If you’re a watch lover on the internet (you’re reading this, so, I think you might be) you’ve almost certainly spent time on one of the several major public watch forums. These message boards are an important hub in the watch world for communication, news gathering, and buying and selling. It’s a right of passage for those new to the hobby to cut their teeth on the forums, as knowledge is passed from enthusiast to enthusiast.
Last week, Watchuseek, one of the largest watch communities online, underwent a major facelift. The familiar format has been completely redesigned, and at a glance has a sleeker more up to date look. But, as anyone who has spent any time on a forum will tell you, change is tough. We get used to seeing things a certain way day after day, and when navigation that has become muscle memory fails you, it can be disappointing and frustrating.
Bhanu Chopra is a fixture in the watch community. He’s the owner of Juvo Luxury, a noted German watch enthusiast, and is the former Senior Editor of Watchuseek’s editorial arm. We thought with his unique combination of experience and history with WUS, he’d be a great person to reach out to get some thoughts on the site’s recent changes.
Bhanu has been involved in one way or another with WUS for longer than many of us have been in the hobby. He started browsing the forums all the way back in 2004, and it wasn’t long before he was making connections within what at the time was a small and tight knit community of watch enthusiasts.
“One thing I noticed,” Bhanu told me about his experience in those early days, “was that I would have conversations with the same folks on WUS, TZ, PuistsPro, and Revo online. Everyone was participating on the forums to learn and have a dialogue about likes and dislikes.”
The redesign of the site is something that Bhanu suspects may have been in the works for some time. “It had been mentioned a few times to me with the previous VerticalScope management,” Bhanu told me. VerticalScope is the parent company of Watchuseek, and owns upwards of 800 forum community websites. The platform and layout of a Verticalscope forum can be customized to suit the needs of each individual community, but the overall feel is largely the same from forum to forum. Verticalscope uses unpaid, volunteer moderators to patrol for spam, bad behavior, and other user issues that break the rules. Their business model is simple: ads, ads, ads.
And also membership fees. Watchuseek users have the option of paying $20 annually for a reduced ad experience. According to new language on the site, that $20 also gets you a special “badge” for your profile, a “focused reading” mode that allows you to bypass certain site features, and access to premium level discussions. This last bit in particular is a bit of a curiosity for Bhanu. “It just describes the forum as it stands now,” he says. “So, what’s new?”
It remains to be seen, of course, what Verticalscope has in store in the way of actual watch content that might entice WUS users to pay the membership fee, But Bhanu (and others, judging by recent posts on the forum) seem to miss the earlier iteration of WUS. “When Ernie Roamers owned Watchuseek,” Bhanu told me, “it was just a forum for discussion, and we would post live from Baselworld under News sub-forum or report on our visits to watch companies within respective forums.” Bhanu has mixed feelings about the premium model Verticalscope is offering. “Ernie always wanted the forums to be free for enthusiasts,” he said. “At the same time, VerticalScope has to monetize it in a similar way YouTube does with premium subscriptions.”
At the moment, reactions to the new layout are mixed, at best, on WUS itself. In a “Community Feedback” thread that has swelled to over 30 pages in just days, initial reviews were sometimes sharply negative. “What an incredible mess–the first page looks absolutely horrible,” said one user who has been a member since 2008. “Hate to be that guy but this is really disappointing. A car forum I am part of switched to this style a year or two ago and just about killed it, members all went to facebook,” said another member.
Others have a more positive outlook, and there are many posts expressing a sentiment that getting used to change takes time. Increased speed is another often cited improvement (and I can concur, as a somewhat infrequent WUS user myself, that pages load notably faster in the new environment).
Bhanu, for his part, doesn’t notice much of a change at all, but that’s a result of the way he, and many others, actually use the forum. “Personally, it makes no difference to me since I visit WUS on Tapatalk app on my iPad or iPhone,” he told me when I asked if the changes represent an improvement. Still, Bhanu seemed to indicate that if users don’t adjust to the new format, or simply dislike it, it doesn’t spell the end for this close knit group of enthusiasts congregating together on the internet. “If forum members are dissatisfied,” he said, “you may see a creation of a new forum.”
Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.