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Critique of joel's "why complex forum software bad

I'dve closed the quotes, but the subject line was too short. What it *should* have been was "Critique of joel's /"why complex forum software is bad/" " (yes, those inside quotes are escaped).

I'd quote the appropriate section, but since quoting is bad, <shrug>

Joel mentions that you can't reserve a nick on irc. Now, i don't know the last time joel actually went to dalnet, or efnet, or any of the other networks that are still around, but of the 4 irc servers that i frequent (2 regularily, 2 infrequent), on *all* 4, i can reserve my nick with a password.

Joel also mentions that oldtimers tell youngsters to read the FAQ on usenet - and can't understand why this is wrong. If there is a frequent posting of the faq, it is pretty much always available as an article, and thus available to anyone that looks. I'm sure if you saw the same question posted in your forum over and over you'd post a faq (probably pointing them to your forum article :) ).

I think you also miss that the fact that if people don't like a forum, they will go away and it will wither. I don't see usenet withering - if it's so hard to understand and abide by the rules, why isn't it dead? If a webboard/usenet community is vibrant and alive, perhaps people actually *like* being able to quote, to thread, to see what posts are new.

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

Yeah, imagine how bad it would be if he had posted it, rather than just emailing.

It's obvious he's made his mind up, so anymore posts disagreeing with his approach are pointless.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

I can definitely vouch for the correctness of Joel's thesis that a community is shaped by the implementation details of its software.  I speak as someone who has re-implemented community features to look and feel *exactly* the same as existing software, to preserve a community's character.  And then I did it AGAIN.

The community in question is Electric Minds, now at , which started life on a WellEngaged conferencing platform.  When the community was acquired by Durand Communications, I worked as part of the team that rewrote our own software, CommunityWare, to work exactly like the software the community was accustomed to.  Then, when the company (since acquired by another one) closed down the system hosting Electric Minds, I wrote a new software package (the Venice Web Communities System, ) that functioned like CommunityWare did.  The idea in each case was to supply the same tools that community members and hosts were used to, and preserve the character of the discussions.

Surprisingly, many of our choices are the same as those Joel has made.  We use a linear conferencing model as well, with the "post box" at the bottom of the page.  Some things that Joel has as fixed choices, we have as optional.  Our conference hosts can delete posts and topics as needed, but in practice, they seldom need to do so.  (I like his "delete post for everybody except the poster, who still sees it" idea.  I may steal it.)  Venice can allow anonymous posters, but EMinds has chosen not to do so.

Excellent article, Joel.  Indeed, as someone who's believed in online community for a long time, I am definitely still plugging...

Eric J. Bowersox
Tuesday, March 04, 2003

How about this be the last commentary the discussion format?  And also the last commentary on Joel's commentary of the discussion thing?  Gads, talk about lame.

Nat Ersoz
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Westyx, I disagree with a couple of points you make,

1. It has been pointed out that you can reserve irc-names, but irc is a mess these days anyway. I've seen that your registered name expires if it sits unused for a period of time. Then you come back, and someone else may have reregistered it. I dont know if irc-names still expires, I havent been on irc in years. Also this registration service at least used to be vulnarable to net-splits, which means that the service that nagged you to change your nick could be offline for long period of times.

2. Usenet FAQs.
You often see repeated "newbie" questions here on JoS; and in my oppinion the people on this board are more friendly, pointing newbies in the right direction reposting links to old threads and such. On usenet you see a higher frequency of "RTFM",  "In 1991 newbies read FAQs" and "Lets moderate this discussion" - kindof answers to newbie questions. Reposting of the FAQ at all times breaks the rule of repetition being boring. I think this repostíng of the FAQ adds to the environment being more hostile. Regulars that have seen the FAQ for the umpteenth time gets bored, and take it out on newbies.

3. Threading.
Dont forget what Joel said about the intended audience for this board. It was his customers that would post for technical help. My parents could use this simple board. They would be lost on usenet, threading or not.

Have this horse not been beaten enough by now? :)

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Regarding the discussing of the forum here: I do think it would be boring as long as the discussion would stay on this forum and this forum only.
However, I think that discussing the general phillosophy of designing forums is interesting and suitable for this place.
Indeed, small design decisions affect a lot in the way a community behaves. And I have to agree with most of Joel's opinions, even though I don't second the ones about news and slashdot.
However, I think the size also has a huge effect on how a community behaves, and that has to be taken into account. For a relatively small comunity, you can go with very simple design and manual moderation, while for a huge one like slashdot, you do need something autommatic, if you are not to hire thousands of editors. Well.

ps. about scaring the users and making them attentive: in Sweden we have a way of paying bills by typing a VERY long number from the paper bill (10-16 digits) into a web form. First I thought that there would be a huge number of people entering it wrong, but I understood that it happens in much smaller scale than expected, due to the fact that people are very aware of the fact that it's very probable to write it wrong, and are cautios. It still sucks, but it seems to work.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Joel mentions that sending the thread to the user when new posts are made is bad because they don't need to return to the forum.

What about just notifying the user that someone new has posted to that thread?  Nothing more, no content just a short email with a link to the forum...

Jeff Lewis
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

An update with a link to the forum would still encourage people to dive in and read their post only. I found myself doing this on the rage3D forums when i was posting there about a problem i had. I made a point of staying and looking around and managed to answer a few people's issues myself, which is how you get "community" - but it was damn tempting to just get what i wanted and split.

Oh and if you had a link to just the forum you'd get endless streams of "Well we're already getting email to the forum how hard would it be to make it a link to my actual article...whine whine..."

Rob Moir
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Well one thing I disagree with is the fact that they don't have a policy about why they delete certain posts from the forum.

Sometimes it's obvious -- if you call Joel names or post a link to some porno, you're gonna get discarded, and rightfully so.

However, I've posted things before (e.g. a link to a Slashdot discussion that I thought was highly relevant) and seen them disappear. And I have no idea why (maybe personal animosity Joel has towards Slashdot after the readers flamed him before?), and this leads me to post less often than I would.

After all, why would I put the time and effort into contributing something thoughful if it can be removed without explanation and, as Joel himself admits, without my even knowing?

Joe Grossberg
Wednesday, March 05, 2003


This is their whole life. It is all they know about - internet forums. That's why they can not discuss anything other than their obsession.

What the world needs is a good forum for discussing forum design. It should be open source and GPL'd so all the forum design fans can eat their own dog food.

All posts sshould be displayed in ochre text with a lime green background. And posts sorted some other way than the last time one visited. And registration, or not - you decide. And smiley icons or not, selected from multiple sets called 'squibs'. Everything configurable, or 'everyhooconfigamatic'. That way forum fans could spend all day every day reconfiguring their forum ('squelking') and adding new features ('pertibunking').

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Firstly, to those who continue to reply that conversations regarding the design of the foum software are "boring boring boring" (ignoring the fact that the subject line usually clearly indicates the topic and hence can be easily avoided) _Joel_ broached this subject in his latest mailing. From a discussing Joel's article perspective that is THE topic right now. If it's so boring why did Joel make his virgin emailing specifically about it? Oh, right, the "boring" title only applies to perspectives or commentary that you disagree with. People often attempt to get the last word by giving their opinion, and then declaring the topic a dead topic not worth talking about, etc. It's a very weak debating technique.

Secondly, Joel's emailing, or rather the online variation of it as I hadn't subscribed, is not the be-all and end-all of discussion board wisdom: It is Joel's personal perspective on how online communities thrive. Personally while I agree with a lot that Joel has said, I found some of his points contradictory and illogical (ex. The lack of channel/nick ownership ruining IRC communities, yet in another paragraph the lack of forum ownership is a primary tenet of a great online community. Indeed, I would agree with the perspective of others who basically say that the Joel forums thrive DESPITE their design, not because of it. Drop a community site out in the middle of nowhere, with no real draw (the draw in this case is Joel's perspectives), and see how thriving of a community it gets.

Don't take this as overly negative: Personally I thought Joel made a lot of great points, however I dislike the connotation that it is some basic truths rather than simply an opinion, or the quenching of conversation that someone doesn't agree with.

Jimmy Chonga
Wednesday, March 05, 2003

You could say that this thread is could just as well say that this thread is exciting.
Whatever you say, it might be relevant to anyone's opinion.
Not that that matters, but it could.

The fact is that ever since mankind started to find it's way in the 4rd dimension we call the Internet, it never had any experience in how to use it's senses in that dimension.

in the factual fysical world, we naturally respond to our psychological 'blueprints', and form natural groups such as families, friends etc.
We use communication of various forms of which only 10% (and according to various very smart people even less) is verbal communication (simple speech).
The rest is non-verbal communication, eg. signalling, posture, tempo, expression, status, etc etc etc.

And then, 20 years or so ago, we started to use the Internet...which knows only written communication, which is in fact only speech, but without the tempo, without the posture and without all the aspects of non-verbal communication.

Now, we see that we try to put those non-verbal communication aspects into the internet. We tend to give ourselves an identity in the form of an Avatar, or a nickname.
This i-dentity then gains status, and 'respect', which we also see in the fysical world...but it also gaines privileges, such as judging other i-dentitities, and accessing 'private' parts of the internet.

Ok, to make my very long story a bit shorter; what I would like to say is this: we have thought many years of our psyche, at least since the old Greek philosophers we are thinking of such things, but only the last 2 decades we have got to know the internet as a new dimension to our psyche.

Not all boundaries and groundrules have been set yet, but we all experience that it actually _is_ changing, while we use's growing up, and we need to grow also.
We need to study the interaction of humans on the internet, how hierarchy works, which roles are defined, what groundrules are active 'by nature'.
We did the same 20.000 years or so ago when we started to live in static villages. We did this when religious changes occurred, and when populationchanges occured...
Every time the surface changes, we change....
and now the Internet is changing...

At least I think it's worth thinking about.

Friday, March 07, 2003

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