Sorry bit of a long reply - I appreciate the replies.
This is insane - seeing a thread grow like this from such a dull question - it's like I planted magic beans - it's spun out of orbit a few times but... to be expected I guess.
It was a serious question - I spend a lot of time wondering about things and I've never quite been able to put my finger on why a site that I've been on since early 2008 has never (imho) really flourished - but finding basschat has given me something to compare it with. I don't want to name the other site as the owner and mods are doing a "pretty good (*)" job and are investing time and effort in it (and the owner/admin is forking out to keep the site up too). I drifted off it quite a few years ago and but came back to a couple of years ago but it's still got the similar problems (imho) that bothered me then even though it has changed in a some obvious respects - it is actually powered by the same software platform as basschat so it looks uncannily "similar" to basschat but the visual appearance and structural differences, I think, are important.
I went on a web traffic comparison site (https://www.similarweb.com/) to see if there really might be a difference in activity and you can see the difference is huge:-
Global rank ~135,000,
Arts & Entertainment/music rank ~1800
The site has been getting 370,000-300,000 page views per month over the last 6 months and of that traffic
About 60% are users that login directly to the site
and 40% get there via a search
and a fraction of a 1% gets there via social media.
The other site
Global rank ~1,300,000,
Arts & Entertainment/music rank ~16,000
The site either isn't hooked up to Google analytics to make any traffic data available or it's just very low but
About 25% are users that login directly to the site
and 67% get there via a search
and 5% get there via social media
But the question is - percentage of what figure!? I think basschat is way more active - just looking at the list of logged in users.
I think the internet dream is failing in some respects - the impersonal "firing shots in the dark" social media looms large over the world of special interest user forums these days. I worked as an electronics & software development engineer for most of my life and can remember being in a a group of engineers going up to a local uni to a lecture on the internet - the focus was on usenet groups, the Mosaic browser, Yahoo! (who maintained a page with an ever growing list of links to a other web pages) and Archie was a primitive search engine.
The differences between basschat and the other site as I see are -
Basschat has a far higher percentage of its users logging in or logged in to view pages - however you interpret all these figures it speaks volumes about engagement and the community aspect (well that's what I think) but I was interested in why.
I suppose it's obvious to say moderation style must be a factor - and I think it is and maybe it's the demographic in terms of age, geographical location and degree of focus - I think basschat is a lot narrower in its range of interest and aims than the other site so that I think helps draw together a more cohesive community anyway. The other site could, I think, divide itself in two - at least in terms of clearing up the user interface (which is an issue imho) for the two main groups of users (as I might want to see it - I think you have the amateur and the pro oriented musicians - there's an overlap but they often don't have the same concerns - gigging, contracts, production process and physical product issues, marketing, promotion, etc)
The other site is a .com not a .co.uk site and I think this makes a difference - a .com domain is likely to be higher up the list of search results for people in the US and elsewhere, i.e. outside the UK, for people looking for a musicians forum. The other site has a definite international feel to it which I don't think helps it - there is less cohesiveness as a consequence and time zones also interfere with real-time comms sometimes - but having said that, I have great contacts there in the US, Japan, Australia
The user interface isn't half as well organised as basschat - if I compare the main landing pages - basschat has a simple vertical list of forums with some (not too many) top level structure (The Local, Gear, Performance, Guitar Chat and some (a decent number of) sub forums under each (Under "The Local" Introduction, General Discussion, Off Topic...) - you can see a lot on that first page and it doesn't take much scrolling down to see pretty much everything on offer on the site. Just that top level structure putting "the community" aspect at the top is so right. This is a familiar structure that you see in a lot of open source forums phpBB, Simple Machines Forum, myBB - it's common, it's basic and it seems to work fine.
The other site has customised the interface using features in the wrong way imho - it doesn’t use a simple nested (main heading with subtopics underneath) vertical list - it uses several rows of "playing cards" - each card has an image on it symbolising the main forum heading and on the card, under the image, is a list of links to sub forums) - unfortunately, because of the real estate this uses up, this means you have to scroll down a lot to see everything and it's just not easy to pick out and read the sub forums. The ordering of the forums and the organisation of the sub forums is all over the place and is the main reason it's confusing to navigate around - I have put my point privately a couple of times about a year back but nothing really changes. Personally - I think these features - the playing card layout would work fine on a site selling clothes for instance so you’d have playing cards with symbolic images for shoes, bags, blouses, trousers, etc - anyway - basschat visually and organisationally just makes so much more sense - I wonder if there was ever much experimentation with the basschat site layout of whether they just went with what was probably the default, the vertical list and stuck with it.
(*) moderation. This must be the hardest thing to get right - just getting anyone to do it is hard enough let alone finding the right people. The mods on the other site are active in their own right on the site and spend a lot of time welcoming new signups and responding - and there always seem to be a lot of new sign ups but subsequent engagement is weirdly low. I've not encountered any real issues with the mods other than one mod ticking me off privately for "mentioning another site" a couple of times (this was about a year ago) - it felt like Chinese style democracy in action - I think it's ridiculous - the site mentioned is only active (hugely so) for about 2 months of the year and only overlaps with a very reduced set of interests covered by this other site.I got the impression so far that basschat isn't going to be so touchy about that kind of thing.
Basschat is more gear oriented - the other site is very weak in that respect unfortunately (and inexplicably), but it's stronger on the music creation side of things. Socially it's pretty inactive - at any one time you're lucky to find a handful of people logged in but the site must have many thousands of users - it's been around a long time. I think the international user base is partly to blame - time zone issues as well as differences in culture. Also the other site seems to be to be preoccupied with musicians leaning towards the professional rather than the amateur end of the spectrum - with two main groups of users coming from and heading in different directions the site is like a crossroads without any traffic lights - confusing for everyone - mainly the bedroom/kitchen/open mic level musicians like myself who don't harbour any unrealistic expectations.
Anyway - I'm going to pile my belongings into a shopping trolley and wheel everything round to basschat.