I prefer e-mail lists and netnews. Here's why.

J.B. Nicholson-Owens jbn at forestfield.org
Thu Sep 30 02:31:10 UTC 2004

list wrote:
> It seems that for this sort of heavy traffic, it would be better to have 
> a  forum that people could easily search, post, browse, etc. I get some 
> of my  best tech support on forums, and it seems like it would seriously 
> cut down  on redundant mail list questions.

I'm sure if you're talking about augmentation or replacement.  I guess I'll be
the lone voice of dissent in this thread; augmentation sounds fine but I differ
on replacement.

I doubt it would cut down on redundancy.  I have yet to see any forum in any
medium which accomplishes this.  FAQs in plain text strike me as the most
reasonable attempt of achieving this because it's easily replicated anywhere in
any medium, but ultimately I believe the problem is not technological.  There
are more people arriving to the group who are not being taught how things work
and that means multiple people asking the same questions.  I don't think a
change in the technology used to read the text is going to produce less redundancy.

As for the jist of the post regarding setting up a web forum, I don't care for
web forums.  Here are some of the reasons I don't find web forums as handy or
worthwhile as e-mail lists or netnews:

* Posts can be disallowed or edited with little to no opportunity for anyone to
have received a copy of what was said before.  This can be done either by
monitoring a queue of posts yet to be made available to others, or after the
fact by retro-moderation.  E-mail lists are typically handled so posts go out
the instant someone posts to them, so retro-moderation is ineffective.
Monitoring the queue could be done but isn't (not here or on any of the other
lists I subscribe to).

* Searching (via Google) can be accomplished with anything mirrored to the web.
  Google also has facilities for browsing netnews which offer some nice search
qualifiers, but nothing special for web forums.

* Web forums require yet another login and password (which, in turn, means yet
another cookie) for me to lose when I post from some other web browser or from
a computer I don't keep my cookie file on.

* I can't use the editor I prefer with web forums.  Any editing is prescribed
for me by the web browser (or, if I have Javascript enabled, by the forum
software).  I'm currently surveying graphical e-mail clients (I'm using
Thunderbird now, I'll try Evolution later), but lack of editor flexibility is a
real problem if I become a more frequent poster.

* Some web forums don't tell you when someone has followed up to your post so
it's hard to follow a conversation thread.  Marking interesting threads is also
unevenly possible.  In general, I'm restricted to whatever the author of the
web forum software decided would be appropriate, not what I deem worthwhile.

* I dislike moderation by one's peers on the web forum.  Slashdot's karma
system, for instance, often produces predictable results which tilt toward
posts I don't find funny, insightful, or interesting despite their being
moderated as such.  Insightful follow-ups and corrections go underrated and
moderation by sorting the posts by previous moderation (thus biasing what gets
modded further) is too easy.  Moderation can be completely ignored by me, so it
doesn't adversely affect my reading until interesting questions don't get
moderated up and (because so many read by sorting threads or posts by scores)
don't get answered.

* Forums typically offer a single point of failure: when the forum goes away
for whatever reason, so does all the wisdom posted there.  All sorts of links
pointing to posts there will go bad with no hope of pointing them somewhere
else equivalent.  By contrast, netnews is mirrored by design, e-mail storage is
up to each mailing list participant.

* Netnews and mailing lists are far more offline-friendly than web forums.
It's hard to participate in Slashdot offline, for example.  Mail-to-web
gateways are clumsy.

So if we're talking about a mailing list/netnews hierarchy/web forum that all
mirror to each other and allow participation via any of those points, I say
that sounds fine.  But if the idea is to switch to a web forum because it
ostensibly scales better, I disagree.

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