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My community has effectively reached the end of it's life. Participation is low and has been for years. I'm beyond the optimistic hope of it turning around. Right now I see a few paths I can take:

  • Close the community, put everything into a "read only" mode for random wanderers, but don't allow new content. This path assumes that I can keep it running/hosting somewhere, but effectively prevents spammers from taking over the abandoned community.
  • Turn everything over to a community member that still is available and willing to take over moderation, hosting, advertisement, and community management aspects. Assuming such a person exists, I'd prefer such a course of action simply to know the community still exists, but in reality I don't think do.
  • Shut down shop completely. Remove the community from the internet. Doing this removes our years of interactions from the internet completely (except for any archive services that wandered our way).

    I've warned my members that this shut down is coming. The ones that are still around seem to understand that our "good ol' days" are long past us. We are trying to figure out how best to end everything. Do we just say good bye and go our separate ways? How do we keep some of our content around even if we aren't?

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This is primarily opinion based. Everyone will have their own opinion on how best to end a community like this, there's no "best" answer. –  Styphon Sep 3 at 10:27
    
i totally agree with @Styphon , but I think all of those answers give a nice overview about ideas and possibilities how to do it. –  jwacalex Sep 4 at 12:30
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@Styphon - by nature, a lot of the content on a site about moderation is going to be somewhat subjective. This isn't always as much of a problem as many more concrete Stack Exchange sites make it out to be. There is even this great blog post that talks about subjective topics and what is "good subjective", which I think this question probably falls under. –  AJ Henderson Sep 4 at 14:46
    
Your username is quite fitting for this question. –  Doorknob Sep 7 at 17:18

5 Answers 5

I think this depends on the degree of inter-user interaction your community has. At one end of the spectrum, consider a mailing list that tends to focus on solving specific problems, where the content is overwhelmingly what's important. In such a case, the archives are useful to the Internet at large long, long after any of the people who contributed to them are gone. (This is even more true if the content was curated.) In that case, if you can host it, publishing the archives usually makes sense. Google searches have led me to such archives on many occasions, and I trust I'm not alone in that.

At the other end of the spectrum, if your community is primarily about the people, like an online social group, and the content is secondary -- the kind of community where the words "that's off-topic" are never uttered because if Bob wants to talk about it then it belongs here -- then not only is there no point in maintaining a presence but it actually might not be in the members' interests. Despite the fact that anything posted on the Internet should be expected to live forever, there are groups of people who treat their little corner of the net as "family", and such communities may prefer a full shut-down to an archive or a partial migration.

Most communities will be somewhere between these two endpoints.

I have shut down communities that were closer to the "archive" end of the spectrum. In one case I found another community member whom I trusted to continue the community, and I handed it over and remained a member. In another case, interest was clearly waning, I got no takers when I asked for a successor, and I decided to shut it down. I didn't publish archives because they weren't really of lasting interest.

A word about archives and aging:

Sometimes archives are timeless; the information you compiled about cooking, or renaissance dance, or craft brewing is likely to remain about as useful in the future as it is now. Other times, your content loses relevance over time but doesn't become outright wrong; there probably aren't that many people who care about writing programs for Windows 3.1, but if you want to publish it, sure, go ahead. Yet other times, your content might become detrimental over time, such as if you are in a medical field and treatments previously recommended are now known to be harmful. So consider the volatility of your content, and if it's anything other than timeless, consider periodic review and curation. If your content does not have a long shelf-life, or if you aren't willing to do some upkeep, it might be better to take it down even if it's still useful now. At the very least, make sure it is clearly dated.

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In my opinion it's better to shut down a community if it's dying instead to try to keep it alive.

why? running a community is not cheap, it may cause cost for hosting and/or time for moderation and managing it. someday it will reach the point where every minute of time you spend there is too much, because it only prolongs the slow death.

so what can you do? transfering a community to an archive might be always a good idea, because if you have valuable knowledge there, other people can find it: e.g. if your community is about an old software, maybe a long time after the shutdown someone needs a piece of information.

but speaking of costs and time manageing a read only version costs also time for applying the updates, so only the classical html-archive would be a good choice. maybe it could help to talk to your last regular users if there is a need to to such a thing.

the second point is about transfering the community to another active user. if the main operator of a community changes there is always the possibility to lose a few users, so if you transfer it, it might even die a bit faster.

i would consider the last and most invasive point of your list only as last resort, because it removes your community and the business completely out of the internet. if there is any valulabe content (e.g. for support or migrating files) it's the worst thing you can do, because the content is lost forever and searching for the last parts of the archives can be hard work.

if the community is nearly death and you have announced the shutdown I would choose a date and switch to read only then – especially if your community understands why you are doing this step. in case of a random activity boost you might prolong the lifetime.

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A few years ago, this is exactly what happened to my earlier community. Things had slowed down considerably over a prolonged period of time.

We decided to do the following:

  • Direct members to our active sister site (not the same topic, but the admin and his team were flexible)

  • Allow members to retrieve and save content that they wished to.

  • Established voluntary email contact rings.

  • Established a private Facebook page for people to continue if they wished.

There was, of course, a bit of sadness that the forum was closing - but we are all still in contact and the pressure is off (and the sister site is going okay).

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If you have a person interested in keeping the community alive, please do transfer 'ownership'. As you took the courage to post the question here, it seems some kind of burden upon you. Release yourself from the burden, but help others by not destroying knowledge and experience bundled in your community service platform.

As someone who researches more often, I tend to go past the top x results while searching. The difficulty however is how to find those golden nuggets that have knowledge and experience centralized, instead of spread across the internet.

The most noteworthy content is normally indexed at a lower ranking if traffic is not that frequent any more. The problem with that performance indicator in linking and search related sources is that the value of the knowledge behind the site is not fading away or becoming less relevant when becoming 'stale'. The point I have to turn to the internet archives for a topic is something which is in my opinion the last resort.

The company I work for prides itself for its' new client intake form, that hasn't changed in over 25 years. In the 30+ years it exists, the content grew to become perfect for the function it has. Therefore, please keep the knowledge accessible, as keeping out of the archives makes it more likely that it will be found by the one who has spent hours finding your specific community.

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Just from a legal standpoint, I'm not sure handing the community over to another person is a viable (or desirable) option. You'd be giving them the database of user details, hashed passwords, IP addresses, etc. This is the sort of data you see in the news getting hacked open.

Of course there are two things that make this more or less viable:

  • Local laws. Extra-EU countries tend to be a little more lax about moving data around.
  • EULAs and privacy policies your users accepted when creating their accounts. These can sometimes insulate you about handing data to a third party.

I'm not a lawyer but you don't have to be to be conscious of data privacy. Ignorance is not a defence.

In terms of what's best:

  • Creating a static copy and hosting that somewhere free (Github pages, etc) indefinitely with a cheapy domains will negate most of the negatives and only cost you the domain as an ongoing thing.

  • Make an announcement (sounds like you already have) and if you want to stay in contact invite people to share their other social media details.

  • Even if you go onto delete the whole thing, consider making a static copy available for your members so they can dig through it, even if you don't want to.

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