The Usenet group soc.history.what-if used to be the biggest online forum for discussion of AH.

No more. Today this forum is much bigger -- I'd say it gets five or ten times as much traffic -- while shw-i has shrunk to about a third of its peak size. This is part of the general slow decline of Usenet; not many new users are finding it, so most Usenet newsgroups are gradually drying up.

Shw-i is still active, though. It gets about two thousand posts a month, and has a couple of dozen regular posters.

But there's not much overlap between here and there. A few posters swing both ways -- I'm a regular over at soc.history.what-if, and an occasional poster here -- but not many.

Why is that, I wonder? Do people just not know about shw-i? Is there something that keeps them away? Or is this forum just much more congenial?


Doug M.
Why is that, I wonder? Do people just not know about shw-i? Is there something that keeps them away? Or is this forum just much more congenial?


Bugger, posted a massive essay and then managed to lose it.

I think that besides the general decline of usenet that you mention, SHWI as an unmoderated newsgroup has to a certain extent collapsed under the weight of its own personalities. Grudges and feuds have festered and got nasty and personal- sadly if I recall correctly you've had personal experience of this. I suspect this is a natural consequence of not having moderation.

This has had the effect of making established, net-positive posters circle the wagons while the 'usual suspects' try to troll and draw them into an argument. The result is a newsgroup isn't hugely welcoming; it puts off occasional posters like myself, not to mention people completely new to the subject. A side effect of this is that many of the posts that are made are of such a high standard that only an expert can really do much more then say "I don't know enough to comment but it's fascinating". There's nothing wrong with this- that said, I've noticed a tendency for those who do try to comment from a position of ignorance to be patronised or mocked. It's probably healthier to have a wider range of posts, some detailed and some taking a broader view.

I first posted on SHWI back in 2001/2002 as a 17 year old, and spouted stuff that makes me cringe now. Happily I was politely pointed in the right direction, and what with that encouragement and reading other people's posts I developed a real love for the subject. I think it's fair to say that SHWI got me into Cambridge to read history. If my 17-year old self was to try and post on SHWI today, I suspect that if the post got through the spam then he'd get a terse or patronising reply that would drive him off.

All of this is a massive shame as SHWI at its height managed to be both welcoming and of a higher standard then much of the stuff on while I think the quality of debate here is pretty good these days I think it's something of a silver age.

My solution to SHWI's current problem? Either set up a new forum, or move en-masse over here and continue the on-going gentrification process. I think the latter would be more successful as a new forum may well have the same problems with attracting new blood.

My tuppenceworth, anyway...
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It's good as an archive, if not a community. Search for a POD or timeline idea, and there'll likely be at least something there from the past 10 years.
It's good as an archive.

But it's not. As a searchable archive, perhaps. But for those of us who joined this board and promptly went through 500 odd pages plus umpteen more pages at the archived version of the old board (it did take a few months)…*SHWI simply doesn't compare as a scroll-through archive.

(Actually neither does the old board, because for some inane reason threads scroll upwards. So you go to the bottom of the page, scroll upwards to the top of a post, scroll down to read the post, scroll upwards past the post you read and to the top of the next post, then scroll down to read the post, then… it's horrible.)

Anyway I don't go to SHWI because I don't have Unison or some other newsreader, and Google's version sucks what with the "Go to full post" and multiple sidebars and so forth.