In 1999, I was hired at USA TODAY.
Not as a soccer writer, though they agreed to let me write a weekly column online. That’s how the site went in those days — a lot of us would spend 30-40 hours a week doing the nuts-and-bolts work of posting and maintaining content, then 10-20 hours a week doing the fun stuff that made the site unique.
I was hired as a community content developer. At first, my primary job was to moderate message boards.
Which was hell. I had to kick people off the boards (though one of my Facebook friends today is someone I kicked off the boards twice, so there’s a certain amount of respect built up over time in some cases), and I spent my 30th birthday exchanging email with Rush Limbaugh, whose lobbying to host Monday Night Football was crashing our servers.
But I still believe message boards and similar forums can be useful. It all depends on the context and the people involved. The reader comments at Deadspin are usually better than the stories. Bloody Elbow has painstakingly cultivated a lively but mostly reasonable community of readers and commenters. BigSoccer is hit or miss — some arguments in the indoor soccer forum have been ongoing since maybe 2001, but there’s some useful information exchanged. And if you’ve been kicked off BigSoccer, you probably deserved. (That’s why all the slander specialists are on Twitter, still griping about how they got kicked off BigSoccer.)
Anonymous message boards should be a valuable source of information for youth soccer parents. You can share candid information without fear of reprisal from coaches and clubs. But you can also share unsubstantiated accusations. Maybe little Johnny isn’t quite good enough for the megaclub’s A team, so the parent goes on the board to tell everyone the coach is clueless or corrupt or whatever.
The worst boards are the ones that aren’t just anonymous but require no sign-on. The conversation generally runs like this:
Anonymous: We’re thinking of moving my 9-year-old son from FC United to United FC. Any thoughts?
Anonymous: Oh, you’re probably one of those moms who thinks your kid is the next Messi.
Anonymous: United FC is falling apart. All the coaches are terrible, and the board members are rec-league parents who want their kids to be on the A teams.
Anonymous: We get it, you’re upset that you were fired from United FC.
Anonymous: Oh, shut up. You’re on the board, aren’t you? You’re the one whose kid made the U10 A team in 2010.
Anonymous: Um … I don’t think anyone’s been on the board that long.
Anonymous: You’re not fooling anyone. You’re the same person.
Anonymous: The same person as who?
Anonymous: We KNOW who you are.
Anonymous: Yeah, you’re mad because your kid had to go to another club in 2012 because none of the parents liked you.
That could be 10 people. It could be two.
I’ve been on one such board for a while, and I’ve finally started using a unique sign-on. I’m RantingSoccerDad. So it’s pretty easy to put two and two together and figure out who I am. That means I’m not going to share much information about my sons’ clubs, but that’s a fair trade to me. And I’m hoping to start a movement where people create unique sign-ons so we can actually see how many people are in these conversations.
Flawed as they are, these message boards can be helpful. I like Georgia Soccer Forum, where I’ve learned a bit about a potential “Champions League” and reminisced about the Athens Applejacks.
All facts need to be checked elsewhere, of course. But it’s nice to get some impressions from people on the ground. On the whole, we probably need more of these boards. Maybe multiple boards in one area, so we can promote and relegate them.
If you have any favorites anywhere in the USA, please share.