From what Steve, the owner and Administrator of this forum, has said, he started the forum because he couldn't find any place that was devoted to trying to make restaurant quality pizzas at home. In order to get the best information on how to do this, and be free of influence from commercial interests like advertisers, he decided to make the forum a free and open public resource and be not-for-profit. There would be no inundation with advertising. Steve also wanted the forum to be "G" rated so that his own children could come to the forum and learn from it without being subjected to rude conduct or objectionable content. That objective remains true to this day, although it is a challenge to fulfill this objective in a social media world where people can post pretty much what they want without accountability. Fortunately, our forum has not had the types of problems in this area that other forums have had, or so I am told.
As I recall it, when I joined the forum in 2004, there were only a few forums where pizza as a subject was covered. They were eGullet, the PMQ Think Tank and the Pizza Today bulletin board. eGullet had some content on making pizza at home but it was quite limited and nothing like what was being posted on this forum at the time. The PMQTT and the PT Bulletin Board were for professional pizza operators although some home pizza makers would register and become members there. I think that one major aspect that differentiated pizzamaking.com from everyone else was the fact that photos could be easily inserted in posts, and be assured that they would remain there forever and not disappear because a link to a photo became inoperative.
We also live in a visual world where people will be reluctant to try something, especially something like a pizza, without seeing photos. It was possible to do something similar at the PMQTT but few members made use of that capability. I do not think that the PT Bulletin Board had that functionality. So, photos in posts was and is a big differentiator.
If we fast forward to the present time, the PMQTT has become a shadow of its former self even though it just this past week went through a facelift (http://thinktank.pmq.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=13917&sid=b03d59f057a5474632f070884e72d057
). Posting volume at that forum has seen a dramatic decline over the past year or two. I'm not sure why that has happened. Maybe the economy has been a factor and maybe professionals have to spend so much time trying to be successful with their businesses that they are left with too little time to post on matters of interest to them. The PT Bulletin Board no longer exists. I mention these cases since our forum has seen a dramatic increase in the number of members who are pizza professionals. I am not sure if this is a good thing or not because professionals do not last long on the forum. They usually are not interested in home pizza making and they almost always leave when they have gotten what they were looking for. It may be partly by default that such people ended up coming to our forum in the first place.
Another area where I have seen the effects of the forum on its members is the sizable number of members who have gone on to be professionals. In many such cases, they learned most of what they know about making pizzas from the content on the forum. Some of those members are still on the forum but the day-to-day details of running a business keeps them from being as active as they once were. But it is unmistakable that this forum was a major contributor to what they went on to achieve.
Another area where I think this forum has differentitated itself is in the area of tools, especially the dough calculating tools. Those tools have allowed members to do things that were virtually impossible for them to do before, at least with ease. Those tools have also been responsible for a big increase in digital scales. If those tools disappeared, I would disappear also
In my view, the keys to success of this forum is having enough members who are generous and selfless in what they do (they are usually the ones who are also "power posters"), high quality content, and good moderating. As a Moderator who has spent considerable time in each camp, I would rate them equally. Yet, the structure is fragile. Otherwise, the other pizza related forums would be thriving, not in remission or defunct. Over the years, we have lost some very good and productive members. The reality is is that any given time, there is only a relatively small number of members who are the power posters who keep the ship afloat and help develop the quantity and quality of subject matter content that in my opinion is necessary for survival. They are an important reason for the success of this forum.