When we started out with our webcomic at Onezumi.com one of the first companion sites we set up was a phpbb based forum site. Back in those days (wow, is it really going on 10 years soon?) there wasn’t many central places where people could talk about your work–unless you set one up yourself. So we set up the forum and it went well for a few years. We built up a nice but small community. Eventually as LiveJournal, MySpace, and Facebook arrived we noticed the traffic and discussion was eroding away. We eventually shut the forum down and moved on to a very open commenting policy on all of our sites.
So, is this experience just limited to us? I don’t think so. I think that the rise in “Massive Social Networking” sites has lead to the idea that there isn’t a need for a million little places to discuss each of your hobbies or fandoms. There are definitely many independent forums still out there–most of which had very large traffic before things changed, but I really can’t imagine many new ones coming into existence now–though if you want to disassociate your “real life” from a fandom (i.e. furry, kinky, or other things you don’t want people to know you are into) then I can see why that would be a possible successful development.
In some cases a “support forum” seems to be a valid usage for a site specific forum, but they are a real problem to keep spam free and on topic (which was another reason we eventually killed our forum–it was getting too difficult to maintain).
People have always valued convenience–remembering one login is way easier than a million–and going to one website is better than having to follow many. The insidious Facebook login feature they rolled out for web developers–to allow them to be your authentication system–keeps them even more as the central location.
Do I think this is a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. It’s definitely annoying to have to maintain fanpages and other elements that aren’t on our own sites–and we have very little control over changes they decide to make to their sites. And I think that the top reigning sites will change over time, which means constant roving for where to find your fans and community.
Ironically it seems that with convenience we’ve lost some measure of focused fandom with the collapse of site specific forums. It’s easy to “Like” something on Facebook, but the depth of discussion seems to have become much more shallow and diluted. Maybe the harmonic will pull back the other direction if people start to become suspect of the MSN types of sites.