For myself, this website has been a great resource, even before Ryan set it up to host forums, and it continues to be a "special" place to learn a great deal about gear, skills, places, and people related to lightweight backpacking.
I don't recall which came along first after I discovered and started following BPL in its early years -- adding the forums or requiring membership for access to some areas -- but I do know for certain that, for me, the BPL website with or without forums has been worth the cost of paying for a subscription.
The forums have added value to the website, but they have also brought headaches, even more so lately with the spam.
Hope Ryan keeps BPL's website around a long time, with forums limited or otherwise, or even without forums. It's a truly great and unique resource.
(edited in the interest of brevity)