Much ado has been made by the Atheism+ crowd that their forums now have over 2000 members, as if just having that many people sign up for their forums makes them instantly popular. However, as anyone who bothers to think about it for a few minutes ought to realize, the numbers don’t really tell the whole story.
What they ought to be concerned with is the number of active members they have. The number of people who post regularly on their forums, who engage in discussions and work toward established goals, those are the people who are really important. Yet a quick perusal through their forums reveals nowhere near that many active members. In fact, while I haven’t bothered to go count, from people who used to be active there, at least until they were thrown off, they tell me there are no more than a hundred or two people who are active regularly. In fact, from what I’ve been told, the vast majority of those with accounts on the Atheism+ forums seem to be almost entirely silent. Why is this?
The most probable answer is that these accounts are held, either by those who have since left the forums for whatever reason, or by people who, like Matt Dillahunty, created an account back when the forums first started, posted a “hello” message and then never went back. Lots of forums have a backlog of users that came, signed up and left, eventually those users are purged by an automatic system that dumps users that have not logged in for a year or so. Whether the Atheism+ forums have such a mechanism, or they’re just too new to have ever used it, is unclear, but it’s dishonest to claim any of those users as a part of your active userbase. It’s as dishonest as taking a list of people who requested information about a group and claiming it represents your supporters. The other problem I’ve been told about, and again, this is second-hand information at best, is that they make it very difficult to actually get your account deleted should you wish to leave. Unless you are actually thrown bodily off of the Atheism+ forums, getting an account voluntarily deleted is like pulling teeth. You cannot do it yourself. You cannot go to the moderators. You have to go to the site administrator and make a formal request, and from what I hear, the site administrator isn’t too speedy in such matters.
Both of these factors, I’m sure, factor heavily into the inflated membership numbers, but there is another that’s been suggested to me that may also be a problem. Again, from what I’ve heard, not having an account on the forums, nor really any interest in reading them extensively, there may be an issue with sockpuppets, even though they are against the rules, however being overlooked if they fall on the “correct” side of the aisle. The moderators may not even know these sockpuppets exist, it is notoriously difficult to detect the existence of sockpuppet accounts without looking at the IP they are posting from, and even then, you may just have two people with two accounts posting from the same computer. So I’m not blaming the moderators for being in collusion with sockpuppeteers, just that this is another possible source of additional accounts which ought not be included in an accurate count.
But I doubt we’ll ever know the real story because the moderators over on the A+ forums will never release accurate numbers. Just how many single accounts have been logged into in the past 30 days? How many have never posted a single message at all? How many have been thrown off the blog but their accounts sit unused? These are all important questions and because they will likely continue to go unanswered, we must simply reject claims that the Atheism+ forums are a success because we just don’t have the necessary data to confirm such an assertion. Evidence. It works, bitches.