By request: The history of Talking Time

By request of Carlos Rodriguez

The annual Talking Time fundraiser reaches its conclusion in a few days, and it’s already well over its goal. I hope people will keep chipping in, though, because the overage goes toward the forum’s hard-working moderators, who deserve a little love. I’ve made my own cash contribution… plus all the “by request” posts I’ve volunteered to write as incentives. So if you’re interested in keeping a great forum up and running, or in forcing me to write about something, now’s the time. We’ve added in new community incentives over the weekend as well.

Speaking of which, this whole thing all comes full-circle here with a request for a summary of the history of Talking Time itself. Which… actually, that’s going to be kind of tough. My memories are a little fuzzy, because TT was always sort of this side thing that eventually took on its own life.

I’m trying to think back to when it got its start, and I feel fairly certain that I first gave this site a forum sometime in 2000. This was before effective blogging tools, and certainly before easy comment systems — I don’t think the site saw a comment system until around 2003, and that was a sad and primitive thing. Lacking a means to install a comments system, I decided instead to go with a simple forum on some external service. It was a single forum, threaded, which initially broke into separate pages chronologically until the hosts decided the page breaks cost too much processing power for their server and changed it to a single, endless page that would keep loading threats until your browser collapsed under the weight of its overloaded memory. Great stuff.

The original moniker for the forum was, if I’m not mistaken, “The Mighty Forums O’ Terror.” This name stuck until September 2001, at which point everyone warned me that it would probably be a bad idea to keep that title for fear of drawing the interest of the NSA. (Because of course people plotting to take down the government with jetliner missiles and anthrax mailings would convene on an open, public forum with the word “terror” in the title, right?) At this point, the name shifted over to The Pit of Flames. Its header art was a little doodle of Satan prodding site mascot ToastyFrog into leaping into a bottomless pit of fire.

At some point, I don’t really remember when, the forum became big enough that it needed to become forums. The Pit of Flame became a sub-forum for people’s bad behavior, a place to quarantine the inevitable nastiness that results from bringing a lot of people together into the same place on the Internet. It didn’t always work, but it was decent enough.

The forums, Talking Time — named for the caption you see on the conversation screens in NES classic Clash at Demonhead — trundled along for a few years and grew steadily right up until the point where I decided to upgrade the forums and completely wiped them out. Yep.

Hence, the name of the current boards: The Return of Talking Time. Billy “Bang” Blitz and Tom Guycot are still the mascots, and the header image is still the same crappy thing I threw together in 30 seconds about a billion years ago, but the forums are still chugging along. Mainly because I relinquished control over them to people who have the first clue about how to make the Internet work.

Talking Time was originally just a place where people who enjoyed reading stuff I wrote hung out to chat… then they started to bring in new blood, their own friends… and then it kind of snowballed. I have no idea how or why, but it’s become a small Internet mainstay, an impressive and consistent community. It’s not as big as it used to be by choice, I think — self-selection and moderation to keep things most civil inevitably prevent forums from growing without limits, which in my opinion is a great tradeoff. Last year’s awfulness around GamerGate also inspired the community to put up walls, since several posters here were being targeted for harassment.

As for myself, I’ve long since ceased to be anything but a ghostly presence who drops in occasionally and posts dumb jokes. The old-timers know me, but there are hundreds of users whose names I don’t know or recognize and who surely have no idea what role the guy with the anime hamburger icon who posts stupid dad jokes played in getting the forums running. And that’s great. I like that TT has taken on its own life. I’m cool with being the dude who drops by every summer to pass the hat that will allow the forums to remain on high-capacity servers with minimal downtime — we jumped hosting from Dreamhost to Bluehost two years ago and I think there’s maybe been 20 hours total of downtime since. I’m happy to muse on demand for a few hundred words at a time to keep that going.