would be so proud- he was village drunk for 30 years, and my grandpaw before him.

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Post by malickfan Wed Dec 31, 2014 8:13 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:
I can but dream. Village Drunk- my Paw would be so proud- he was village drunk for 30 years, and my grandpaw before him.

You never know, if you win the long standing service award maybe Bungo will promote you...

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I think what comes out of a pig's rear end is more akin to what Peejers has given us-Azriel 20/9/2014
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Post by Eldorion Sat Jan 03, 2015 8:36 pm

azriel wrote:I enjoy your updates Eldo. Its always a good intelligent read, concisely put & plain speaking. I often wonder how you keep track of all this ? Very Happy  But its nice that you do & well appreciated.

Thank you, Azriel. Smile It's not very hard to track all this stuff, just tedious. About once a month I visit all the sites on my big list (up to 25-30 which I have identified through extensive searching as the more active Tolkien forums) and record their post total, then just do the arithmetic to see how many posts they've gained since I started measuring at the beginning of the year. Some forums don't tell you their totals, but you can add up the values for individual forums. The only real difficulty is when a forum reports having lost posts over a month, or otherwise gives an implausible result. Sometimes I'm able to figure out a reason for these oddities, and other times I am not. Usually it's possible to come up with a replacement figure if the forum reports consistent ppd averages in surrounding months, but I do occasionally junk data or even disqualify sites because I think their numbers are inflated. These issues did not affect the Top 5 at all in this year, however.

malickfan wrote:Once again Eldo a very interesting, very length post. Good work Smile

It's kinda sobering to see such stats put so bluntly (On occasion I browse the archives of some of the forums you listed above, the downward trend in posts is quickly apparent), and slightly alarming to see us in no 2 position considering there is less than 30 regulars here Shocked

I'm aware of several other Tolkien related forums that remain rather busy (Good reads and IMDB, though both are very high traffic sites that happen to have minor Tolkien sub forums), but very few have weathered the storm it seems.

Thanks Malick, I appreciate your feedback. Nod The knowledge of how far the fandom as a whole has slid puts a bit of a damper on my excitement about our ranking, though on the other hand, I think it's fairly impressive that we've managed to hang on in such a bad climate. Certainly this affects Tolkien sections on larger forums, but at least there the community is guaranteed to have opportunities to carry on with other topics. On forums that are dedicated to a single story or franchise, the clock begins ticking once the story is complete, and it's much harder to keep activity levels up through ancillary topics of discussion. Just like dedicated Tolkien forums tend to offer higher levels of Tolkien discussion than mega-sites, we don't offer the highest or deepest levels of discussion about other topics. But if there's a dedicated community, it can be worth it to stick around just to get the take of people who you know and respect.

I assume this is only focusing on English Language forums?

That is correct. I have come across plenty of non-English language forums in my research for this project, but they aren't as easy to find via Google. They also don't share in the same common pool of members that you can find on many English language forums. What I mean is, I have at various points spent many hours trawling through Google results for various searches and looking at links pages and fan directories trying to find active forums for this project, but after tallying the numbers, I found that every single forum in the top 10 was one that I had already heard of and visited through word of mouth or aimless web surfing before I began actively seeking out forums for the project. On the other hand, when I go around looking for forums about Tolkien-based games or ones in other languages, I keep finding new forums every time I dig just a little bit deeper. There are a few exceptions to the rule -- sites like Middle-earth Center (before it died) or Henneth-Annun.ru get linked to and from English-language forums because there are some high-profile fans who made the linguistic jump -- but all in all I think it provides a better comparison to stick to just one language. And of course, English language forums attract people from all over the world, and probably have a more nationally diverse user base than most forums in other languages.

That said, some of the major non-English Tolkien forums deserving of recognition would be the aforementioned Henneth-Annun.ru (in Russian), Herr-der-Ringe-Film.de (in German), and Valinor.com.br (in Brazilian Portuguese). As best as I can tell (without having followed them as closely as I have others), any of these three would at least stand alongside the biggest English forums. There may be more of a similar size, but none that I can recall right now.
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Post by Eldorion Sat Jan 03, 2015 8:42 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:As always Eldo fascinating, interesting and thoughtful.
Forumshire fortunately is both broad and essentially built on the spirit of Tolkien's works, and that is not, and never has been, dependent on films. Nor has relative poster numbers ever bothered us, much better in a village where you can get to know one another better and include all than a town or city where you simply can't.

Thumbs Up I'll admit there's certainly a streak of vanity in this project, but I've tried not to let my interest in numbers dictate how I think or behave with the forum. I would like us to continue to be active, but I've cared about this forum since I became active in 2009, when it was more of a clubhouse than a village. Razz

halfwise wrote:Since TORN has always been so movie specific, I'm rather thinking they may fade away with the movies (though there will be lots of Hobbit related post discussion).  Since most of what we discuss is NOT about the movies, I'm thinking we have a chance a year or so down the line to surpass them in post count!  Nothing more than a dream, perhaps....

That's an interesting thought. I suspect TORn's decline will be a greater percentage of their current total, though not great enough to cost them their top spot any time soon. We've already had a down year (the loss of Bree being part of that, I think), while TORn will continue to be the main go-to site for newbies, even when there are far fewer of them. But it'll be interesting to see how things for us, for TORn, and for the fallen giants of years and decades past, now that we're entering a post-Tolkein movie wilderness much starker than 2004-05.
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Post by Orwell Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:03 am

I never bothered with Torn except visiting once or twice yonks and yonks ago. Forumshire might be full of dags, but it has it's own pungent atmosphere, especially Petty. Eru bless us one and all. cheers

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Mon Jan 05, 2015 8:41 pm

Good to see you back Orwell! Nod And its not pungent, its, earthy Nod

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Post by Mrs Figg Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:24 pm

yep earthy and nostril cleansing.
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Post by bungobaggins Fri Jan 16, 2015 4:01 pm

Is anyone able to access the barrowdowns forum? All I'm getting is a blank page that says "Index of /".

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/

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Post by malickfan Fri Jan 16, 2015 5:53 pm

bungobaggins wrote:Is anyone able to access the barrowdowns forum? All I'm getting is a blank page that says "Index of /".

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/

I can't access it either, hope the forum hasn't gone under pale Sad

I only posted there about a dozen times, but I really enjoyed browsing the forum, there are a lot of very knowledgeable fans there (the crabbit disappointment towards PJ's 'adaptations' always gave me a chuckle, some of the people there almost made Petty look tame...)(it's the only Tolkien Forum I've seen to do a read through of the H.O.M.E) it would be a big shame if the site has gone down, it was around for almost 15 years I think.


From memory I think there are a few people on TORn who post there (Morothoron or something similar is one I think...).

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I think what comes out of a pig's rear end is more akin to what Peejers has given us-Azriel 20/9/2014
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Post by Eldorion Fri Jan 16, 2015 7:17 pm

The main Barrow-downs site is still online, so I imagine it's just a technical error that will be resolved shortly.
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Post by malickfan Tue Feb 24, 2015 9:58 pm

Well, Barrowdowns forum is still down.

Another Forum bites the dust it seems...

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The Thorin: An Unexpected Rewrite December 2012 (I was on the money apparently)
The Tauriel: Desolation of Canon December 2013 (Accurate again!)
The Sod-it! : Battling my Indifference December 2014 (You know what they say, third time's the charm)

Well, that was worth the wait wasn't it  Suspect


I think what comes out of a pig's rear end is more akin to what Peejers has given us-Azriel 20/9/2014
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Post by Eldorion Tue Feb 24, 2015 11:39 pm

Yeah, it's a real shame.  I didn't post there much, but I lurked a bit and I had a friend who was a mod there.  They were a cool forum.  RIP Downs.
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Post by Eldorion Sun May 03, 2015 6:46 pm

The Barrow-downs is back from the dead! Very Happy Almost like a wight, one could say. Suspect

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthread.php?t=18877

Anyway, we're about a third of the way through the year so far, and Halfy's prediction about TORn has sort of come true, as they're seeing the most significant fall off from last year in terms of raw numbers.  It remains to be seen where they (and the rest of the forums) stabilize before we can say who will see the biggest percentage fall off (I expect TORn to remain in first place regardless).  We managed to recover from January and our holding steady at #2 right now, in any event.
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