I "lurked" on this site for a couple of years before finally joining. I originally planned to be a member for only one year, primarily in order to read the backlog of articles. So far, each year I have decided to renew. However, unless things change, I probably will not renew this fall. While the old articles on technique (such as the various articles on coping with cold, wet conditions) were quite useful, I have seen very little of that nature recently. The State of the Market reports have been interesting and I've learned a lot of general information, but either the items in which I might be interested are not included (such as the ULA Ohm) or I'm just not in the market for such an item at the time. During the years I was "lurking" here, I found most of what I needed in the forum responses to articles!
Nearly all the knowledge of the new "cottage" vendors, new technology and weight-saving tricks I've learned here in the past few years have come through the forums, not through member-only content. I realize that it takes some time to evaluate new gear and to write up an article, but consistently the forums are more than a year, often several years, ahead of almost every article.
Like others, I wonder why Ryan is posting interesting material to his own website but not here. To me, the content of his own website indicates that he is no longer interested in BPL and is setting up his own separate business. I hope I'm wrong!
IMHO, with the antiquated software here, the forums themselves--admittedly the most useful part of this site--are so difficult to use that I can't see paying to support them. (I do support several other worthwhile--and far better organized--forums through donations approximately equal to the member dues here.) By the time I wade through "recent threads," skipping over all the "for sale" and chaff items (and inevitably missing something interesting wedged in the middle of ten "for sale" items), there's not a lot that I want to read compared with the time I have to spend finding it. In other words, I spend a lot of time for relatively little content. If I'm gone for as little as a weekend, there's absolutely no way I can ever catch up with what's going on here. In other words, in simple frustration I may end up leaving the forums as well as the paid membership.
What will keep me here as a paying member?
(1) A larger number and wider variety of articles each week, about techniques and trips as well as gear.
(2) An easily findable list of articles for beginners to which we can refer people just starting out, many of whom post on other forums with which I'm involved. This particular aspect, IMHO, should be free as a public service. They should be updated every few years. The old "Backpacking 101" is a prime example--in fact, just updating that article (10 years old now) would be sufficient. Having this public service base to which to refer beginners would bring in a lot more members here--consider it advertising!
(3) Inclusion on "SOTM" reports of at least the most popular gear items (back to the ULA Ohm again!).
(4) While we're at the Ohm, how about a bit more coordination on SOTM reports, so an extremely popular pack isn't omitted from the "frameless" category because that author considers it "framed," while the author of the "framed" SOTM considers it "frameless."
Forum improvements (for which our membership pays, since this site doesn't solicit donations or outside advertising):
(1) Better forum software with automated functions for links, bolding, quotes from other posts, etc.--in other words, the standard features common to other forums.
(2) A greatly improved search function. While no search function is perfect, this one could be a lot better. Since we have to use google all the time anyway, you might as well eliminate the current search function altogether and instead display how to search through google.
(3) The ability to modify the "recent posts" function to omit certain forums. (For me, this would be "For Sale," Chaff, MYOG.) This would really help us cope with the overwhelming volume of traffic on the forums. We of course should be able to change these easily, so if, for example, I want to buy a piece of used gear, I can check out that forum.
(4) A bit more moderation on these forums (maybe a few volunteer moderators?) to tone down some of the name-calling (there's a reason I don't read Chaff!) and keep the discussions more polite and on-topic.
Edited later to correct abbreviation confusion!