Back in 2010, a long time ago in internet years, a fan forum for Buffy the Vampire Slayer called "The Bloody Board" was thriving with nearly 40,000 posts.
Its creator, a 27-year-old Australian woman calling herself Jamie Marsters (a feminised tribute to James Marsters, the name of the actor who played Spike), presided over hundreds of threads hosting a stream of updates about Buffy cast appearances at conventions and on other shows (the final episode of Buffy had aired in 2003). The "General Discussion" section leaned heavily towards posts about Marsters's namesake, the blonde vampire anti-hero. There were links to photo shoots, interviews, a poll asking "Which vampire hook-up is the hottest?" For Buffy fans, it was a hub of news and conversation.
The catch? These conversations were almost always one-sided, with Marsters only talking to herself. Essentially, it was a forum with only one member.
The Bloody Board has gone down in online folklore as one of the stranger parts of the web. If unwatched YouTube videos, unfriended Facebook pages, and brand pariahs on Twitter constitute the Lonely Web, then this was something lonelier still—a solitary empire cultivated over years, built in tribute to the object of its creator's affections.
Though Jamie Marsters was known within the Buffy fan community for her LiveJournal blog and her website Don't Kill Spike, and did not apparently lack for online friends, nobody else contributed to The Bloody Board. To all appearances, Marsters had made it this way on purpose. The site had been running for six years, and to read it was to intrude on a very particular kind of private, obsessive masterwork.
But things didn't stay this way. In October 2010, less than a week before Halloween, humour website Cracked posted a listicle titled "The 7 Most Unintentionally Creepy Places on the Internet." It mentioned an alleged sex offender who sang Roy Orbison covers on YouTube, an artist selling handcrafted "Reborn Baby" dolls, a man with a tattoo of the "chest-burning sigil of Baphomet," and, of course, The Bloody Board.
What happened next was a textbook example of how we cannot have nice things on the internet, nor allow others to have them either.
"Let's all storm the place"
Trace the 1500+ comments below the Cracked piece to their start and you'll find that readers were amused, or occasionally spooked. Marsters's Bloody Board comes in for particular attention—one user works out that she must be posting once every 84 minutes, 24 hours a day to keep up numbers. Another is convinced that she's actually a bot. But another brags that they've already found her real name and address. They suggest sending her a collection of "Reborn" dolls as a joke.
Then the invasion begins in earnest. Readers cannot resist intruding on her lonely forum. "I just dissed Jamie Marsters on the Bloody Boards," writes one commenter called Joe Marasmus. Another called Elly suggests, "Let's all storm the place." There are calls to "amass our legions," mentions on eBaum's World and 4chan. One commenter reports 36,753 guests on the Bloody Boards in the space of 24 hours. Another links to a new board called "WeKilledSpike.proboards.com," since removed, where they can brag about the siege.
Further comments spell out what's happening in real time: An hour or so after the Cracked piece went live it was posted to 4chan board /b/, triggering a tsunami of porn, racism, spam comments and Goatse pictures.
It's strange to sift through these comments years later, and watch the panic and guilt dawn on the Cracked readers as they distance themselves from the more gung-ho 4chan users in their ranks. Some laugh at "Jamie's life falling apart." Others say she should kill herself—that old, uninventive troll response.
Soon after, Jamie Marsters logged on to her site, and, unable to fight the tide of spam, decided to shut down The Bloody Board entirely.
There were actually over 150 other forum members. They just never contributed.
It's very easy to laugh at the idea of a fan posting over and over about one fictional blonde vampire man in a leather jacket. But The Bloody Board served a purpose beyond being an outlet for fandom. To outsiders, The Bloody Boards might have looked weird, creepy, and above all spectacularly nerdy, but that last part, as it turned out, was purposeful: Marsters had intended the site as a news portal, not a fan site. The Buffy fan community had lost a valuable resource.
Marsters wasn't crazy, she was just fanatically, obsessively devoted to keeping Buffy fans up to date. She used Google Alerts to track mentions and linked to them, using the forum structure as an organisational tool. Marsters declined to comment to Motherboard on the Bloody Boards' untimely end, but in her post announcing its closure, and in replies to the comments, she explains that there were actually over 150 other forum members. They just never contributed, only checking in for updates on the "Whedonverse."
"It was a news forum, wherein I posted news, as opposed to a discussion forum. So the above article was completely inaccurate, and anyone who'd actually spent more than 10 seconds on the board (before it was spammed) would've realised that," she wrote.
Fandoms are often more clearly delineated today, staying within self-contained worlds like Tumblr, fanfiction archives, and roleplaying communities, where their stranger excesses pass as normal.
Forums might seem antiquated in online terms, but they're still a simple way to record and organise information and to make it publicly accessible. Within hyper-specific pockets of the web, people continue to use them for antisocial but practical reasons.
Another forum with only one member, which is ongoing to this day and known to have baffled members of Bodybuilding.org, is run by an anonymous cosmologist and amateur astronomer under the name "Blobrana." On their astronomy news board, Blobrana has made over 117,000 posts as the forum's only user, outdoing even The Bloody Board. Blobrana also tweets continuously about the skies and the movements of the stars, but relies on the forum to record and file news updates.
Speaking in Twitter DMs, I asked Blobrana why they use this medium, and they said they'd originally used a traditional website before switching. "The news portal grew organically from a normal website to a forum, and eventually to a portal in 2005," they said.
Opening up access to other members had drawn trolls, leading to Blobrana's decision to shut out other users entirely. "Once the site became popular the spamming became too much to control and it was easier to use it just as an information/linking site," they said. Blobrana uses the forum daily as a reference for tracking the stars, as do others within the astronomy community.
The internet has changed somewhat since the invasion of The Bloody Board, though it would be wishful thinking to say it's a friendlier place. In an age when people who sit alone in their rooms all day talking to their webcams are celebrities, where the median Twitter user's number of followers is a paltry one, is the idea of a one-user forum really so strange?
Today Marsters still tweets Buffy news (mainly about James Marsters) by the hour, and continues to regularly update the Don't Kill Spike LiveJournal. Her story has surfaced on other forums since then, and the unlovely history of The Bloody Board can be read on Encyclopedia Dramatica, where screengrabs of the forum before and during its invasion still survive.
They serve as an uncomfortable reminder that to exist online in the social media age is to have nothing for yourself.
Forum Cop investigates the ugliest of internet beef, getting to the heart of online squabbles and extricating facts from gossip in digital enclaves.