Stephen Jacob (mavjop) wrote,
Stephen Jacob

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The problem with boards

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.
Tags: argh
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