This isn't an announcement, just the start of a discussion. No decisions have been made and everything can change yet.
But the gist is that I'm thinking of shutting Oasis down on Dec. 1, 2015, exactly 20 years from when I started it. For the skimmers, that is in two years, not two months from now.
It is nearly impossible to chart how the world for LGBT youth has changed in that time, but my feeling is that those changes have sort of removed the need for a site like Oasis.
The site has always promoted writing and peer support as its two main concepts, but now there are so many outlets for both.
Between Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever one is supposed to do on Pinterest, it has never been easier to find other people your age to talk to, explore very niche communities within the larger LGBT world, etc.
Most importantly, the acceptance of LGBT people has sort of removed a large chunk of our target audience.
People used to come on for months or years, finally come out to friends, family, or whomever, and then disappear into their openly gay lives. That was a fine plan.
But now, there is far less friction for many people from realizing they are gay, to accepting it, to coming out, that we have sort of lost the churn of members that transitional period provided. It used to be that a busy night on Oasis would get 30+ posts in a night, and not little Twitterish updates, but long journaly things about how someone's day went, and after people wrote, they would stick around, comment on a few things.
And, I think that community was sort of the least bothered people when it came to their sexuality. With or without Oasis, they were on the right path, and would have sorted it out, they just provided a great body count for the site, and also made it more interactive. And that isn't to say we still don't have people on this path who use the site today, there are just way less in total. With less people comes less interactivity, less interactivity means people come to the site less in general (since nothing is likely to have changed yet since their last visit), and that sort of dictates how new users interpret the site, as well.
I think some of that is not keeping up with the technology. The big scrolling wall of the front page that most people see as the site, rather than putting more focus on user accounts and profiles and giving you more power to make it your own. Some of that is me, some is a lack of access to update the site for a few years, etc., but this is the flip side of the larger question: Is there a need for this now that isn't being met elsewhere?
The other problem I have with the site is that the reduced number of users, and the lack of interactivity of the users, has surfaced people who have bigger problems than coming out or accepting themselves. There is drug use, cutting, depression, and all of these real concerns, but are we doing an actual service to people who need to sort out these issues if there are few active users? Not to mention, the more specialized the issue, the less likely the advice we all have is relevant. I can empathize with drug use, but I'm a lightweight, non-addicted, generally sober person. I can empathize with a cutter, but have nothing relatable to say to them. If someone is depressed, we tend to ask if they are being treated/taking their meds, but is that the same support they would get if they looked for a more specialized forum for LGBT people with depression?
There is also a rise in trans members, which makes sense as that issue has become larger in the past few years as far as visibility and acceptance. But there are tons of trans forums where trans members can talk to people their age and who in their same boat. Here, they can get support, but do they get enough? Are they getting people with experience and knowledge rather than good intentions? Is that enough?
The other side of the debate is that it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of the site because it hasn't been updated or tried to be visible in a long time. I now have the ability to update the site, although visibility is usually about book reviews, music reviews, concert reviews, interviews, etc., which then sort of go out and help people find us. And I don't have a lot of time or desire for those. And we've proven time and again, that no one is that interested in doing it either.
If Oasis was more of a traditional social network, where the scrolling wall was just a portal to highly-customizable individual pages, where swimmerguy could post photos of his recent hikes, and our singers were posting YouTube clips, and sharing songs, would people feel more engaged with the site in general, stay longer, and build its ranks back up?
This does bring us to the other issue, which is that I'm 45, I've been doing this for 18 years, and I'm not the best person to determine what some 12-year-old who thinks he might be gay wants, and what a 16-year-old who is out at home and school needs, etc., etc.
So, for this to work, we need to come up with a plan of attack. I know the technology side enough to know how to contextualize things we want with what we can do within our content management system and budgeting.
If you are new here, how did you find us? What keeps you coming back? What do you wish you could do? What are you getting here that you can't get anywhere else?
To the regulars, what would make it better? What would make you check here every day? What would make you tell other LGBT friends about the site?
To the fencesitters (not the bisexuals! I mean people on the verge of debating whether to leave the site), what keeps you coming back here? What might make you stay? What is making you think of leaving?
I don't want to make this sound like a random decision. I've been running this site for nearly half of my life, so it will feel very strange for it to be gone. I'm not certain I want it gone, either. But it does have to change to stay... if it should stay, which is the big question.
Again, nothing is decided, so share your opinions, feedback, answers to my questions, and we'll see where this leads us all.
One thing, if the site does go down, I will make sure we add an export functionality long before that time, so people can export all of their writings. After that, there is the question if the site just sits here as an artifact, or simply disappears...
Time will tell...