End of an era

There’s something I do every day. Something that has become so ingrained in my daily routine that it’s almost unconscious.

I clicked on this link http://talk.guardian.co.uk.

Clicking on this link took me to a virtual version of a common room. I met people I loved, people I loathed, people who irritated me beyond belief, and people who eventually became real-life friends.

I first encountered the Guardian talkboarders when I was one of the token British posters on the American board, Salon, in the late 1990s. In the days before Facebook, bulletin boards and online forums were the way forward for internet types to get and give advice, argue about stupid stuff, and generally shoot the breeze with complete strangers.

The Guardianistas thought that Salon was a bit po-faced and pompous, and decided to stage an invasion. Basically this meant registering with Salon and peppering the boards with silly British humour. It went down like a ton of bricks, and they were quickly banned; but not before I had wandered over to the Guardian to see what the fuss was about. And there I stayed.

The Guardian talkboards were full of cliques. You had the Haven (surreal, full of injokes); International (scary, no jokes); Sports boards (fighty, full of injokes); Books (nice, but bit like Salon); and Film (surreal, scary, fighty and full of the best injokes – like the never ending feuds over the best way to cook rice, what constitutes a pie, and who was stalking whom). Guess where I ended up.

My online character, Smithsky, was annoying, sometimes funny, often at odds with other posters. Bit like me, really. I met some lifelong friends on that board, and when I announced my illness last year, I got some of the nicest comments from suprising quarters (thanks dreamsy). FU has been directly responsible for at least three marriages, and dozens of birth announcements (including mine) were made. What is even nicer is that my faaancy online friends (as my husband calls them), have anxiously and affectionately followed the growth of Charlie (aka Little) since she was born. I’ve done the same with Herring, mazylouette,  St John, JimmyChapel, and veal’s fabulous funny cutlets.

It means nothing to the people in the real world, but I feel bereft. The various Guardian talkboarders are assembling in smaller groups on other boards, and on Facebook.  However, I think  The Guardian has seriously damaged its online credibility this weekend. Even if they had  given us a week’s warning with an explanation, we might have moaned, but we would have accepted the situation. By just cutting off the forum the Guardian’s management showed contempt for a sizeable minority of its online and offline readership.

Well, guess what? I’m still one of the Guardian’s target demographic: a middle-class married professional with plenty of disposable income and lashings of liberal guilt. And I don’t like being treated like I don’t matter.  I’m DEFINITELY buying The I paper from now on.


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