I’m a newbie on this forum, but a frequent poster on a career-related forum and an infrequent poster on other hobby-related forums. In some instances, I have a deep and continued interest in the field (such as, related to my profession and, of course, to figure skating). In other instances, I have only a fleeting or sporadic interest in the field (for example, seeking recommendations for a one-time product purchase or product repair). Here are my thoughts.
(1) If the only motivation to cleanup the membership list is to freeup cutesy names such as “Spinner”, then I don’t think the effort is worthwhile. I mean, do people really care that they’re “Spinner123” instead of “Spinner”?
(2) On the other hand, if you need to reduce disc storage space, then cleanup is certainly warranted. It doesn’t appear you have reached that stage. Is that correct?
(3) To register, all you need is to create a unique username, provide a legit email address, and pass a spam test. That’s it. There is no vetting. On email systems such as gmail, anyone can create multiple accounts under different aliases and different logins. So registration does not serve to actually identify the user. So what does registration serve?
(4) Functionally, the main purpose of registration is to attach a unique username to a post. This is essential in exchanges when referring back to previous posts. Some blogs allow anonymous comments. Each post is then tagged simply by “Anon”. When you have multiple posts tagged by “Anon” (some of whom are the same poster, some of whom are different posters), the exchanges get confused real fast.
(5) So there is a need for registration and login for posting privileges. I don’t understand the rationale for registration and login for reading privileges ... given that there is no vetting during registration, what exactly does a “Members Only” section protect against?
(6) Some forums, including another one devoted to figure skating, allow a person to read only N (typically 3 – 6) posts without registering and logging in. This can be overwritten by closing the browser, clearing the cache, and re-accessing the site. But I’ve noticed these forums all run ads. My guess (strictly a guess) is trying to force all users to register is tied to ad revenues.
(7) So back to your question, Who cares what the member count is? If you are competing with other forums for ad revenues, there may be some selling point in having 100,000 vs 10,000 vs 1,000 members. Especially if you’re selling mailing lists. Otherwise, from a marketing perspective, you can track different IP addresses and duration of activity. But if this site has no commercial links, member counts are irrelevant. Does anyone care which skating forum has bragging rights to the largest number of members? If a forum serves a useful purpose to a sufficiently large number of people, there will be sufficient activity (whether posts or views) to justify its existence. Otherwise it will die on the vine.