Another brilliant monetization not mentioned in the article: you could pay to customize your own user image and title. For twice the price, another user could pay to anonymously choose their own title/image for you, usually to insult. Want to change your appearance back? Pay again.
If you were banned you could pay to re-register and come right back. If you were permabanned you couldn't. A funny pseudo-permaban was that sometimes a user would get put on probation for a ridiculously long time like 9999 hours.
I'd love to find a modern SA: large enough to be always raucous and lively, moderated well enough to keep out really poisonous users. On Reddit the only good subreddits are locked down really tightly and the ones that aren't are full of garbage and full of meh.
The thing that contributed most to SA's reputation, in my opinion, was the fact that it became an internet cultural norm that their choice of who to dehumanize, their morally grey tactics, and their edgy humour were beyond criticism even by sites and people who campaign against the exact same things elsewhere on the web. Imagine what Vice would say about a subreddit that did this, or harassed someone until they killed themself, or permabanned a woman because her boyfriend said she'd been raped at a community-related meet up by someone from the site, or...
Because open hate clearly wasn't in good taste and tended to get moderated out, SA would more often focus on dogwhistle cues, e.g. furry groups instead of LGBT groups,  and then harass critics for not getting the joke. Material that originally developed from outside the forums was claimed and appropriated as it passed through. There were a lot of ways in which the claims to quality were overblown or outright false. Even so, I got curious and bought an account too, though I lost the password to it at some point.
A lot of people (including SA posters) say it's not as good as it used to be, but that may be the same phenomenon HN users complain about when they say HN used to be better back in the day.
I'm still active on Ars Technica but the constant political sniping allowed there is really tiresome. I could happily live the rest of my life without seeing "snowflake" used as an insult again. Or without seeing a snarky anti-Trump comment in an unrelated article with 70 upvotes. I don't like Trump either, but that doesn't mean I want to read lazy insults against him all day in every discussion. Reddit's never tempted me to register an account though I like to read Ask Historians.
When I look at SA today it just seems juvenile and try-hard. Really, painfully unfunny.
I think part of it has to do with the stricter moderation; SA in the early 2000s was 4chan before I knew there was a 4chan, and I appreciated the raucous, sometimes offensive humor.
Moreover though I think you're right, SA is still SA. My ideas about what is funny have changed, but SA is still the same.
this is how trends work. the originators are truly creative and interesting, but over time the paths they forge spread across populations, and inspire increasingly poorly executed knock-offs. eventually it becomes embarrassing for earlier adopters.
Moot, founder of 4chan, had some good comments about the phenomenon during his resignation:
>To single out 420chan, it’s actually one of the imageboards that I have actually respected over the years. I think that what's kind of defined a lot of image boards, even going back to the first kind of spin off from 4chan (which was 5Chan), 7chan and all these others. They tend to spin out based on a decision I make, or they don’t like me, or they don’t like 4chan, or they don’t like 4chan culture or whatever. More or less over the years, most of those sites have kind of fizzled out.
>While 420Chan started similarly to 5chan, (the admin didn’t like me), I really respect that he wanted to have a bunch of topics that 4chan didn’t have ... ["]4chan is never gonna have a drugs board, or a wrestling board, or all these other boards that I want, and so we may as well create a site that caters to that.”
>I really respect the fact that he really took it in its own direction, it doesn't look like 4chan. The other sites ... created a whole era of open source clones of 4chan that offered 4chan in a box and emulated our front page and everything.
>People, for whatever reason wanted to make 4chan that wasn’t 4chan.
Voat is just the latest "reddit that isn't reddit".
It does now, in the form of /asp/ I think :)
However I don't know how well moot's prediction of fizzling out holds for say 8chan, which has started to very much grow in popularity; granted, having roughly some of the same popular boards as 4chan (except for where moderation doesn't matter, like on NSFW boards) but with some interesting and nice top boards, like /leftypol/ which 4chan would never host.
I remember being on 4chan when the total amount of content currently hosted was listed as 50GB. And I thought it would be going down.
- llamaguy (guessing most people here don't know who he is, but he created a Gamefaqs spinoff called Luelinks/EndOfTheInternet, and was one of the first 100 employees at Facebook and is now a 9-figure millionaire)
- vilerat (aka Shawn Smith, one of the Americans who died in Benghazi)
- garry (of garry's mod and rust fame)
Stuff that can trace back to SA around that time:
- 4chan itself
- Memes ("image macros")
- Let's Plays
- Weird Twitter
- That shitposting/shittexting ironic writing style that is now beloved by modern middle/upper class American teenagers everywhere
Nearly everyone that I met as a teenager and still keep in contact with is really successful.
Sadly, I think Lowtax is the most incompetent businessperson I've ever encountered. It's frankly amazing how badly he mismanaged the SA forums, and how much he took all of that amazing talent that was creating free content for him for granted.
I think the best example is how he initially offered Yahtzee some insultingly paltry compensation for doing Zero Punctuation. IIRC it was like $100 per episode. Zero Punctuation alone could have kept SA relevant, I think.
The stuff that went down in 2005 and beyond drove all of the best posters away, IMO.
A simple example: There use to be a forums poster who posted just screenshots from old NES video games that was always super relevant so he was never banned (usually if you just post a meme with nothing else in the post you'd get banned).
Another one: The whole concept of tricking users into reading a long fictional story that started one way and eventually delved into some other topic altogether. I guess you'd now call it a bait-and-switch (w /an anti-clamatic ending).
That too was started (or at least popularized) on SA. A user named, "Hakan" posted a lot of fictional stories that were pretty good and always had a twist ending. Imitators who tried to copy him but sucked were told, "You're No Hakan." Then that catchphrase became too memeish and was banned from the forums (unless again your comedic timing of the phrase was hilarious).
Edit: Even the meme of, "Read post, then read saw username <username>" meme, seems to have come from Hakan/SA which was a "meme" where you'd read a story, get tricked by it and make a post just to specifically say you were tricked. That got banned pretty quickly as well but it's so common in reddit and other parts of the internet now.
But it maintained quality via community, and through a simple $10 barrier. Rules were followed because they were simple and mutually agreed with.
I don't think anything like it could happen today.
But it's funny, I sort of have the opposite opinion of SA in regards to its content. Once the 10$ barrier was in place I felt it lost a lot of the quality. I understood why it needed to happen, it got too popular for its own good. However, I couldn't help but feel that once it created a barrier to entry a lot of the "aliveness" got sucked right out of it. Slowly.
A really interesting comparison of Reddit and SA takes place in Eve Online, where massive fleets clash on the regular. SA has a huge history there, and tons of political heroes (vilerat! rip) but they ended up sort of being the exclusionary bullies of the Eve universe. TEST/Dreddit (Reddit's corporation) ended up having that easy entry and encouraged a lot of growth from the people other companies in Eve were ignoring - the new player. This resulted in a lot of good fun and chaos. Now there are whole companies devoted to new players (Brave Newbies)
Quantity went down, but quality increased.
I mean, that's what barriers to entry are about: they keep out the lowest-common-denominator trolls, while those who actually care about the community have no issues paying the entry fee (sometimes several times, as they get temp-banned).
If you want to talk or read about a massively popular topic: cars, guns, motorcycles, games, money, pets, health, houses, coupons... it's nice to go somewhere that weeds out low quality posting. How ever quality happens to be defined in that particular forum.
That's an understatement. By the time I started seeing tl;dr being used in its original meaning elsewhere on the internet, it had already long been a bannable offense on the SA boards.
If they haven't added the $10 barrier, it would have died through a flood of low-quality content and not enough moderation resources.
It's your typical "how to grow a community" dilemma.
One thing written-out of the official history. 10bux was introduced when SA had a wide variety of infringing bittorrent links in various subforums. Somehow, Lowtax shut this down before he got busted for it, but if anyone ever mentioned it for years afterward, insta-permaban.
The idea that $10 was quality control developed later. The real rules had nothing do with "quality" and were always opaque and deeply political. Pretty much a Lord of the Flies scenario -- which was great if you loved internet drama, and they weren't coming after you. SA's business model was essentially semi-randomly banning people who would re-register. I haven't been back in more than ten years, so things might have changed. But to pretend they were trying to foster some great community ... no. Just no. Goons were acknowledgedly horrible people engaged in online barbarism.
In the end, SA's culture was something I should have put down earlier if I wanted to get ahead. Message boards are not where the 'A' players of the world spend their time. Caring about the fans of your stream is not exactly of the list of 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People'
Effectively posted on a message board. My eyes are rolling out of my fucking head. I spent the GWB years on SA. There were many brilliant people there. Dare I say, they spurred me into learning more. You get what you give.
When you look back at those successful people everyone so desperately want to be, in tech a least, they often frequent various types of message boards.
Reading forums won't cause you to not be successful in life. Not doing stuff will.
The most successful people either became mods or were permabanned. SA admins liked to take their life problems out on the forum by breaking it, a kind of self-harm, and then ban you if you complained.
Also liked to claim anime forum posters were "child molestors" and ban them as a joke, one of the sources behind 4chan's growth.
By the way, all of the least successful people I know identify as "gamers" and keep trying/failing to become pro Twitch streamers instead of applying for jobs.
As one described it to me, he's trying to protect the reputation of games as a creative medium by pushing back against bad works of the craft.
Some days I wish I could go back, so cheer up m8.
I was too young to experience BBS and Usenet; I grew up with AOL and Geocities, and when the 2000s hit and I could convince my parents to get a cable modem, things were just off the wall.
I spent a lot of time on forums too, overclocking this or that, or waking up for alarm clock-ops in EVE. I met people at LAN parties who I ended up working for later; set up servers to host our Unreal Tournament matches and learned to edit and repackage files so I could run around Jedi Knight as Deadpool with a lightsaber.
I cringe thinking about some of the stupid arguments I got in, things I wrote on my blog, my livejournal, on the forum. I like to think I learned a lot about how people feel their way through an argument, and how a flame war gets started.
One evening, when I'm not trolling HN at 1AM, I'll sit down and write how the early 2000s affected us all and set us up for today. I wish it was so fresh and new like it felt to me then. But I don't feel like today isn't as fun...but it definitely is different. I'm inclined to think that it's on us now to determine what the next chapter will be, what we will create that is fun that the next 18 year old will experience tomorrow and go "this is f&@#ing awesome."
Gonna go play some Descent. =)
As someone approaching mid-thirties, aside from EVE that's pretty much me you're describing.
Jedi Knight was my first foray into modding. I never release anything, but spent a lot of time in JKEdit (and/or that other editor). I also working on two UT and UT2003 mods after that.
Then there were the LAN parties, coping tons of crap from each other computers in between Quake and whatnot. There was also local play: Comet Busters, Liero, Molez, One Must Fall 2097, Wacky Wheels.
And the flash stuff! Salad Fingers, Strongbad, that thing with the cats singing Independent Women in a French accent. JeffK, Cliff Yablonski Hates You.
The drama fascinated me too: the TTLG forums and their colorful cast of characters, Digg 'selling out' and this new 'reddit' website, etc.
> One evening, when I'm not trolling HN at 1AM, I'll sit down and write how the early 2000s affected us all and set us up for today
I, for one, would very much like to read more articles like this submitted one about the history of the web, similar to the earlier posts here on the days of Ultima. It's far back enough in the past to be worth writing about (damn, makes me feel old) and yet I can't help but feel understanding those developments, or discussing them chronologically, will play an important role in understanding our current world. More, at least, than often superficial articles and theories about Trump/alt-right/Brexit/SJW that are written by people who did not experience what 'we' did.
So what are you doing here?
Personally, I don't regret the time I sank on 4chan/video games (still play a lot), anime, etc from ages 13-22. Maybe I am less ambitious than you, but I have a programming job in a good city and I'm not stressed about finances/rent. Good enough for me. My career is going fine and I'm learning new skills at work every year.
I look back on those years and remember a lot of fun nights with friends. In fact, sometimes I miss it!
HN is a nice stream of links with comments, not a community with a revolving cast of characters like SA. Totally different use case.
It's a good habit to periodically reflect: would I be happier spending more time there, or would I be happier spending more time [working on that side project, with my family, watching a movie, hiking, etc]. Most highly effective people 'waste' their time too, just that they're aware of the decisions they make, and strike a good balance. It's important not to let play get in the way of work, but work isn't the only thing worth living for.
I wonder why no-one's made a forum site where anyone can create subforums the way reddit does subreddits (or have they?). There are still major benefits to proper chronological forum-type discussion, but forums for different things are spread in small groups all over the Internet and you have to discover, learn the interface, and sign up for every one separately.
I don't know if you could also make it a paid service like the SA forums in this day and age, but the $10 entry sure kept the site running and kept the spam and some of the idiots out as well (particularly since if you got banned you had to pay another $10 to come back).
alt.tasteless, in particular, promoted high quality and originality. Using catchphrases and hackneyed meme-like sentences resulted in humiliation.
There was the occasional real gem. It was quite a feat considering the lack of moderation.
Not that I would suggest reading it unless you have a stomach for actual (occasionally extremely) tasteless content.
Since they have not fixed it, almost would think it's by design? It definitely forces you to read the article slowly... fast scrolling is discouraged.
I tried to install TurboTax  on a small Windows partition. Turns out i'm an idiot, because I only left 5GB free, and it requires 5.2 gigabytes to install.
I hate modern software.
This sounds nuts.
"Welcome to goon radio... get off my plane!"
I'm actually really surprised to see this on the front page of HN today. I wonder how many people who actively read/post on HN were also on SA back in the day, or still hang out in Cavern Of Cobol and/or YOSPOS.
A lot of the same content as this, he previously defined the tendency for the internet to form niche communities as the "parrot-ass club".
I do think the older BBS architecture could still work in the 2017 for new discussion forums (e.g. Discourse), although it likely would not be very appealing to venture capitalists who want to see explosive growth metrics.
I still use a torrent site that was a SA spinoff.
I can credit SA and MetaFilter (what a combo, eh?) for keeping me sane after I got laid off in '02. Nowdays Reddit has pretty much replaced SA for me, and I don't participate on MeFi as much as I used to... but the folks there kept me from killing myself after my wife died suddenly in '09.
So I hear.
Edit:Wow, downvotes for making an oblique reference to the fact the SA offshoot torrent sites have disappeared and reappeared under new names a half dozen times in the last decade.
Dreamhost also had beginnings on SA, they used to give steep discounts to SA members.
It was massive! Well still is!