Yikes...this wasn't an article I expected to see coming:

http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=1923

(AppleInsider link, via Sandy...thanks.)

There are a few things that aren't clear from this article, but here's what it looks like.  Apple simply decided that they weren't getting enough return on investment to continue to pay their forum "hosts" or moderators.  Making an ROI argument for an online support community is tough--studies and experience show that by increasing online support, you don't actually get a reduction in call volume, so initially, the accounting sheets show that the online community spends aren't justified.  If we still have to pay for all of these tech support calls, why are we paying for a forum site?

The part that the accountants have a hard time understanding is that spending on online community is an investment in your future--it's an investment in the satisfaction of your customers.  If Apple customers were receiving quick answers to why their iPods weren't syncing with iTunes on the discussion boards, that makes them more satisfied overall with their iPods.  Most of the time those questions that are asked on the boards aren't showstoppers--they aren't something people will pick up the phone and call tech support about, but they are things that they are willing to take five minutes, write up the problem, and see if it's answered by the community.  More answers = Greater satisfaction, which eventually equates into repeat sales.  It's something your mom and pop hardware store has known for years, but for some reason, big companies like Apple (and some divisions here at Microsoft) have a hard time "getting it".  Maybe ole Gramps down at the store should teach a course for MBAs--how customers *expect* to be treated.

Anyways, as an Apple customer, I'm disappointed to see Apple vote "no confidence" in their boards by pulling the funding for their moderation.  I'll echo Josh's comments here:  if you worked on the Apple discussion boards and are looking for a new job where you can manage community moderators, say what you want on the boards, and make a huge impact with a great community, give Josh an email.