Originally Posted by Dr Millmoss
I think what you're really talking about is the bunker mentality we long-time Apple enthusiasts "enjoyed" back in the good old/bad old days, when Apple's survival was doubted by nearly everyone, and their loyalists were routinely ridiculed, if not interrogated about their sanity. We huddled together for whatever mutual warmth we could find, like one of the smaller lost tribes of Israel. According to my memory, it wasn't that much fun.
Back then, I was one of the founding members of a group called MacMarines (a successor to Guy Kawasaki's Evangelist), which worked to counter all of the bad press Apple was receiving, and it was pretty much all bad. We gathered annually at MacWorld Expos and commiserated over dinner. I recall those days, but not with as much fondness as some.
True enough, but in the case of the Apple Insider forums, that shared sense of beleaguered sub-culture also fostered a pretty cohesive group of people with shared interests beyond Apple ownership. Most certainly in part because Apple ownership, in those days, was likely drawing from a fairly narrow demographic. These forums featured very lively conversations about anything and everything-- at times Apple kit seemed like the least of it.
Open online communities are pretty mutable things, since the barriers to entry and exit are very low and the potential membership base is pretty much anyone on the planet. It's very difficult to establish a convivial tone without onerous rules, or a deliberately cultivated obscurity.
At any rate, once that core group split off, these forums never again had quite the same sense of ongoing shared conversation amongst friends, for good or ill. Admittedly, a self limiting roster of "insiders" who dominate the proceedings can also lead to stagnation and an enervating, self-referential tone, but clearly a wide open free for all can lead to a lot of random nonsense and many a thread swamped out by people who have no particular affinity to the site or its members.
But you're certainly right that in the case of this here particular Mac site the changing fortunes of Apple changes the likely profile of the average poster. I notice that Ars Technica, and the Mac forums therein, seem to manage a pretty focused discussion. Not sure if that's because Ars is relatively technical and attracts a lot of pretty well informed people, or if the moderation is different, or if there are instances of boneheads wandering in and getting their asses scorched off, but I would say that the better part of it is the stable group of regular posters who informally set a tone and create at least the sense that simply bursting in and shooting your mouth off isn't going to go over very well-- or at least if you're going to do that it might be wise to have a coherent argument. Which is to say that a critical mass of invested members to the point that intelligent discussion is the norm rather than the exception obviously helps a lot, and that once you cross a threshold into dithering mob it may be difficult to reassert any sense of cohesiveness (see also 99% of the internet).