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Really building communities?

May I tell you why I don't like to post on your forum, Joel?

Because of absense of threads. Because when I start reading some topic and find an interesting message, and want to reply on it, I discover, that there are already 50 postings beneath and the point of discussion was already shifted away from my interesting message.

If I post a reply, it will be put at the end of a page, but, because it will have no relation to the latest postings,  it will just be skipped by readers.

That's why I don't post here. I just don't want to spend my efforts for nothing.

And, before all, you must not forget a simple think:
It is not necessary a forum policy, its structure or its usabilty, that keeps visitors on a forum.

toader
Monday, March 03, 2003

If the point you want to discuss is interesting, why not start a new topic?

David Clayworth
Monday, March 03, 2003

Agreed. Lack of threading is a really poor choice. Actually, I think Google Groups - http://groups.google.com/ - gives the best of both worlds in its "View Thread" view. You get the fluidity of threadless conversation -- 10 posts/page. You also get the precision of threaded conversation, in that in the left-hand window you can see to whom a post is replying.

Akilesh Ayyar
Monday, March 03, 2003

Can you explain how the disadvantages of threads trade off with the advantages?

Google groups is well designed, but it's clear that it had to be compatible with the email newsgroup model.  I don't think it would be designed like that if their only goal was to create a new, healthy discussion forum.  The sidebar, while convenient, is unwieldy.  (I sometimes suspect it's buggy -- iirc Hennesy & Patterson notes that ~90% of the normal google search bugs are in their software, not in the OS or hardware.)

bbs'er
Monday, March 03, 2003

The main disadvantage of threading is that when it's implemented, it's usually done in such a way as to require users to go to a different page for every post. This is annoying and time-consuming. Another disadvantage to threading is that you may have to generate a separate post for each person to whom you which to reply.

The main advantage of threading is that you can follow the conversation far more easily. In a large topic, you may have your attention attracted to a particular post. You may want to see what replies to just that post said. How do you do it in a threadless discussion? You can't. You have to read dozens or hundreds of replies. Assume you're a newcomer to the discussion. How do you get into the discussion? A large threadless discussion is intimidating. A threaded discussion breaks things down, makes them much easier to digest.

Google groups gives you the seamlessness of threadless discussion with the precision of the threads. I think it would work well for a new discussion forum, too.

I agree that the sidebar can use some work. It can be buggy sometimes -- though I sometimes suspect this is due to simple missing and inconsistent posts more than the software. I also wish I could load more than 10 posts in at a time. Still, it works better now than the old Dejanews service, I think. A remarkably good job.

Akilesh Ayyar
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I've tried to read another topics on this point but I failed - as always - too many posts. You say in your article that the Reply button is placed at the bottom because you want the visitor to read all post before, in order not to post the same thing again.

Thanks, no! It is not my job - to keep your forum clean!

And another thing: your issue about the order of topics (based on firt post date) contradicts with your own statement in the UI article: What are the chances that the user model included the first postings' date?  It is something completely unrelated to me. I just don't care about it!

I liked your articles, Joel, because of fresh thinking and ideas. But I'm sorry to say I think now you just have a "star-decease" or however it is called ...

toader
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I also dislike the lack of threading here. Sometimes I like to respond to a discussion in general, often I want to react to a specific post and I think threads are the best way to do that.

As for usability, the design of the threads can make huge differences. With tabbed browsing even bad designs aren't so bad, but what I really like is the "Dynamic Threaded" mode on http://www.kuro5hin.org .  Posts in threads only show there headers until you click some arrow; then they are shown in full glory, right in the page. Really neat.

Roel Schroeven
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Doesn't it depend what kind of community?

At work we have meetings, kept strictly on topic (if we're lucky) with agenda items to form the entry point for each of these threads.  People's personalities aren't generally important here.

In the pub we have discussions.  They are free-flowing and only stay on any topic while it is of interest to the majority.  After that point it segues into something else.  Often that point arrives sooner rather than later.  Personality is a big factor here, as there are always some people who amuse and interest you, even if you disagree with much that they say.

If there is something you really wanted to say, but haven't said yet, it is surely better to keep it back until the topic can reasonably be raised again.  I don't know many people who like conversing with those who bang on about their own manias regardless of its relevance to the current context of the conversation.

I see this forum producing both the narrow discussions between a few people on precise technical issues, as well as bigger groups veering all over the place, and most things in between (including the occasional ding-dong between two people while the rest of us stand on the periphery, mostly listening).

That looks like real life to me, and that makes it more of a community than many.

It is the only one I come back to every time, and even in my own time.  It is the only one where I could put a name to some of my favourite interlocutors.  These, to me, are indicators of the existence of community.

Mathematical Dunce
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

You have to admit that Joel is right about one thing -- talking incessently about the design of the forum rather than the topic of the forum is BORING BORING BORING.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I prefer forums that have a tree structure. It can still be simple. The lack of a tree structure on this forum has always bothered me. I don't see any advantage to it. I agree with Joel that it's better to keep it simple and easy to use. But indented forums can be very easy to use.
As others have stated, I often want to reply to a specific post. If it is followed by other posts, the only way is to paste it. Also, as others stated, you really need 2 windows open to use the forum. Sometimes I want to reply to something but opening 2 windows and cutting and pasting is too much trouble.
A tree structure with indenting solves all the problems, and is not any harder to use than this flat structure.
I don't think talking about the forum is boring. We're here to talk about developing software after all. I'm glad Joel stopped deleting them at least for now.
Uh while I'm at it I had another comment about the communities article. Why did he say the "regulars" had nothing original to say? Which of us are the regulars and why would he insult the people who like his forum?
I'm not sure why I like it, by the way, aside from the simplicity. I think it's because we can talk about non-technical subjects also. I have found that very helpful. When I post a technical question, on the other hand, I don't usually get answers.

The Real PC
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Oh one more thing. I really hate complicated hard-to-use forums. They are slow and confusing and definitely not worth it. I strongly agree with that.

The Real PC
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

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