Forums vs Mailing Lists

Michael Shigorin mike at
Sat Dec 24 09:39:18 GMT 2005

On Fri, Dec 23, 2005 at 03:18:33PM -0700, Scott wrote:
> >Forums being quite ineffective, it's no surprise.
> How do you find forms ineffective?

By experience (my personal, of course; still lots of
high-traffic folks I know tell the same).

> I'm curious.  I find many of them quite useful.
> in particular is quite good.

I'm not talking about them being useless by definition,
but ineffective.  There's difference.

> Unlike some, I don't find fault with the forums attracting 10 X
> as many new users as do the Gentoo forums.  After all, Ubuntu
> is targeting new (to Linux) users, Gentoo is quite the
> opposite.  At least this is the perception,  anyway.

Well then it's Ubuntu's problem challenging the newbies and not
paying attention to their habits.  The "entrance barrier" is also
about accessibility to me, and also about having enough health,
time and patience to be able to communicate with folks you don't
know but who are presumably not valuing these, when there's a lot
to do for those whom you know and who do.

Sometimes after a deep dive into mail/news I realize that it
would be far more useful to go to kitchen and wash the dishes...

And.  Don't look at whom someone's *targeting* or what they are
*telling* (or planning).  It doesn't matter.  The result is what
matters, and I can only tell that Gentoo and Slackware are really
n00b-distros these days.  (I'd even go ahead and assert "lame")

It's not because they're particularly "friendly" or something.
It's because they're solving mostly non-technical but ego
problems -- "i'm 1337 coz i mastered gentoo".  At least that's
my conclusion on communicating (both online and offline) with
lots of Linux newcomers who decided on these distros.

Hm.  Windows 95 has clearly shown that buzz and whistles (plus
artifical problems that were not before) are more suitable path
to an awful lot of people than just not creating the problem in 
the first place.  So being l33t enough to handle portage might 
be making some more warm and fuzzy than being able to set system
up and running, doing useful service for people, and then not
touch it at least a couple of years (preferably also being able
to cron the update process).

AFAIK no ports-like system implementation architecturally allows
for that -- only the basesystems are branched.  Given free
software development turbulence level, this is a major obstacle
for supported production systems.

No, people are free to go crazy any way they like as a hobby 
but I tend to bash those who are pushing their gentoos as
"proffesional" for being PITA...

> >>It is because developers and some of the Ubuntu users are
> >>ignoring the forums that the quality is apparently low?
> >I'd conclude a few things on Gentoo community if they prefer
> >forums as the discussion medium... but folks tend to be
> >offended for a few years
> Offended by what?

By hearing "forum n00bs"-like sentencing.  Seeing quite a few
plunging from fanatically defending forums to telling "hm, you
were right" several years later (and usually a dozen or a few
resources followed more), I'm still thinking that it's more
benefit to a person to propose *him* (or her, or unknown) to 
fish at the river (that is, look for help where those able 
to help tend to lurk) and not come to sands and frustrate
about the fish's ignorance.

> >-- until they actually find out the scalability of forums vs
> >mail/news ;-)
> I find forums and mailing lists both have advantages and
> disadvantages. 


>  There are a lot of things you can do on a web forum, because
>  it's the web.  You could probably do most of these things on
>  mailing lists, but since mailing lists tend to frown on HTML,
>  it makes it difficult.

It's for a reason.  Basic HTML markup *is* _actually_ /available/ 
in plain text too; and when one is knowledgeable with both laying
out his thoughts *and* technical tools like HTML, it's quite easy 
to attach (or link to) HTML page describing the particulars.

> The forums have been a great source of information for me as
> well.  There are a lot of great howtos that have been posted
> there.  I've not seen such activity on mailing lists.

Maybe it's because there's no need in extra activity when
inhabitants actually are able to google up the archives and
documentation before asking for help?

> It's not the same as a howto on say a wiki, because users can
> follow-up to the howto in posts, which is rather nice.

We use the flavour of wiki that allows for page comments and file
attachments.  *At the same time* having quite powerful page ACLs
and thus letting the page owner and those whom he designates 
(usually registered users at large) to refine the content, and
those who don't (strange but true) dare to -- to help with it.

> BTW, what do you mean by "scalability"?

The traffic a given medium can handle.  Also depends on user-side
tools, following a forum with some advanced "secretary" broswer
plugin might be easier than following a maillist with a clumsy 
mail reader; although I have yet to see anything web-based that 
would allow to folow a several thousand message strong discussion
properly -- either pagination or huge and complex (or dumb and 
not structured) pages are performance killer.

You can't consult messages referred to or quoted at random if
they're not in closest neighborhood, without paying quite a time
to dig 'em out.  With proper mail/news client like mutt, gnus,
tin, slrn (GUI ones are not considered by me as proper for high
traffic on a moderate channel quantity, they're better suited to
handling diverse traffic from lots of sources -- but in smaller
number) -- you can just scroll up the thread, and the
quantization is one message, not ten or thousand.

Participating in large and heavily threaded discussions with mutt 
(to give an idea, both 9x15 and 6x13 1600x1200-sized terminals
would not reach the right margin of thread level markers :)
with an idea on what's happening _is_ practically possible.

> As far as news is concerned, that's what I really miss from
> "the old days".  Usenet is almost forgotten now.

Yeah, albeit gmane is quite a benefit to those who can't part
their beloved but completely thread-blind mail reader (or back 
it up with another account specifically for lists ;-) to still
get thread-enabled discussion.

> As online discussions go,  nothing beats Usenet.  I find it
> more manageable than mailing lists.  I realize the Ubuntu lists
> can be read via feeds to, but that's not the
> same thing as reading them from say, news.

Psycologically?  Ah, it's a matter of habit.  If you really care, 
you might propose to arrange that, pulling the newsgroups off
gmane and redistributing them from that host (also presumably
shepherding the changes with new lists being routed there and
maybe administering that inn [VPS]).

At ALT, nobody cared for "rolling our own" even if some core team
members having enough credentials to set things up would be gmane
fans.  Don't fix what ain't broken prevailed ;-)

> >Actually there *are* a few management things that are possible
> >with forums and are hard to impossible with "proper media"
> >(TM) but I can't recall exactly what it was (and it's not
> >generally available feature(s)).
> See above

No, no.  It wasn't *that* trivial.  Following up in mail and news
is easier followed up.

> >>anyone can join the lists.
> >It's harder than just dumping stuff into a forum, and a bit
> >"less intuitive" to the Pepsi generation than singing up onto
> >a forum.
> Uhh.. I'm of the "Pepsi Generation".  I think you're referring
> to the "@" generation. ;-)

No, I'm kind of too.  So it was figural :-)

> Most anyone who first got Internet access after the new
> millennium began knows nothing about mailing lists, or Usenet.
> Why? Because the media doesn't either.  All they talk about is
> "The Web".   Therefore "help/discussion" only = web.


> >There's one constructive bit on this: Mailman badly lacks
> >proper MLM features like single sign-on possibility.
> Single sign-on for an admin for for a user?

For user, of course.

> I do use a single-sign on for all the lists on
>  I recall having been able make global
> changes as well.

Hm, maybe they know something about mailman that most don't.
Or have patched it. :-)

We're slowly thinking of doing LDAP-based SSO for
projects, including web sites that could be hooked onto that
(TYPO3 allows for this) and also lists server.  Don't know 
if it's ever done though.

 ---- WBR, Michael Shigorin <mike at>
  ------ Linux.Kiev

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