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The problem with boards - Nothing to See Here

Mar. 12th, 2006

07:11 pm - The problem with boards

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Web boards (web forums) certainly have their place. There are many cases where having a discussion forum connected with a site makes a heck of a lot of sense. There's communities and individuals who thrive in that medium.

That said, this post is kind of a rant about web forums.

A group of which I am a member is based on a Yahoo! Group. That is, a mailing list. There are, it seems, an ever-increasing proportion of people using Yahoo! Groups who think they are "boards". They really are not. They are primarily mailing lists (e-mail lists), with an associated set of services, one of which is the ability to read and post messages through the Yahoo! Groups web site. Messages are e-mails, however. Though some may elect to view them through the Yahoo! Groups web interface, each message is an e-mail to the list address. I've been using Yahoo! Groups (and have been a member and adminstrator of lists through it) since before it was Yahoo! Groups. In fact, before it was eGroups. In fact, back when it was ONElist (or was that the second name? I really don't remember any more). It has always been about mailing lists, and there has always, as far as I remember, been a way to see messages through a web UI.

... but I kind of ramble.

Getting back to the group which I am a member of: A while ago a web forum was created, separate from Yahoo! Groups, for the group. It is probably a better web UI, and it looks pretty, but it's not a mailing list. It sounded like it was an alternative place to hang out and chat. Now, it seems, the plan is to keep the Yahoo! Group on life support, so to speak, and to move the group almost entirely to the web forum.

I could say it's a really bad idea, and give as a reason the fact that I am pretty much going to end up being forced to drop out of the group if this happens, but I am just one person out of many, many group members, so ... that's not really a good reason. Besides, it tells you the consequences, without explaining why it is a bad idea. That's kind of a lame argument, so I'll try to explain what the difference between a web forum and a mailing list is for the group, and why a web forum is not the way to go.

Let's make a list (in no particular order):


# Web Forum E-mail List What this means to me...
1. Everybody sees the same information in the same way. You can make it all look and feel the way you think it should. While there are elements of UI design which are clearly good or clearly bad, not everybody thinks in the same way, so the ideal way of viewing information for one person is not the same as the ideal way of viewing information for another person. With an e-mail list, everybody access it in the manner which suits them best, even if that is a web UI. I like using my chosen mail clients more than I like using web forums.
2. The information can be organised better (e.g. each thread is in a topic, so you have a list of topics on the front page, rather than having to search through all the threads/messages). Some people like seeing all the messages, not just tracking certain topics. Most people have no problem doing this with their e-mail client. Most clients allow you to search your messages, and if you don't like the facilities of your client, you can switch to a different client. I find web forum UIs ungainly. It takes a LOT more effort to navigate a site and look through each topic for messages than to read new messages in my mail client. I use gmail and I also download all my mail using POP, and both allow me to follow and search my e-mail easily. Even if a web board is easy to use and well designed, you still have an additional UI to use. With mailing lists, there's no new UI to learn and become a power-user of. It's your mail client, which you presumably have learned to use independent of any particular group.
3. Web forums are pull. You have to go and ask to see if there's new messages. E-mail list are push. Messages are distributed to members. When a new message is sent to a list, it shows up in my e-mail inbox, so I see it as soon as possible. When a new message is posted to a web forum, I will never know unless I go and check the web site (which could be a week later, or never). The delay doesn't matter much for an on-line help forum for some software/hardware. It does matter for a social group with real-world gatherings and activities.
4. 1 window per forum/group. N windows for N groups. 1 window/application for N groups. I am a member of quite a few e-mail lists. I can keep track of them all in my e-mail client. In general, my e-mail client for mailing lists is gmail. That is 1 web browser window. I can deal with a 1 web browser window for e-mail and 1 web browser window for LiveJournal [which includes RSS feeds from other sites which I would otherwise never have the time to view] (just about, most of the time, sort of). I cannot deal with N web browser windows.
5. ... but web forums allow the messages to be threaded nicely! Decent mail clients allow messages to be threaded really nicely. Try gmail. It's free to everybody. I use gmail. Its threading makes life really easy. Its threading is much nicer, from my point of view, than anything I've seen on a web forum.
6. You can only post to the one forum. You can Cc multiple mailing lists in 1 e-mail message. This is especially useful for, for example, Bay Area Browncoat things which are of relevance to both Silicon Gulch Browncoats and SF Browncoats.


I know there were more points I wanted to make, and I feel like I could've made all these points clearer, but when it came to making this post, this is what I managed to list. If more comes to me, perhaps I will add to the list.

Basically, I could want to keep track of a web forum as much as I like, but I know for certain I will not do it.

I've tried. I have managed to keep track of a forum for ... up to a month or two, maybe? I've been really active on various boards for short periods, but it never lasts (I haven't even looked at DVDCouponPost in a couple of years). I just plain don't have time to be going out to check boards. If the information doesn't get sent to me, I will not see it. I knew this before I became involved with the group in question. Had it been a web board, I just wouldn't have bothered.

I've got to the point where I mostly manage to keep track of e-mail and LiveJournal, but even doing that is a struggle at times. I don't want to drop out of the group in question, but it seems unavoidable.

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Current Mood: blahblah

Comments:

[User Picture]
From:knaveofhearts
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:14 am (UTC)

I snub your rant...

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... because you fail to recognize the superiority of NNTP and Usenet over your pesky web forums.

I miss Usenet, back when it was useful.
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:17 am (UTC)

Re: I snub your rant...

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Uh.

I used Usenet back when it was useful. It shares (shared) more traits with e-mail than with web forums.

If you thought this was a pro-web-forum message, you didn't read very carefully. :/
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:23 am (UTC)

Re: I snub your rant...

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Also, this is about a present-day issue, and the last time Usenet was useful was almost a decade ago. I used Usenet really extensively 9/10-13 years ago. It is, however, not a practical modern-day answer.
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[User Picture]
From:knaveofhearts
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:26 am (UTC)

Re: I snub your rant...

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No, it was clear that this was a "mailing lists are superior to web forums" rant, I got that.

I disagree on the date you set for the death of Usenet. I was actively using it up until about two years ago, when it because too difficult to get a decent feed. I used it actively from 1990 until that point.

The only reason it's not practical is because nobody uses it anymore. It's not as if it's a buggy whip and web forums or mailing lists are cars.
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:36 am (UTC)

Re: I snub your rant...

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I imagine that different things caused it to appear dead for different people. In my case, it was when spam started to fill Usenet newsgroups, and there was no way to avoid it, that I stopped using it.
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[User Picture]
From:knaveofhearts
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:28 am (UTC)

Re: I snub your rant...

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Oh, and for what it's worth, a lot of what you like about mailing lists are what I dislike about them. Clogging my email box with mailing list content is why I am on as few mailing lists as I am. It's gotta be relevant or rare to make me bother, and most mailing lists are neither. Now, if they were newsgroups, I could go to them when I had time and effort. Oh well.
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)

Re: I snub your rant...

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That is easily solvable, however. You can filter messages from mailing lists either each into a separate mailbox or all into one catchall mailbox-that-isn't-your-inbox, so you can check then whenever it is convenient for you to do so.

Or if you prefer a web interface for that you could open a web mail account of some sort and gather them together into that.

Or, in the case of a Yahoo! Groups mailing list, you can view the messages through their web UI.

The difference is, you, the user, have lots of choices. You are in control, and you do not have to visit N different web sites if you do not wish to.
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[User Picture]
From:lexigeek
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:30 am (UTC)
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Don't assume that it's unavoidable ... if there is significant resistance to moving to a board (as there seems to already have been), I have a feeling there will be pressure to make sure that doesn't happen. The board was not *intended* to be a replacement, and hopefully it won't be.
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From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:34 am (UTC)
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I tried to make my post more of a rant about moving a mailing list to a web board than a rant about the board itself, but in doing the former it's hard to avoid the latter. By the looks of it, the board is a good web board. It just won't work for me.
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From:lexigeek
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:39 am (UTC)
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No, I wasn't trying to defend the board. I just don't want to see it become the death of the group. (Or even a point of division)
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:42 am (UTC)
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I know. :) I was just trying to say that I didn't want to come across as saying the original idea of the board was stupid.
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 04:42 am (UTC)
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(and I'm certainly not blaming you)
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[User Picture]
From:wizzu
Date:March 13th, 2006 05:13 am (UTC)
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I share your sentiments. There are many web forums where I would like to participate, but since I have to remember to go there, it just doesn't happen. There are periods when I'm active, but then for some reason or another I can't for awhile, and then this lack of visits gets prolonged.

On the other hand this could just be my lack of time in general, as I remember that happening with mailing lists too. Still, I find reading threaded emails is a lot faster than reading message board topics.

I wish someone would write the ultimate web-board-and-mailing-list software which would let subscribers view messages the way they want, either on the web or on the list (I suppose yahoo groups is like this, but it's a service, not software). The software could even allow NNTP as the view type. As far as I know, there are no unsolvable technical issues in creating software like this.
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[User Picture]
From:mavjop
Date:March 13th, 2006 07:06 am (UTC)
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An interesting idea. It's a pity neither of us has time to do it. :-)
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