The ExpeditersOnline.com Open Forum topped 15,000 members in late January, marking a significant point on its continuing journey.
The ExpeditersOnline.com Open Forum topped 15,000 members in late January, marking a significant point on its continuing journey. This online open forum has been an important resource for expediter wannabees, rookies, veterans, fleet owners, carriers, vendors and interested observers since 1999. In this milestone week, Expedite NOW spoke with forum founder Lawrence McCord about the forum’s past, present and future.
While a 15,000 member forum is microscopic by today’s Facebook and Twitter standards, it is huge in the expediting industry since current estimates place less than 15,000 expediter trucks on the road. Someone who is looking for information about expedited freight transport and the people who do it will almost certainly learn about the forum and may well become a member.
The forum is used by expediter wannabees, newbies and veterans alike. The wannabees ask questions about the expediting opportunity. Newbies post every day to ask entry level questions about their fleet owners, trucks, carriers, regulations, finding freight, life on the road and anything else that pertains to the expediting life and work. Veterans enjoy helping others by answering such questions and offering advice. Additionally, the forum includes sections in which members have lively political discussions, talk sports, share travel stories and chat about the latest high-tech gadgets.
Not every member is an expediter and many are not currently active in the forum. Nevertheless, over 15,000 people have seen fit to enroll and participate at some level over the years. Countless more lurk on the site, reading what’s there but remaining quiet. McCord pointed out that significant efforts are made each business day to keep spammers, posers and the like off the forum. IP addresses are manually verified by a human being when new members join.
McCord started the forum in the spring of 1999. He was an expediter at the time, running three cargo vans with Roberts Express, the company that pioneered modern-day expediting. He was intrigued by what was then the new world wide web. He was also frustrated by his inability to easily communicate with his drivers and other expediters all at once.
In those days, most expediters were using pay phones and pagers to stay in touch with their carriers. Pager service was unpredictable. Cell phone service was spotty at best. Internet message boards were used by some interest groups but not by expediters. Getting online meant getting to a computer or carrying one into a truck stop where the modem could be plugged into a telephone jack.
Putting his world wide web interest and communications frustration together, McCord envisioned an online marketplace of ideas and information about all things expedite. He wanted to create an online community where expediters could easily exchange information and learn things like where they could go to find a trusted cargo van dealer who understood expediting. Working on his monochrome monitor in his cargo van while on the road, McCord turned his vision into reality.
Some of the very first members of the forum continue to log in today. McCord said, “We were doing social networking before social networking was cool.” Having grown well beyond a virtual activity, this networking now takes place online and off.
A core group has developed for whom the forum has become an end in itself. For reasons that vary with each member, they have made the forum part of their daily routine and would dearly miss the forum members who have become part of their online lives if the forum were to go away.
The networking includes spontaneous get-togethers — flash mobs as McCord calls them — at truck stops and other locations where expediters go. Some members have “EO Works for Me” bumper stickers on their trucks to help them spot and meet each other on the road. Members regularly arrange ahead of time to hang out together at the Expedite Expo and other truck shows. In some cases, acquaintances initially made in the forum have developed into deep and lasting friendships.
Expediters Helping Expediters
People have posted their questions, needs, prayer requests, rants, praises, jokes, helpful information, personal digs, entertaining stories and much more on the forum. It sometimes happens that one person’s posted need is accepted as a call to action by those who are moved to reply.
In one case, a small number of forum members responded to a post and deadheaded to Florida from various parts of the country to help a husband/wife expediter team complete a household move. Both team members had been severely injured in an accident and their disabilities prevented them from moving themselves. Half of the helpers did not know the team personally but responded anyway. In another case, where one member had to come off the road because of health issues, other members organized a fundraiser for their buddy and worked to help him sell his van.
Forum members have turned out in various ways to assist the widows or widowers who have lost their expediter spouses. Members of this online and on-road community will react to stolen truck reports by keeping their eyes open nationwide for the missing rig.
Why This Success?
Since 1999, there have been a number of attempts to duplicate the ExpeditersOnline.com Open Forum’s success. All have failed. When asked to explain why, McCord said, “We have a code of conduct that creates an understanding of what is expected of each member. We are mostly hands-off. We have let the community manage the community. Members tend to quiet any attacks made by others. Forum moderators are only there for the repeat violators.”
McCord likened the forum’s moderators to state troopers. They let most things pass unless someone attracts their attention. Just as a trooper will go after a driver who is exhibiting road rage, one or more moderators will communicate with a member who crosses the code of conduct line. McCord explained, “The code of conduct clarifies our [member behavior] goals but is very generous. You can say just about anything you want, within reason.”
The world wide web and open forum have come a long way since 1999, but what of the future?
McCord said the vision for the forum remains the same. “We knew early on that user-generated content was king. It rema
ins true today. Forum members will continue to be the center of everything we do. We will keep it running because it is the single most valuable resource and tool for anyone in this business.”
Members agree. One member — screen name “tumbleweeds” — said it well in a recent post. “Thank you for a place to learn, share and help us grow a successful business. We would be much less informed if not for EO.”
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