Last week I took part in a conference call about the future of R3VLimited. For those that aren't familiar, R3VLimited is one of the oldest and largest E30 forums left on the internet. As with most forums, it has been dying a slow death, and I for one hate to see it happening.
I must give props to James Crivellone, the owner of the site, for all the thankless work that he has poured into R3VLimited over the last ~15 years of ownership. Without him, there is no way the site would have made it this far.
20 Years of E30 Community
Originally known as "E30Sport," I actually started the web site back in 2002 at the ripe old age of 17. With the help of Steven Reed as forum admin and Jordan Sarette as the host/server admin, we had a good thing going for a couple of years. By the time the site had reached about 1,000 members, I was a college sophmore and had enough of running the site. Jordan and I butted heads a lot, and I wanted out. Jordan took a backup of the forum database and moved the forum over to r3vlimited.com. In hindsight, I am sure that whatever reasons I had for stepping away from the site were dumb and immature, but I am so glad that Jordan picked up the torch and kept the site alive.
I don't much recall the transfer of ownership from Jordan over to James, but I think Jordan helmed the site for several years before calling it quits. We'll call it the late-aughts when James took over.
The first decade or so of James' control over the site were the golden years. By the time James took over, the site had over 10,000 members, and was extremely active. By 2015, membership had ballooned to almost 70,000. It was around this time that alternatives to car forums, such as Facebook groups, began to take their hold.
Forums Failed To Adapt
The mid 2010s was a very transformative time for the internet. For the first time, the scales were tipping away from desktop computing to mobile devices. As with many industries and web sites, it doesn't seem like the large forum platforms, such as vBulletin, did much to pivot when the web became increasingly hand-held. Mind you, nothing about R3VLimited is truly unique when it comes to car communities and forums. The same thing happened to just about every forum out there.
As a stop-gap, apps like Tapatalk sprung up trying to make the static forums of yester-year more relevant and usable for mobile users. To this day, as we near the end of 2022, vBulletin is still not what would be considered a mobile-first platform. It works alright on mobile, but it's not great.
With the increased use of mobile devices came the heyday of social media sites such as Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram. Their mobile apps featuring niche community groups saw a meteoric rise around the early to mid 2010s. The forums began to cool off, with people able to receive faster and easier answers to their questions on the R3VLimited Facebook group. These apps were just so much easier to use than the forums were, and you were constantly using the apps anyways.
You Can't Have it All
Social media community groups have a major downside: they are incredibly fleeting. Most threads are dead and buried within a day, two days tops. The search function [for old topics] sucks. It's hard to do any sort of long form posting, let alone step-by-step guides or anything of that nature.
What happens is that the same basic questions keep popping up, and little can be done to quell it from happening. At least on the forums you could easily link someone to a relevant topic, have pinned posts for important topics, and [rightfully] tell the user to do a search.
The E30 Game has Changed
E30s went through the typical bell curve of value, falling to rock bottom in the aughts and slowly rising since then. Values started rising as nostalgia for the cars did (hell, that's how I got back into one in my 30s). E30s also had a bit of a cultural moment, with big celebrities and big name car collectors showing a lot of interest in them.
Things really got wild in the late 2010s, with values growing to eye-watering levels. I think things have cooled off a bit since then, but the ownership of E30s is quite a bit different than it once was.
The cars just aren't being daily driven much anymore. They aren't being raced as much, either. There is interest in restoring and maintaining them, but maybe from a different type of owner. Perhaps these factors all played into the decrease in traffic that R3VLimited has seen.
Forums Still Have Value
On our conference call about the future of R3VLimited, one thing that kept popping up was the word repository [a place where things are stored]. I realized that in the last 7 years or so of my active ownership of E30s, I have used R3VLimited primarily as a repository. I didn't post much, or ask many questions, but I knew that there were almost 2 decades worth of knowledge hosted on that domain, and I tapped that as a resource regularly.
Forums may never have a heyday again. There might not be an more growth, only further stagnation. And that is okay. What is not okay is letting them disappear or fall into disrepair. We've already lost other E30 web sites to the ether, such as BEN (BMW E30 Network) and E30Tech, never to be seen again. I don't believe that James will ever let that happen to R3VLimited, but he shouldn't have to carry that torch himself, either.
The Future of R3VLimited
Our discussion on the conference call last week was very ground-level. How does James see the future of the site? What do we as a leadership group want to get out of the site? What do the users want to get out of it? What works about social media community groups, and what doesn't?
A lot of ideas were pitched that I think can have a positive effect on the forum. Will it grow and be more active again? I think that somewhat of a resurgence can occur, but it likely won't recapture any of its glory days, and that's okay. If the site is fast, easy to navigate, user-friendly (especially on mobile), searchable, and secure, then it should continue to live on as a repository. One thing is very clear: the site is certainly still worth putting effort into.
On a personal level, it is a great feeling to be back involved with this web site that I had a hand in 20 years ago. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but rest assured that there are people that love this web site and want to keep it alive.