A public forum for discussing the design of software, from the user interface to the code architecture. Now closed.
In Joel's article about the design of the discussion forums ( http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BuildingCommunitieswithSo.html ) he talks about how the entire design of the forum software is to make it as close to real world conversation as possible. However, one issue was not addressed from what I can see. In the real world (of civilized conversation), when two people want to respond at the same time, one of them usually yields to the other. However, on the web, it is quite possible for two people to compose a reply at the same time. And on a really active forum, 10 of 15 could post compose replies and then post at different times, so you could end up with a reply that was for 15 posts back, but in this format the reader has no idea what happened. How is this addressed, or is it? How should it be addressed?
It is best when it is not be addressed by the site software and is left to responsible quoting of the posters. If your response refers to another response, quote only the poster's name and possibly a partial sentence. Older forums (like slashdot.org/) have hierarchical threading because what you are describing was deemed important in the past, but that old interface still leads users to rampant quoting of previous posts and it is out of hand. Those hierarchical over-quoted forums make for terrible reading, whereas the new blog and response format is great and produces a simple article page.
The improvement I would suggest is if the original poster was in a sightly different shaded background (or otherwise indicated) than the rest of the posters.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Further clarification. If you respond to another response, in the threaded system, your response is placed hierarchically under that previous response. This keeps your message associated with the one it refers to. But its bad for the reader. The other part of what you mentioned is synchronization of multiple people talking like in chat software it often tells you the other person is typing, so you know something is coming and you can wait for it. But for the most part, discussion software is more about forming complete coherent points, every posting should ideally have value on its own. That's better for the reader who doesn't care about piecing together the conversation exactly as it happened.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
How about this ... when you submit a reply the software automatically notifies you of any other replies posted between the time you viewed the original post and the time that you hit the "submit" button.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
That sounds like a useful feature. I read about something similar where it showed similar postings when someone was preparing to submit (to prevent people from asking a question that's already been answered).
Thursday, August 11, 2005
The dynamics of any forum community make building the software for it quite a challenge. I wonder pretty often what the best balance of features is.
This forum keeps quoting down, but when someone does quote it can be hard to spot. Without requiring a degree in "board code," I wonder if there's a good way to provide basic formatting for quotes.
The other problem is with topics that get a lot of responses. The forum software here suggests, "Just drop it and move on to something else." But even though real conversation doesn't concern itself with keeping track of topics discussed, the distributed nature of forums makes it difficult for each member to participate without doing just that. Therefore I think it's not enough for the software to merely tell you there's new posts; it needs to show which ones are new (or where the new ones start).
Incidentally, I don't think the threaded model for messages is doomed. It's true that the vast majority of threaded boards are a kludge, but it's not by the very nature of the format. I'm sure a good balance could be struck between the useful features of threads and the easy-readability of blog-style forums.
I suspect that the threaded model as used by usenet is still the best. It just seems bad because there are so many thousands of people posting. If the numbers were smaller it would be better. In a community the size of JOS it would work very well.
I don't think that the design of this board is better. There are problems when a lot of people post that the interesting information moves down the screen very quickly and becomes hard to find. It actually gets unmanageable far earlier than usenet. I think that the premise that you want to discourage people from replying to old topics is wrong (especially when "old" is measured in the number of more recent topics, not time.) The real objective is to allow the reader to only see what interests them - which many newsreader programs do well.
The main reason to use this or other web based forum software is that most customers know how to use the web but not usenet. Sure there are some web based usenet interfaces, but my experience is that they tend to be pretty bad. Possibly because anyone who really cares about usenet would use dedicated newsreader software.
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