To Find A Ghost

I have lost a friend I’ve never met. A friend who I didn’t really know.

At the end of October, a tiny corner of the internet ceased to be.  Nothing but a tiny online forum on the outside, The Forum Whatever was one of the most important things to ever happen to me.  I made friends with people I would never otherwise have known.  I shared with them what I could not share with anyone I would meet with in person. I fell in love. This would not have happened if not for one man’s simple idea. But now it appears to have gone. Because that man has disappeared.

The Forum Whatever was born from a  number of bloggers who posted on each other’s spaces so frequently, the man in question decided to start an online community where we could keep online conversations going in one place.  Our blogs were not massively themed – many of us came from the hideousness that was MSN’s Live Spaces monstrosity – so, unlike many forums, there was no basic theme. We weren’t gamers, book fiends, TV or movie buffs. We would talk about all these things, but also everything else.  Essentially, it was the ‘general chat’ section you’ll find on most larger forums. The specialist subjects; the threads for fashion, hot women, photography or outdoor pursuits were all there, but it was a place to talk about anything. Whatever, really.

It was five years old. It’s always tragic when things expire so young.  In those five years, I discovered that it is possible to become friends with people I’ve never met and probably never will. I got to be part of their lives as they grew up, qualified, graduated, fell in love, got engaged and even brought new lives into the world.
Plenty of people would mock me for such a poor excuse for social activity, but it was a major force in my social life – even if we weren’t in the same room.  The people on there gave this permanently awkward weirdo confidence. They humoured, entertained, frustrated and changed me as a person.  They became my friends.  I care about them, their day. I want to know what they’ve been up to, laugh with them when they’re happy, cheer them up when they’re sad.  Just as they have done for me.  We shared our worries, we told each other our hopes, we took photos of ourselves wearing pants on our heads for some reason.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of them in person.  We met and chatted with one of our favourite musicians that same weekend.  And had I never found this place, I would never have met one of the most important people to be a part of my life. I fell in love with her, and many of my happiest memories include her by my side.  This would not have happened had one blogger not decided to make an online forum and invite some of us in.
But months before the forum came to an end, he disappeared.

We don’t know why.
A fortnight passed before anyone noticed.  Despite being admin, he was an infrequent poster, but the time passed with not so much as a log in.  Speculations started on a calm level.  Holiday? Heavy work-load?  But still there was nothing.  Some of us started to get worried.  We knew that if it was something serious, we would have trouble contacting him.  While some of us have added each other to facebook and other social networking sites, our glorious leader could solely be found – by us – on the forum.  Working with computers (I’m not even sure of the specifics), he was web-savvy and he very tightly controlled what information about him was available.  He would rarely talk about himself.  For all the discussions he started on the forum, we new very little facts.  Whe knew what he liked and what he didn’t like. But where he came from, what he did, who he knew? A few of us knew his first name, hardly any of us knew his surname.
E-mails were sent.  There were no replies.  He had no website, or never revealed one to us.  He stopped his blog, and never revealed if he started a new one.
Worry set in when sifting through old posts of his to glean if he had said anything about going away in October revealed a post from the previous year.  The forum was very quiet then, not many people were posting.  As a result, with so few members, he asked if we wanted the site to continue, realising it was a good time to ask as the subscription for the domain was due to run out.  Theorising he paid on a yearly basis, that renewed subscription would have run out soon.

I searched online, with only his internet handle as a guide.  Naturally, I was pessimistic about what I would find. How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found?  I knew that he was involved with the Steam forums, but his last appearance online was even further back than on The Forum Whatever.
Where was he?
Was he ill? Had he decided to let the subscription expire but lost the stones to tell us? Was he on holiday and it was all a flap about nothing?
Out of the blue, he reappeared.  Only two posts were made. He told us that he had “run into a spot of poor health” and very little else.  He also reassured us that there was nothing to worry about subscription-wise.  Everything was fine, but he would be away for a few weeks more.
Relief set in.  We were worried for him, he was ill, and despite giving away as little about himself as usual, it sounded serious.  But that was the last we heard from him.  Three weeks later and he had not reappeared.
Whilst in the chat-room integrated into the forum’s front-page, the forum died right before our eyes.  In its place was a screen full of links to a casino, music downloads, online banking and a picture of a very smug girl.

Gone. right in front of us.

Despite the reassurance he gave us, it appears the domain subscription expired on 28th October.  What of the forum? will it be stored, archived so it can reappear if bought again? Or is that it, gone? All those conversations, confidences and confessions – gone with no regard for nostalgia.

But what of him?  What of the guy who started it all?  With so little information to go on, worry and speculation became panic and paranoia.  He had said he was ill.  What kind of ill; hospital admission ill, nervous breakdown ill, terminal ill?  What if he’s not ill, what if he just wanted out? Would he just cut us out?

With no replies to emails, that was it.  We had no way of contacting him and no way to know if he was  even still alive.  We had two contacts who knew him better than most.  One we did not hear back from.  The other had a mobile number but had not heard from him in a year.  One particularly emotional conversation and though I found out some more personal information about him, she realised the number she had was no longer in use.  Searches with this new information led me nowhere.
People warn you not to put personal information online.  He knew what could be done with it, and as a result the man was a ghost.  Should I be uncomfortable using that word?

I’ve been considering trying to start it up again myself, there’s variations of the domain available.  But should I?  No one likes change, and this will see a lot of change.  I know very little about domains, I never found out what he did to keep the place running, how he incorporated the site’s many mods and kept out the legion of spammers that infest the internet.  And what of the elephant in the chatroom – the not knowing?

I miss it.  It’s only a website, it only appeared in a monitor, but it was an integral part of my life for years.  It was a place for me to talk about my day, to vent my frustrations, share my views and chat to people I  grew to care about.  There’s plenty of forums I could just join, and I could just start it again, but it’s the people I miss.  I miss hearing about their daily lives, their petty and heavy concerns.  What made them laugh, what made them cry.  What song they have stuck in their head.

The time I have known them has been influential on me.  I would not be who I am today were it not for them.  And I owe it all to the man who started it.  But I don’t know where he is.

If you’re out there, if you’re reading this – we miss you, Sam.
We care about you.
Please fight back from whatever’s happening to you and get in touch with us.
Even if you just don’t want any further contact with us, at least let us know you’re alive.
And if you’re gone, if I am writing a letter to a ghost, I hope that we meant as much to you as you meant to us.
And I hope you know that we’ll never forget you.

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13 Responses to To Find A Ghost

  1. Gail Graham says:

    aww bloody hell, I’ve got tears in my eyes. That sums up exactly how I feel, except for the falling in love with a girl part, obviously. But the rest of it is EXACTLY how I feel. And I can’t help but feel he’s gone. He must have done, he wouldn’t have gone with out going if you know what I mean. xoxo

  2. Flix says:

    Sigh.

    It’s weird, you know, feeling like you kind of know someone until you pick apart the pieces and you realise you don’t really know them at all and everything your parents warned you about speaking to strange men on the internet may well be true.

    😥

    • Phill says:

      Yes, it was pretty unsettling. I realised a little before he vanished that he gave so little away that though we knew what his sense of humour was like, the type of girls he liked and how he would react in certain situations, we didn’t know specifics.
      We knew him as a personality, but not as a person.
      sadface.
      I’m hoping upon hope he’s recovering and will see all this and freak a bit then see the funny side and make fun and it will all be a hilarious embarrassing escapade, but my mind’s too pessimistic. It certainly was last night when I wrote this.

      Thanks for the praise, but I’m sorry if I upset anyone or made them 25% more paranoid about him. But I had to put these thoughts somewhere.

      Gail, I’m sorry you never fell in love with a girl. You’re missing out, they’re lovely to look at and their hair smells nice.

      Thanks for convincing me this over-dramatic blog is a realistic epitaph.

  3. teacherface says:

    Bloody hell you have such a way with words. The ending made me well up a little bit.
    The end cannot be here…

  4. Amberdawn says:

    You’ve already heard my thoughts in Email, but I might as well post (the abbreviated version) here too.

    First and foremost, I do hope Sam’s okay, or on the road to recovery. Though there’s obviously evidence to support it, I hate to speculate that he did this on purpose when that question is hanging in the air, so I’ll just leave it at that. I don’t think there is anything else we can do to find him, and he might not even want to be found. Which makes me sad, but as you wrote Phill, we sort of need to respect that.

    Going forward, I’m grateful for the contact info you’ve sent (blog links). Because I do think whatever the next step is, the important thing is the connections, not the format or the title. I was deeply sad to find the forum gone, and you’ve already gone into why in your post here. And worse than the shock was the feeling of isolation it brought.

    So regarding your thoughts on reviving it…well, for all we know the loss of the forum could be temporary (I know; not likely at this point). But even if it’s not, as much as it sucks to lose it, I feel like it was his legacy. If he chose to end it, that’s his choice. And if he did choose to end it like that, I wouldn’t want a new forum to share the name because I’d be too angry. If this was beyond his control, well, maybe look at it this way. The legacy goes with him. Sometimes that’s more of a tribute than to do a total remake that ends up being not quite the same. That’s not to say you shouldn’t start a forum. But if you do, my suggestion would be to take a little time to think and make it your own. In the meantime, I think you’ve done a good job bringing members together here. I think that’s the most important thing: keeping in contact. The forum that brought us together might be gone, but “that’s not important now.”

    On a lighter note, that filler page chic IS smug looking: Like she’s taunting every time I check back to see if the forum reappears. I’ve started telling myself it’s actually flix and she’s hiding the forum in her backpack there.

    • Flix says:

      Hah, yes, I make a living posing for defunct domains. Incidentally, I like the Flix Whatever tag 😛

      What’s weird too, is looking from the outside in. Like someone will stumble across this blog and be like, what the heck they on about, crazy peeps, get a life, yo. And we’re all like, you don’t know, man, you weren’t there.

      Somehow, I find the idea of not wanting to be found even more unsettling than the notion that it is impractical or impossible for him to return. To believe that he’d intentionally just cut loose like that? I mean, I know we know, like, nothing about the inner workings of a Tyger, but still.

      It’s weird. It’s really weird. How do you mourn a website?

  5. Flix says:

    Also, the title of this blog makes me think of Tegan and Sara’s Walking With A Ghost, which I can’t be bothered to link to right now, but you might take a listen sometime so you can hear it over and over in your head like I do.

  6. Karishma says:

    I guess we’ve come full circle, resorting to blog comments again.

    But for what it’s worth, the forum was like a friend who changed my life. I’d definitely have grown up into a different person if it wasn’t for you guys.

    Much love, keep in touch. xx

  7. Jenny says:

    I agree with everything you’ve all said. Little things keep happening in my life that I think “ooh I should post that” then I can’t. I am sad in more ways than one. I dunno about the rest of you but I’d love a new forum, any forum really…

  8. Flix says:

    “This domain name may be for sale”

    Sob.

  9. adamberland says:

    Hey, what do you say, just for old time’s sake, you type forumwhatever.com into your browser 😉

  10. Flix says:

    So, I just scanned this again and totally read “I fell in love. This would not have happened if not for one man. But now it appears to have gone. Because that man has disappeared.”

    You fell in love with Tyger :-O

    😉

  11. Pingback: A New Old Venue for Online Ramblings | Adamber's Space

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