Can we build better forum software?

Xenforo is a good reference, thanks for that, but I have some issues with it, mainly the GINORMOUS AVATAR SIGS. I’m thinking a bit more minimalistic.

Gawker’s “Pow Wow” project is attempting to attack this problem. I’m not familiar with the nuts and bolts algorithmically, but the idea is that they’ll be able to surface the most interesting comments automatically, with more or less no user interaction

I’ll take a look at that. I’m not sure “blog post” --> “comments” is an exact analog to the discussion forum format, but it’s in the ballpark.

But it’d be nice if there were a way to showcase the especially brilliant posts without losing the context of the thread above. Typically I check Qt3 by clicking the “Quick Links > Today’s Posts” link and then selecting the tiny little button next to the topics that look interesting. It’d be nice (for me, at least!) if there were a way for the forum software to give me some sort of generated digest, showing the most interesting posts, maybe Instapaper-style.

That’s definitely the problem I want to solve. It’s worth noting that there are different types of threads, and not all have the same problems.

“Thanks” buttons, on the other hand, make sense for certain types of forums. They allow people to click a button rather than making a content-free post just to say “wow thanks that worked”.

Conceptually “thanks” and “likes” are really the same thing. You’re going to “like” things that work for you, yes? It is crazy that Xenforo isn’t using that to affect sort order, or generate a best of highlight reel for the thread.

The user moderation problem was solved a decade ago by slashdot, where you just read at +2 and avoid all the cruft.

Yeah, that’s why there are so many discussion forums that emulate Slashdot. Er… no, there aren’t. Slashdot’s system is at best an oddity. It hasn’t contributed much if any DNA to the other systems out there.

Also you only really need user-moderation for communities that are very large, composed of non-vetted low quality posters, and not revenue-generating, where it’s effectively impossible to moderate via coordinated volunteers or paid forum mods. That primarily applies to MMO forums and sites like reddit that are really dozens of mini-communities and a popular frontpage.

IMO none of that is true, the crappy phpbb/vbulletin software lineage doesn’t surface user moderation in a way that makes sense (or AT ALL, actually), so it’s considered impossible instead of the norm. Software does shape the way users behave.

On the tech side, Qt3’s problems are that our host constrains disk I/O and that we’re running a version of the forum software that doesn’t work with innodb. Neither PHP nor mysql are problems, they scale way, way higher than we need.

I wasn’t referring to technical scaling issues, but

a) attracting the right kind of developers (eg the smart ones that know PHP/MySQL is an option, yes, but a poor one compared to today’s tools)

b) setting up a new source code lineage based on tomorrow’s standard, so we can break free of all these inherited phpbb/vbulletin diseases while retaining the parts that work.

You put squiggly lines through the like buttons? What is wrong with you.

I’m with you on the enormous avatars, but some sort of profile customization is nice. Maybe something like Facebook’s profile picture. It’s relatively small, uniform size, and easy for a user to change.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of 32x32 user icons for quick visual identification of who you are talking to, but that 128x128 stuff is absurd. Also, the identity of the user is NOT more important than the words they type into the textbox. For cultures where we read left to right, that user stuff needs to go on the bottom right, not be the first thing you see (and ginormous).

I also don’t think collaborative wiki-style editing, which is a crucial part of our Q&A design, is a good choice for a discussion forum. We can justify “anyone can edit what you write” when the goal is to generate these permanently useful creative commons Q&A artifacts, but that’s not really the goal for a discussion forum. It sometimes happens accidentally, yes, but it’s not the reason they exist, nor is it a justification for participation.

This forum isn’t about the single brilliant post which works on sites like Reddit - but the discussion, all of it, is the interesting bits. Deemphasizing that would hurt the site and remove the more casual discussion.

Did you read all 55 pages of this?

I did. And let me tell you, I want those hours – literally, hours – of my life back.

Anyway, the rest of the thread will always be there for completionists. I’m not proposing that we do away with a regular chronological view at all. But for uh, cough busy people who have, like, lives and kids and stuff, we need a way to get to the essence of the discussion in an epic thread (or just the useful bits) without devoting our lives to clicking “next page” – that’s what this is about. Give us the Reader’s Digest version, mang! The highlights reel! The BEST OF! THE GREATEST HITS!

Hell, the sad part of threads like that is that there are 20-30 posts that are freaking brilliant in there, but good luck excavating them out of the 55+ pages of cruft and diversions and bickering and thread-jacking to get to them. What I propose would save these posts from obscurity, that is the opposite of hurting the site and removing casual discussion.

Have all the casual discussion you want. It’s like Jay Leno with Doritos. We’ll make more.

I don’t even understand wanting to have any type of sorting for forum discussions. Forum threads are basically conversations, so listing posts in chronological order is all that really makes sense to me. You want software that allows for the sorting of completely subjective things like the worth of people’s posts, which just sounds complicated and weird.

Aesthetically, I think the Whiskey Media sites have attractive forum design. I like Screened.com’s color scheme the best.

Functionally, I’m not a big fan of rep, like or promotion systems on a forum. I think they’re most useful in cases where the noise/signal ratio is so high that I’m unlikely to want to participate in that community anyway.

I’ve also found tapatalk compatibility to be indispensable since I got my TouchPad. The Communities software on WebOS is one of my favorite ways to read the forums I follow. So, whether its actual tapatalk support, a tablet/mobile friendly design or a planned companion app (with WebOS support!), I think that’s pretty clutch.

The big thing for me about Xenforo is alerts - knowing when someone has quoted you is useful.

You could have 2 “viewing modes”; one which showed everything and one which just showed the most liked posts or those above a certain threshold or… something.

Would such software be forum software, or a layer that sits on other forum softwares? Or is that a non-distinction?

A word on Vanilla … it can be made to look exactly like other(well vBulletin-like ones) forum software. Just check the PennyArcade forums, they have moved recently to Vanilla and seem to have stop a bit of their load problems.

Probably because of recent changes to Youtube, I don’t understand why website software doesn’t allow the user to click and drag entire elements around, not to mention change any and all colors, and so on.

It occurs to me that maybe I’d like “Everything Else” at the top of the page, while other people might not. So why can’t I drag it up there so that only I see that as the first section?

So I guess I’m saying the perfoct forum software for me would be one that gives me as much control over how it appears to me as possible. Stuff like promoting ‘liked’ posts are alright but I’d get more value out of being able to sort out the forum to function the way I want.

Youtube is a good example. Having recommended for you videos, recently discussed, etc is all well and good, but if my homepage is arranged in a way that I can’t work with very well and there is no way for me to fix it then the other stuff is pointless.

edit: I know it can be done because I’ve downloaded scripts to change elements of Youtube around the way I want them. If users can write scripts for this, why doesn’t the site just include it by default?

You’re drawing a false correlation. Forums tend not to utilize user-moderation because they’re intended to promote the flow of conversations between users. The people responding are just as important as person who made the first post, unlike blog or slashdot/reddit-type comments.

Also, every johnny-come-lately “web 2.0” site with user-moderation drew its inspiration from slashdot, because they came up with the idea and did it first.

The big thing for me about Xenforo is alerts - knowing when someone has quoted you is useful.

That’s a great idea! Also the easy one-click obvious subscribe/unsubscribe, both at the post level and possibly at the subforum level as Tim indicated.

You want software that allows for the sorting of completely subjective things like the worth of people’s posts, which just sounds complicated and weird.

I don’t think it is “complicated and weird” to note that a post like “This45” is of less interest than an impassioned, insightful 10 paragraph post. Anyway, both views will be available, it’s not like we’ll do away with plain vanilla chronological mode entirely.

Forums tend not to utilize user-moderation because they’re intended to promote the flow of conversations between users

That’s ironic, considering that the flat chronological view is terrible for following back and forth discussions. Quoting makes it tolerable for a little bit, but the worst threads are 2 or 3 users constantly replying to each other. Forums are really about response diversity, not necessarily intense “conversations” between a couple users. That kind of stuff is more harmful than useful most of the time, and I would actually describe that as arguing the way I see it typically play out.

Note that none of the above should be construed as support for threaded layouts, which as Machfive noted here a long time ago, are like “droppings from satan’s ass.”

Here’s the penny arcade forum layout (vanilla based)

Whiskey media forums

http://www.screened.com/forums/

Also:

Ease of ignoring people is good on XenForo, much better than on Qt3, but I really wish that if you ignored someone, it would ignore their posts when assessing whether a thread has been bumped. So if someone I have on ignore posts in a thread, it doesn’t put it in the “Threads with New Posts” category or whatever.

Good idea! I wonder, too, if the more people that ignore someone, the quicker they get hellbanned, etc:

http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2011/06/suspension-ban-or-hellban.html

It would also be nice to have subscribed forums age out if you don’t interact with them after a while.

StackOverflow/Exchange is becoming quickly my #1 source of information. About as important to me now as Wikipedia, probably more.

You gains infinite internet points. And then more.

I love you, and everyone that has helped created these sites, specially the posters (both posting questions and answering).

So let’s brainstorm a bit: what should next-gen forum software look like? Let’s start with some shared research and due diligence on what’s already out there, first.

  1. What forum software do you think currently works best – and why? Provide specific URLs with some rationale behind your choice.
  1. What are the essential features of forum software? What do you use every day?

I can’t help here. I am a more a “change trought evolution” than “change from revolution” type of programmer. All Ideas that I can think are about how to make existing things better, not create new things.

Anyway heres my 2 cents… 3 cents:

If I remember correctly, software like phpBB popularized forums. I remember that with horror, with ABSOLUTE HORROR, because it was horrible software and popularized very bad ideas.

First: the need to register in a forum to post. This idea is terrible, and adds a energy barrier that make participating in random communities dificult.

So heres a patch: propose a method where anonymous people may participate in a forum, I will not say what methods will make this possible and at the same time stop it from being explotable by spammers. Probably some system where anonymous messages are hidden until get enough “votes” or similar.

Subforums / Forums / Taxonomy. Internet has proben that the idea of taxonomy is flawed, and folksonomy is superior. With forums, wen you are creating a forum, you have no idea what subforums create or not, and it pretty much depends how much people will contribute. Perhaps this is not a real problem, because sometimes you just copy existing configurations ( like Brokenforum copying (at first) the subforum division of QT3).

What you never see, is forums around people. Except perhaps Facebook walls, but that are lossy forums, and the information place there is “lost” in the stream. Why QT3 don’t have a “Teiman Subforum” where people can discuss with me, about me, and talk all day about me?

Are you really sure forum software is bad? I am happy with the current implementations, but maybe is me adapting me to the flaws of the software. We can’t know!. If you pick a non-internet dude and make him use a forum, he will try to apply real world limitations to the internet. Like these media players that look like a BoomBox that people used to install in the 90’s ( ex: Winamp ). We don’t know, and we can’t know how to know how a “naked forum” look, one that is just a forum, and has not weird restrictions applied on people, forcing people to adapt to the forum.

What if this way to communicate is soo well stablished now that people dont want to change? A forum is a “home on the internet” …

One of my favorite things about Broken Forum which was new to me was having alerts indicate when someone has quoted one of your threads.