Hmmmm. I wonder if there's a natural law of debating forums, where a critical mass of fatuous bickering begins to dominate, to the point where a previously vibrant body becomes moribund, even putrescent.?
Yes, this is the fate of most forums, a slow but steady decline in content quality.
The problem is not with the software, or with any specific group of people, but with a seriously outdated content management philosophy that is dominant across forum culture. This content management philosophy has become the brand in people's minds of what forums are, and both users and admins seem determined to stubbornly stick with it right to the very end.
This is an interesting social experiment in the power of branding. It seems true that all concerned would rather give up forums than change their definition of what forums are. This human phenomena is probably why big corporations spend billions on branding campaigns.
Forums now compete with huge social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. These sites excel at providing a very popular form of human interaction that I call "cocktail party chatter", that is, little blurbs of this and that. That is, conversation that requires very little thinking, which is after all a very efficient way to make human connections.
No forum managed with the "almost anything goes" philosophy has a chance of competing with these infinitely larger sites that expertly specialize in the cocktail party experience. No forum owner who doesn't get this has much of a future as a forum owner.
If forums are to survive, their only hope is to be the quality content alternative. This is a smaller, but still significant, audience that is available for forums, if the forum owners are willing to serve this niche.
Generally speaking, in most cases, forum admins are not willing. Most forum owners today are obsessively interested in spam, but could otherwise generally care less what users post on their forums. The outcome of this lopsided illogical philosophy is easily predicted, spam free forums full of low quality crap.
It's much easier to type a junk post than it is to say something interesting, and say it well. Far more people are qualified to type junk than quality. Thus, without content quality controls, the natural tendency is for the junk to crowd out the quality writing.
This establishes a social dynamic where the less interesting writers steadily crowd out the more interesting writers, a process which tends to accelerate as it proceeds.
And I wonder if the condition, once reached, can be reversed?
This is a good question indeed. My best guess is, yes in theory, but probably no in the real world.
Which raises another perhaps interesting question. As forums steadily whither away, where will we go in the future for thoughtful in depth conversations online?
You got me there, no idea really. I'm not sure the future world we are creating will place much of a premium on thoughtful in depth conversations.
Personally, I'm not going to be part of this future world we're creating, so that's one way to solve the problem.