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Joel's email article!

Ok, Slashdot like first post - monger flag OFF. :-)

I just received Joel's "Building Communities with Software".

I am not a fanboy and I look on everything anyone writes with the utmost critical eye.

Having said that - Joel has absolutely,  positively NAILED the dynamics of online discussion sites in this email.  I am in mind meld with Joel on each and every point he's made (don't suggest anything strange, okeh? :-) )


On his comments about board features - I tend to agree with his philosophy on "less is more". I've noticed that most full featured BBSs like the Ultimate BBS and Ezboard to name two, can be dog slow. Joel's forum is the fastest discussion site I've seen aside from the really simple Perl based "Matt's Script Archive" level free boards.


On his comments about the sense of 'neurotic ownership' (my words, not his) that occurs when some people feel wronged by a board administration, he is inutterably correct; as he is about the poisoning and distrust nature of posting rules prominently. In fact, I'd say that the WORST thing to do to a board is to be heavy handed about moderation and to quote rules and policies constantly.


I want to describe one chain of events that, in my mind, validates everything that Joel hints at that can go wrong with a public online forum. I think it's OK to describe because it was witnessed by a few dozen regulars and is part of the tribal lore of one currently thriving board.


A case history: the Realrates BBS, administered and owned by Janet Ruhl, the consulting author, that is hosted on Ezboard.

Last fall (Sept. 2002) she decided that a clique of old timers was dominating the board and that a clique within that clique was dominating a 'general discussion' area called the "Water Cooler" with h1b and right wing/left wing polemics.

He response was quite un-Joel like:

* She froze the most popular section of her site, the Water Cooler.
* She posted her right  of ownership, and her rights in general, constantly.
* She engaged in flame wars with anyone who contested the regime.
* She personally insulted several people by calling them freeloaders in open forum.
* She constantly quoted rules.
* She banned certain handles.
* She stated in forum that anyone that didn't like her board should leave.
* She started stating new nonsense meta-"ruhls" such as "real professionals should not be afraid to use their real name in this board and monikers are discouraged."

Everyone DID leave - within two weeks -  to a new Ezboard that one of the participants started - that has a stated moderation policy that is fairly Joel like.

Janet R. basically burnt a thriving online community of self employed techies to the ground because she was personally offended and felt that it was more important that her personal point be proven, than to protect the community that existed and which started in main part because of her reputation.


Today, her ezboard probably gets 1/5 the message traffic that it did before, and any "off topic" (conversational) postings are specifically not allowed. Janet will say things like "everything's great, this is according to plan", but the reality is that if you want to engage in a discussion with self employed  IT business people that have a wide range of experience, you have better chances at the spun off Open IT Board. The noobs that read her books but have been in business only a short time or not at all tend to be the participants in her board.


So I'd add one final point to Joel's wonderful online forum FAQ: If you as a participant are going to develop an emotional  'stake' in an online community, try to understand the board host's real agenda and their personal level of security with running a public board.

Bored Bystander
Monday, March 03, 2003

Boy, I feel for Janet. This happens so often (happened with Dave Winer, too) to board owners who started out as nice people, always because of a very tiny number of sociopaths and eventually it turns into a moderator war.

Joel Spolsky
Monday, March 03, 2003

I'd like to take this moment to try and establish my own immortality by quoting a rule I first stated about a year ago:

Philo's Third Law of Mailing Lists:
Trying to suppress perceived noise generates greater real noise.

IMHO, JoelOnSoftware conformed to this law this week.

Philo

Philip Janus
Monday, March 03, 2003

Joel, I guess what I'm saying is that you're handling it right by staying out of the fights and making the moderation look like slight-of-hand. Basically, you aren't giving anyone a solid reason to attack you or your policies. It may tick some people off that you won't "engage" them, but trust me, it's absolutely the wisest thing you could possibly do to stay semi-visible.


I don't feel a bit sorry for Janet. When you try to assert power over a group of people that *choose* to be there of their own free will, you are ultimately going to lose every time.

Bored Bystander
Monday, March 03, 2003

Philo,

Actually I think this weeks din has proved what Joel is saying - that trying to control the noise in an open way causes more noise.

It seems to me that a period is being allowed where people are being allowed to have these meta conversations.  In a few days time they will all silently disappear and everything will be back to normal.

We can all enjoy the board for what it is, with a little more appreciation into just how much hard work goes into making it so.

Thanks Joel.  I'll try to keep down that signal to noise ratio :)

Do sycophantic posts get deleted?

Ged Byrne
Monday, March 03, 2003

I also received it today - and much to my surprise, I also concur with the majority of the points in there.

I actually work for one of the largest forum software developers so I'm largely used to forums with many more features etc than this one. I was awaiting the article with interest, expecting to largely disagree with Joel's points on forum management, simply because this forum is so different to 99% of our customer's forums.

However, having read the article, I feel the opposite. The points in there are well-thought out and phrased, and the arguments are sound. I've always felt that less is more with regard to online forums in terms of features, but this has made the issue much more obvious and talked about many features - eg the email notification - that I would never have dreamed of removing. The way we handle it is that only the first x characters of the message appear in the email so people have to visit the site in order to read the whole message - but this still doesn't solve Joel's argument in that people need to check back regularly. I must admit that with email notification I probably wouldn't be reading here as often.

A good article Joel!

James Ussher-Smith
Monday, March 03, 2003

I think Joel's article was off on a number of points.

1.  Usenet is not annoying because of the prefixed ">"s. They show you exactly what's being responded to, and it's very easy to skip down to the text that lacks those ">"s if you just want the new info.

2. You can email someone with a reply to their post but NOT include the content of the reply in the email. This would solve the notification problem while giving an incentive for users to revisit the forum.

3. I think the list of topics IS sorted wrong; it should be by latest reply instead of by the date of the initial post. In my experience, this does not mean that certain topics always stay at the top. It does, however, give some topics a chance to really blossom. I think this easily outweighs the slightly greater difficulty this would pose in finding topics.

4. Seeing what posts you've already read is very valuable, especially in a threadless forum like this. If you have a thread with 30 responses, you want to skip right down to the one you haven't yet read -- not read all of them to find out where you were.

5. You may not want confirmations, but previews are invaluable. It's often easier to spot mistakes in a post when you see them as they will be seen instead of in an editor.

6. Quoting doesn't reduce the fluidity of the conversation. It increases it. It tells people what you are talking about! I hate reading a long thread in one of these threadless forums and then saying "which post is this guy responding to?" The alternative to the bulkiness of quoting is confusion and frustration.

Hrm. I wonder if this post will get moderated out as a post regarding the discussion board. If so I may never know it. Gahd.

Akilesh Ayyar
Monday, March 03, 2003

While I read the entire article and appreciated learning about Joel's board philosophy, what I really enjoyed most was the first two paragraphs about the "Work-TV-Sleep-Work-TV-Sleep" phenomenon. I'm heading to the library during lunch to pick up a copy of Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" ( and, no, this is not Robert's mother! )

Outsider
Monday, March 03, 2003

I really enjoyed this article.  Mostly because I participate in a rather large email list for developers who use a certain (not-to-be-named but commonly-used) piece of software.  In the last few years, this list has become quite a community of its own.  It has its ups and downs, productive and constructive posters, and detractors and rantors.  But overall, the sense of community is fairly strong.  I may post a link to this article on that list, if that's OK.

I've enjoyed your other articles on developement in general, but this one has hit home in a rather timely fashion.

Thanks!

Seth Galitzer
Monday, March 03, 2003

Joel has pretty much followed the KISS(Keep it Simple- Stupid) policy, thanks a lot for that. Oh! Nice Article Joel, hopefully we have seen the last of the I want this feature, yada, yada ...

Akilesh: If you did recieve the email, that should have explained everything.

Prakash S
Monday, March 03, 2003

Fascinating stuff. Seems to me like the net effect of a lot of the decisions Joel has made is to subtly force discussions on this board to be more like real-world (oral) conversations. In an oral conversation among friends or colleagues, you can't jump in without first listening to some of the dialog, don't get to branch, can't quote multiple points literally, don't get to walk away and get summoned back when someone replies to your comment, and so on. There's also no commenting on spelling (!) or, usually, grammar -- and meta-conversations (should we have this discussion according to Roberts Rules of Order? :-) are rare.

The more I think about this, the more profound an approach it seems to be. Human communities and conversational etiquette have had hundreds of thousands of years to develop into a form that virtually everyone intuitively understands. Perhaps that's part of the reason this approach seems so much more effective than the technology-centric alternatives we're all used to. It certainly raises interesting questions in my mind about how much of the quality of something (a discussion board, a software product) is attributable to the contributors themselves and how much is shaped by the "ecosystem" (for lack of a better word) in which they interact.

John C.
Monday, March 03, 2003

I'm a regular reader of Joel's mailing list, but I've never come to the forum before.  I was moved to because I wanted to comment on one bit of the latest (much of the rest of which I pretty much agreed with):

"If you eliminate the checkbox, people are left with no choice but to check back every once in a while."

This isn't actually true, of course.  The other choice that people have (and it's probably the choice that I'm going to exercise) is to enter their comment and then never check back at all, at least not after the first day, because it's too durn much trouble, and therefore to not join the community in any real sense.

Which may be fine.  If you want a community of people who (whatever other qualities they may also be selected for) have the time and the will to continually remember to check back to some web page, then this works fine.  If that isn't one of the selection criteria that you want to use, though, then not having that check box isn't all goodness.

I've been doing community-software sorts of things on and off since about 1982.  The ones that I've seen work the best all had a way to ask to get threads in email, or in an NNTP newsreader.  Most people (including me) seem to be willing and able to have only a very few places (the inbox and the newsreader, the inbox and their RSS reader, the inbox and their 3 favorite websites) that they monitor regularly for stuff.  Anything that requires a large number of people to add one more special monitoring place to their set tends to fail, in my experience.

(It wouldn't have to be a "send me email when someone replies to my posting" function, specifically; "send me email when something new is posted to this thread" would do the job.  Having an RSS feed per thread might also do the job, but only for people (unlike me) who regularly check an RSS reader.)

This would change of course if there was some service or program that most everyone knew about that could be set to watch a page and send appropriate email whenever it changed.  There are lots of things like that that exist, but (for whatever reason) they aren't (yet?) ubiquitous enough that your average passerby will automatically be able to (and think to) use one.

DC
site: http://www.davidchess.com/
blog: http://www.davidchess.com/words/log.html

David M. Chess
Monday, March 03, 2003

One minor error in the article:

[On IRC, you can't own your nickname and you can't own a channel -- once the last person leaves a room, anyone can take it over]

This is not the case on undernet where all of the above is untrue. I can own my nick and the X service controls who is in control and owns each channel.

Now I am not saying that IRC is the end all for a community. Actually it's far from it. But I like the free for all that it is and have met many friendly colleagues on IRC that I can talk shop with and have come to know personally. But IRC is old school and I am afraid it will eventually go the way of the dodo.

Ian Stallings
Monday, March 03, 2003

Akilesh, I'm going to have to disagree with a couple of your points...

You say that emailing notification, but leaving out the body of the reply would solve the problem.  I disagree.  Any sort of email notification means the person who posted does not have to check back to see if there is a response.  They just wait for the email, then go find their post and read the reply.

I have to admit that when I first came here, the lack of sorting by most recent post sort of annoyed me.  I have come to like the way it works though, for a few reasons.  In my experience, sorting by most recent post has a few negative results:  1) Certain threads never die.  Either it is a heated discussion, or something that changes over time, but eventually you get threads with several hundred posts.  Those threads are inevitably made up of only a few people, because nobody who has no prior stake in the thread is willing to wade through 300 posts to get to the most recent information.  If this thread is actually a gathering of information that would be useful, that information is just lost because of the need to wade through so much junk to get to it.  It is much better to just have new posts once in a while than to keep 500 post threads alive.  2) People revive old threads.  Either out of boredom or malice, someone inevitably revives a thread that is 6 months+ old, and before people realize that the thread is so old, they get back into the heat of the discussion about things that are no longer relevant.  3) Finding a particular thread that you want is nearly impossible.  You have to resort to a search, or carefully scanning every thread name, since yours could be anywhere.

I do agree that it would be nice if there were a better way to tell what you've already read.  However, that just isn't really possible without some sort of registration, which I have to agree is not desirable in this context.  About the only thing I can think of that would help would be to put the most recent post date in the thread listing

Quoting is not necessary to keep a fluid conversation.  All you have to do is make reference to the previous statements (as I've done in this post) instead of directly quoting the post in question.  Furthermore, it leads to more linear discussions.  If people don't have the ability to easily quote prior posts, it seems that the discussion has much less branching.  Reading a thread where people are quoting and responding to random posts in the thread can get quite difficult, since there is no flow to the conversation (in fact there are several conversations taking place, and the quoting is there to distinguish between them).  The only problem I have with this really is that if I have a number of points I want to respond to (as in this post), I have to open the reply in a new window so I can look back at the original posts and make sure I haven't missed any points I wanted to make.

Mike McNertney
Monday, March 03, 2003

David, your point about the lack of email notification discouraging people from participating is a good one, but there are two points I'd like to make.

First, that doesn't really apply to the case that Joel was talking about.  Namely, if you come to the board and ask a question (rather than just posting a comment), you will almost certainly check back for the answer, and maybe see other threads that interest you at the same time.

Second, if we are talking about "community building," it doesn't seem like someone is really part of the community if they only come out once in a while to post something, and then sit back waiting for the email replies to roll in.  If that person is not at least reading the discussions on the board with some regularity, are they really part of the community?  Replying to posts on the board is not really that time sensitive.  If you check once a day, read a few threads, maybe post a few responses, in my opinion you are much more a part of that community than someone who only checks once in a while, but then participates heavily in a single discussion because they are able to get email notification about their thread.

Mike McNertney
Monday, March 03, 2003

Another vote in strong favor of the design decision to not automate quoting. In my opinion, quoting on discussion boards should be as difficult as possible, so that the users have to do the quoting themselves.


I subscribe to a few Yahoo email lists. I find it unbelieveable how many megabytes of crap is reposted, hundreds of lines of multiply nested >>,  because someone quotes in their reply and is too lazy and clueless to do anything to edit or clean up the quoted material. Really irritating to plow through 250+ lines of cookie cutter to read two lines of new content.

Bored Bystander
Monday, March 03, 2003

re email notification: cliesource (and I think the-gadgeteer, another vbbs site) use the "email tells you to check the thread" mode.  I find it very useful, simply because I'm *not* going to go back and read old threads as a contributor unless there's some hint that something I responded to has generated more discussion; life's to short to reread such things.  But sites like that are, after all, *technical* forums, not intentionally social ones.

As for quoting-as-disease: do people really use such archaic readers these days that don't collapse the quotes, or typographically "unhighlight" them, so the eye can easily skip to the real content, and yet have the reference available in case the response *is* confusing without context?  If true, I'm amazed that usenet hasn't faded entirely.

As for the fuckedcompany.com example, it clearly gets used/abused politically, the vitriol is the *least* of the problem, the false (often maliciously so) information is much more of a menace, or would be if anyone paid attention to it (which seems to happen far less than when they got started.)

One of the reasons I keep up with these discussions is that one day I hope to understand how Joel comes up with such insightful commentary, while basing it on examples that are, mmm, "inconsistent with my experience"...

Mark Eichin
Monday, March 03, 2003

One of the discussion boards  I frequent has a feature called "ego-search" (perfect name, btw). It returns a list a threads that you have posted to.  I like the feature because it gets you back to the board and lets you filter the discussions to the ones you are already participating in. I even have a bookmark to the ego-search page because sometimes I just want to see if anybody has responded to my questions or if my answers or comments have helped anyone else. I wonder what Joel thinks about that feature?

John CJ
Monday, March 03, 2003

I would like to have seen an answer to the question as to why there isn't a searchable archive. The present search doesn't seem to work very well. It's annoying.

John Topley
Monday, March 03, 2003

I expect that an "ego search" would encourage users to look only at the threads they're participating in.  There would be less of an incentive to read the main list of topics, thus fragmenting the community.

Would it be the community's death knell?  No.  Would it have significant negative effects?  I think so.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, March 03, 2003

For me  personally, the ego-search feature doesn't lead to me only looking at the threads  I'm participating in.  If you only go to the ego-search page, eventually the threads die. I see it as a convenience when I'm trying to follow several threads out of hundreds.

John CJ
Monday, March 03, 2003

Ego Search. That's a pretty good jumping off point for my reaction to this article. Yes, I agree with Joel on a lot of the points he makes in this e-mail. But I have a hard time understanding why he would make such a big fuss over it, knowing that it wil generate this kind of a discussion--it seems that all he's doing is tooting his own horn.

I'm quite sure it would be rather easy to find a community that is more sharply focussed on forum designers and bat these ideas about there. So why has he instead chosen to post it only to people who choose to pay attention to him?

And while we're at it, why post it to the site iwhen he spent so much energy saying he wouldn't? Has anyone bothered to look at the differences between the e-mailed version and the "sanitzed" version he posted here?

I don't have a huge point to make, and I haven't put too much thought into this, but I do feel like the biggest thing I took away from this article was a sense of Joel's ego.

JDW

JDW
Monday, March 03, 2003

I know Joel may think this particular post I'm about to make is boring and useless since it's discussing the message board itself, but here goes anyhow since I think it provides an inkling of thought provoking ideas in regards to building successful communities.

I thought that Joel's forum article made sense when I read through it on the first go around.  And it seems that everything there is a good idea, but then ....

.... I thought about other community message boards.  In particular, vBulletin and phpBB.  The former is commercial and costs around $160 I think, and the latter is open-source.  Both message board forum software have tons of features and are the direct opposite of the requirements in Joel's forum e-mail that less is more, yet they are still very popular with the website community.

Anyhow, it seems that simplicity isn't necessarily always better.  Users will always want more features, and as long as the value of the feature offered is greater than the trouble and pain to utilize the feature then the feature will be considered a win situation in the eyes of the user.

As long as you have great content like that on Joel on Software, great people will usually come and stay in the community.  When you have crappy content like just links to interesting news items that isn't the product of the website (ahem, cough, ... Strashdot), then crappy people will usually come and stay.

Simplified:

Superb content == Superb community

HeyMacarana
Monday, March 03, 2003

Wow, great article indeed.

I never noticed (of course!) that posts were being deleted, and I have that nice feeling that most conversations here are very interesting (although I seldom take part on any)... Who knew Joel was picking up the trash...

And that little secret on the coloring of the links for visited/updated discussions is something very subtle, which I'll use in my own developments :-)

Napoleon Hill :)
Monday, March 03, 2003

Apart from trying to avoid 'me too', whilst at the same time generally agreeing I was thinking of this in relation to real time communities, chat, talkers (see, I'm old), rather than post and read.

Most of the chat communities either drown in noise or are moderated so hard as to be constipated.  There was an exception, The Garden (a successor lives on talker.com) and the exception became known for being elitist, hard on newcomers and (idiosyncratically) pedantic about using english rather than as many combinations of numbers and reduction of vowels as possible.

And I liked it cos I was in, one of the circle, I'd paid my dues.  I stopped mostly because it occupied too much time.

From the inside it was a true third place, from the outside it was as intimidating as the Bloomsbury set, or the regulars in Cheers would have been had they been real.

One of its other identifying features was the way the moderation (wizzing) was done.  It sometimes seemed arbitrary, it was always decisive and occasionally cruel.  If the slightest twitch of trollish behaviour happened then they were probably banned, or quietly desocialised.

Desocialising was probably my favourite tool, you could stop everyone from listening to the troll, but the troll saw no difference.  Careful readers will recognise what reminded me of it today.

Communities tend to do that, they harden in form and become unwilling to change.  The participants also begin to believe that they have some stake, some ownership in the community and its where the conflicts arise between the owner of the space and those that use it.

The nature of those conflicts differ depending upon whether the owner of the space behaves like the barkeep or the guy that pays the tab.

Simon Lucy
Monday, March 03, 2003

Are vBulletin and phpBB popular because they work, or popular because they're (relatively) easy to install and thus get implemented everywhere?

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, March 03, 2003

Nice article for sure, but I think there is a bit of a problem attributing too much of the success of this board to the structure. People come here because there are some very good articles posted on a regular basis on the site. You could use win3.1 hotdog stand and this would still be a great board I'm sure. The other way too, if the article flow ceases, eventually that would be the end of the board too -regardless of the parlour tricks used to make people post and return. It doesn't say anything good or bad about the board, just I don't think much has been measured.

People who find oil on their ranch have to be careful not to directly attribute their wealth to wisdom. You see this pattern a lot - if failure corrects your mistakes, success can validate them if you aren't careful.

Actually there are a few things I find quite frustrating with the board, but who cares - I don't come for the board UI. Its like sitting in a popular Paris street cafe in summer, with good friends all around, on old chairs that rock a bit. To worry about the chair is to miss the point, but if the owner says, 'look at all the customers - boy, did I pick the right chairs!' Well yeah maybe, and the right city too...

Robin Debreuil
Monday, March 03, 2003

"Are vBulletin and phpBB popular because they work, or popular because they're (relatively) easy to install and thus get implemented everywhere?"

I think their popularity is due to the amount of features available, but these features would have never came about without the "mods" community where people add their own hacks and changes to it to make it perform a specific way or function.  If those message boards were hard to extend or modify, they would've probably died.  I think most people (especially techies) like to tinker with stuff, see how it works, break it apart, and then add some new and cool modification ("mod") to it. 

Through the support of the development community they were then able to reach the other types of users who didn't really know much about which message board is the best.  However, they probably reasoned that if the techies are using vBulletin and phpBB then it must be pretty good.

An interesting story about how vBulletin started... a couple of visitors to a Visual Basic (yech :) site became moderators due to their participation.  The message board they were using was written in VBScript or PERL I think, and was outgrowing them.  It was more difficult for the forum moderators to implement new changes to the board to suit their needs.  As a result, they then switched over to PHP, released the source for free for a year or two, and everything just started to grow from the grassroots from there.  I doubt that they probably spent a dime on marketing in the beginning and their intentions weren't even to make a profit.  Kind of reminds me of how Google got started.  They were trying to build the PageRank algorithm and ended up with a great search engine due to the need to build one to support PageRank.  There were no commerical initial intentions in both cases.

From this it seems that for some products it's a good idea to get backing from the techies and developer community to justify your product and your existence.  Then as the product adaptation life cycle moves from the early adopters you can then reach the ones who are waiting for validation from the techies or early adopters.  This stuff matches right up with the stuff from the "Crossing the Chasm" guy (I can't remember his name right now.) and is a great way to introduce a certain technology into the marketplace.

HeyMacarana
Monday, March 03, 2003

Regarding being so simple, it is hard not to post: This is my first ever post to joelonsoftware even though I have been reading Joel's front page rants and raves for over a year. 

A lack of conceptually understanding of the forums has prevented me from posting. Most of the times I wandered into a conversation.  I didn't know how I got there (normally a link from a front-page article) or how to return.  Just today, I made the mental connection of the "Discuss: Joel On Software" on the home page with the "Recent Topics" for the current forum.  Additionally, these conversations are unlike any other model on the Internet (threaded or otherwise), I didn't even realize it was an active conversation.  So even though it is simple to post, many people may not because they don't fully understand the conceptual model regarding the conversation. 

Regarding the color of links when there are new posts: I managed to break it.  I bookmarked the page with the discussion and returned later.  When I returned to the list of all discussions, it showed it as unread.

Regarding the email checkbox: The article did cause me to research my browser a little.  I discovered that in Mozilla I could request that a bookmarked page be monitored and have the browser notify me when the page changed.  So, even without the "email checkbox" I'll stay up-to-date on all the new contributions to this conversation. 

Jonathan Hager
Monday, March 03, 2003

As a coincidence, yesterday I was researching ways to get people to post to the forums on my company's website.

The conclusions I gained from my own research (which included Joel's article) are as follows:
- The software you choose to run the forum is important as it governs how people use the forum.
- Forums can't run themselves.
- 'If you build it they will come' only applies to baseball diamonds built in cornfields, stand out the front and spruik like you see the butchers doing at Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia.
- Don't be too heavy handed in moderating the forum.
- If you are desperate for more users you can pretend to be a user and answer your own questions, the only problem is
that some people will see through this and you will lose the respect of your customers (as Microsoft found out.)
- It is OK to have the occasional off-topic conversation in the forum (within reason) if it encourages more people to particpate in your forum.
- Post interesting articles/links related to the topic for people to talk about on the forum.

Thanks.

Tim
Monday, March 03, 2003

Other comments:

-I found it interesting that on one hand, Joel's saying that a problem with IRC is that you can't reserve screen names, but on the other hand - not being able to reserve screen names is a complaint commonly heard in this forum. 

-Regarding disappearing/reappearing posts - I have had this happen.  Joel brushes it off with an explanation that stuff is stored in cookies (which I incidentally have turned off by default) so that when posts get deleted, the poster doesn't get upset.  Trouble is, the posts that disappear and reappear for me are often ones that I haven't contributed to at all.

Furthermore, I was very discouraged by the high number of posts that disappeared.  Since I was unsure why many of the posts that disappeared were deleted, I simply didn't post.  I am someone who prefers to be told up front what the expectations are instead of having to guess at what variation of "netiquette" is generally accepted at this board.  This may be a difference of culture - I don't know.  But I'm vaguely insulted by Joel's insinuation that there is no need for him to post his expectations because you're either "born with the part of the brain" that lets you know what is appropriate to post or you are in "the
other .01%" that doesn't "care about the rules".  I put myself in a third camp: the one that can't read minds.  I should add that I've yet to have a post deleted (I'm pretty confident in saying that since I don't use cookies and access the site from multiple locations), but I still VERY much appreciate knowing the moderation guidelines.

I also find the number of people saying they never noticed posts disappearing somewhat amusing. Anyone else believe this is likely because they probably didn't read through all of the posts in the first place, and definitely didn't read them the second time they visited that thread?  As someone who actually reads the posts every time, I find it disconcerting when posts disappear because often the conversation gets disjointed (a post gets deleted, but a reply to the post does not).  It might just be me, but if the users are skipping over most of previous posts (particularly if it's a second visit) - then by making it difficult to comment (forcing a scroll to the bottom) the net effect is to annoy the users while not actually increasing the number of people who read first.

-Regarding organization of posts so that old topics die.  I agree with Joel that it's easier to find threads if they remain in the same order relative to each other.  But my observation is that old threads may die, but the topics keep coming back again, and again, and again, and again....  A better search might help here, but if I were Joel, I would also experiment with active topics that stay on the main list (maybe bias for age).  I'd also be inclined to do some moderator-based threading (perhaps place continuous threads under another older thread, which then appears near the bottom of the thread list).  This would discourage flogging of dead horses, reduce clutter from the same topic being posted about under a million different headings, but still allow some discussion.

-Regarding using the browser's built in features to make links "unread".  This really doesn't work if you access JoS from more than one location. A last accessed date would really be helpful here, and adding this often requested feature would not be difficult or time consuming.

Bah humbug
Monday, March 03, 2003

Yeah, what is it with people not wanting to do easy quick things that I want them to do? For example, it also wouldn't be difficult or time consuming if you'd come on over and clean my garage this weekend.

Wise Monkey
Monday, March 03, 2003

I am glad that, in the end, the email article is posted on the website.  I hope it will survive for eternity, because it is as interesting a discussion of user interface design etc as many of the 'proper' articles on JoS.

In hindsight it really really feels like Joel really just wanted to boost the mailing list subscription ;-)

nice
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Okay, I know I'm a spoiled brat, but I'm going to whine anyway.

Sorry, Joel:  This one didn't meet the standard that I've come to expect for about two years now.  Not as much polish overall--reminds me of any number of op-ed pieces I had to confect out of thin air (last-minute) during a past life as a writer.

Content-wise, there seemed (IMHO) to be less takeaway for anyone who may have a different target ethos in mind for an online community.  In the JoS universe, I understand the reason for doing X thing because it supports Y goal--but how can I extrapolate the tradeoff/flip-side that might make X the wrong choice for goal Z in another universe?

And you made me subscribe (and--shudder--open my Yahoo! Inbox) for this!  Eeek!!!  ;-)

But, as I said, I've been following JoS for two years and counting.  Good show--it's been the single most helpful website in my current life as a programmer.  Thanks much, Joel!

cubiclegrrl
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

On ommitting the "preview" screen in posts to your discussion board Joel:

Many people have gotten used to them, including myself. Preview screens are used everywhere, from e-greeting sites to online discussion forums. I use them to proof read and correct spelling mistakes I make. I also like to see how my post would look like outside of the input box.

For most of the people no preview screen is a minus.

If you add the screen, people who are used to using it will benefit from it, and people who just click-through it won't even notice it, so everyone wins.

Other than that, pretty amazing thinking as usual...

Nenad Andjelic
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

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