Topic: Forum Thoughts

Folks,

Folks, I want to know. What annoys you about forums. If you we're in charge of IPB or vBulletin, what would you change.
Im thinking in the way of features, and structure etc.

Does the way many forums are layed out work? Are there two many features, stopping you from posting easily? Do stats wreck a forum, should it be about quality not quantity?

Theres a few for you to have a think about, but basically just tell me what really annoys you about IPB, vBulletin, Probards, Invisionfree etc.

Cheers

Re: Forum Thoughts

I just think the general management of information leaves something to be desired.  There could b e a lot more effort put into getting the information users want, in front of there face without them having to think very much.

Re: Forum Thoughts

I suspect I'll end up with a slightly rambling response, but please bear with me...

Forums are my favorite on-line community tool.  Its normally harder for things to get "lost" in a forum than in either email or IRC and its a wider audience than standard IM style networks.  Unlike a wiki, forums allow for an explicit conversation rather than the hidden conversation via edits.

However that said, there are places where I feel forums could be improved, however, most of the issues come down to effective moderations and admin more than the underlying software.

Features that are very important, and already tend to exists -- quick post/response, find-all-unanswered posts, subscribe to a thread.  These three combined allow for "helpers" to stay connected -- they can quickly find the posts that no one else has helped with yet, give a answer/suggestion easily, and then stay plugged in to assist with further refinement.

A current feature that can probably be improved via some tagging method, is the breakup of the forum into subforums.  Most forums, this one included, have a number of categories that the admin/moderators have decided partition the set of likely topics.  These are often rather arbitrary and often cause no small amount of flamewars over the life of a forum -- many programming forums have "beginner", "intermediate", or "advanced".  Often the beginners forum languors unanswered as people get tired of answering the same old question every 5 minutes, and then the entire membership starts to rot as fewer people "graduate" into the non-beginner area.  Forums that keep a unified main forum, tend to have a more vibrant community, but harder questions often get lost instead.  Some sites have the more advanced topics have seperate names, without calling themselves advanced -- "TDD", "Theory and Design", etc.  This seems to work well and people don't seem to disregard the main subforum....  However, perhaps some tagging based system that lets the user set up their own arbitrary subforums and sort things appropriately could be nice.

Finally an integration with a wiki of sorts could be nice -- a lot of programming forums end up with a horrible number of stickies.  Forum rules, links to good resources, debugging hints, how to ask a question, cheat sheets, ....  the list goes on and one and in many cases the content in these stickies would probably be better served by a wiki style page maintained by the admins/moderators without comments, etc.

Anyways I guess that covers enough for now

My RoR journey  -- thoughts on learning RoR and lessons learned in applying TDD and agile practices.

Re: Forum Thoughts

Thanks, some really great stuff there, keep them coming! (unless you agree) I like the idea of a integrated wiki, I wonder how that could work?

Re: Forum Thoughts

NielsenE wrote:

However, perhaps some tagging based system that lets the user set up their own arbitrary subforums and sort things appropriately could be nice.

That's really interesting, but I'd rather it was implemented in a combination.   I'd personally never use a forum if I went to it and all I saw as a tag cloud, or some other list of tags.  The current forum architecture (predefined by the admins) works pretty well, in my opinion, and it would be VERY hard to mark new posts with a tag system, I think.

But here's how I'd take your idea and implement it:

Add a del.icio.us-style bookmarking tool to the forum.   Users can tag threads and posts, which are then organized via their tags in the user control panel.  They can search for tagged posts by tag, or view a tag cloud of their posts.

In addition there would be a public page that aggregates everyones tags, maybe shows the most recently tagged and most popular threads and posts (i.e., presumably the most important), etc.

That would be an AWESOME system, that would really be the best of both worlds, in my opinion.

I have also grown rather fond of SitePoint.com's forum main page which shows me the forum tree, my recently subscribed posts, and featured threads.  The problem, is that the featured threads are chosen by the moderators.  It would be GREAT to have a digg-like voting system for threads that influences how threads appear on the main page as "featured".

This could actually be combined with the above idea--so that user page with the tag cloud,  also included the digg-style voting for the featured threads. smile

But with all that, I would also HATE to get rid of the traditional forum index that I am used to--and I also think it's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" -- but improving it, of course, while maintaining the integrity of current system, would rock.

(Sorry if that was rambling nonsense--I just got excited about that idea and just started typing wink).

Josh Catone helps run this place
Rails Forum - Rails Jobs

Re: Forum Thoughts

^ And he also hasn't slept much in the past week. smile

My main complaint is that virtually no forums out there mark threads as read after I've read them... until I've read them 2 or 3 times... This may be a technical limitation, I don't know, but it's extremely annoying.

Re: Forum Thoughts

Kelli wrote:

^ And he also hasn't slept much in the past week. smile

My main complaint is that virtually no forums out there mark threads as read after I've read them... until I've read them 2 or 3 times... This may be a technical limitation, I don't know, but it's extremely annoying.

Agreed, that's the largest "trivial" annoyance.... it doesn't really matter, but it really annoys me, too.

My RoR journey  -- thoughts on learning RoR and lessons learned in applying TDD and agile practices.

Re: Forum Thoughts

My peeve is largely a design issue.  I've seen some phpBB forums where there's an avatar, some stats about the post author, a 75-line signature, clever super-photoshopped borders on the comment box to make it extra bulky, interactive buttons everywhere - and in the middle somewhere is a "lol."

I like menus that appear when I hover near something (in a non-resource-intensive way) and for everything to point me to the content.  I especially like when this can be done so the top of one post butts up against the post before it with no space lost.

Re: Forum Thoughts

Some really cool thought, I really like that tagging idea, it sounds excellent, I'll look into that!

Re: Forum Thoughts

I like Josh's take on the tagging as supplement to "formal" subforums.  I agree that its likely to be unworkable as the primary categorization/navigation aide.  Many forums have some of the those absolutely amazing threads on some obscure topic that you keep wanting to go back to (or find in the first place); while you can bookmark them, etc it can get crowded after a while.  Having the forum "remember" these threads for you and possibly able to do the whole "you liked x, you might also like y" style of social bookmarking might help uncover some of the gems that you missed when they were active.

Another thing that I would love, slightly more options regarding "subscribing to a thread" -- I like forums that give me the option to set the default -- auto-subscribe to every thing you post in or not, auto-subscribe to any thread you start, etc.  I tend to subscribe to every thread I start, and to about half of those I post in.  So having that little checkbox prepopulated, etc is nice.

I'd also love it if, after the first post between visits in a thread the later posts are still sent in a digest, as opposed to merely nothing until the next visit, possibly digested with other threads too...

Of course both of these topics can significantly load the server and that's why many forums haven't offered them....

My RoR journey  -- thoughts on learning RoR and lessons learned in applying TDD and agile practices.

11

Re: Forum Thoughts

Hey everyone.. Interesting thread. The challenge on this site actually helped me decide on a project for Rails Day. I built a very simple forum and have been evolving it a bit since Rails Day ended.

This thread caught my eye because I have been thinking about some of these very things lately. My original forum was very typical with pre-organized forums that you post in. When I was setting up the live version I struggled with what to call the different groupings.

Having done some tagging recently for a different application, I decided to add them to the forum. I actually started to rebuild from scratch with tags only, but I hear what people are saying about keeping the other means of organizing and I tend to agree.

I've also been working on a way to handle threads that you have read. I've seen sites that do this and I think it would be useful. Although I don't know the details of other forums, I am not convinced it needs to be handled on the backend. HTML has this feature built in and could be taken advantage of (haven't finished this part yet smile.

I also think that most forums have way more features than are needed. Most, if not all, of the profile information that is displayed beside a post seems superfluous to me. I'm interested in the discussion. If I want to contact someone, I might be able to do this on a profile detail page. I don't really care where someone is from. Its fun to know, but not important to the discussion. If it is, it would be part of the discussion.

Anyway, if you want to see the basic version of what I've done, its up at www.frorum.net. The live version doesn't have any of the tagging stuff I've done. It's _very_ simple (one of my goals for Rails Day was to make it very easy to install, which you can't see now that it is). Like I said, I had started over and now I'm reconsidering that so the code base is sort of in limbo smile.

Oh, as far as subscriptions, I've done it with RSS. I like this because it keeps you out of having to decide on rules for mail delivery and keeping track of options. Just make it available and let people decide how to check on it.

Re: Forum Thoughts

Subscriptions via the user control panel the way vBulletin handles the is rather nice.  Of course, if you could tag your favorite threads, that might take the place of subscriptions for most people. smile

Nice to see you here, Brad.  I have been meaning to email you after I saw the FRoRum project over at Rails Day to let you know about the rorBB project being organized here. smile

Josh Catone helps run this place
Rails Forum - Rails Jobs

13

Re: Forum Thoughts

Thanks Josh. I'll keep an eye on the rorBB project. I'd be happy to lend a hand if I can. Having just looked at the acts_as_taggable plugin and working on my own (non-plugin) implementation that gives tags ownership (I think the acts_as_taggable gem can do this, but I wanted to get my hands dirty to learn more), it's fresh in my mind.

Doing some more reading here I saw Opinion. Seems like a good project too. If anyone is interested in FRoRum gmail me at bpauly. I don't know if it will go anywhere, or where it will go if it does other than I'd like to keep it as simple as possible. Mostly a place for me to experiment at this point.

14

Re: Forum Thoughts

One thing lots of the BBs do only a so-so job of is markup. Wikis are often stronger on this, but the place where many of the forums run into problems is code. Techno-weenie did some nice Ruby and HTML syntax highlighting but doesn't seem to understand rhtml. A good pluggable code highlighter would make it easy to add features for (as an example) Marakaby, textile, markdown, and so on.

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Re: Forum Thoughts

I just uploaded some changes to frorum.net. I added support for textile by using RedCloth. I also added tagging (and kept the sections) along with some work on the layout. I'd be interested in feedback. www.frorum.net.

Re: Forum Thoughts

I knew I'd seen a forum that used just tags and folksonomy for categorization: http://blogoforum.com/

As you can see, it's a mess and a pain to find new posts without the normal forum hierarchy.  I think the combination I described above could kick ass, though. smile

Josh Catone helps run this place
Rails Forum - Rails Jobs

17

Re: Forum Thoughts

Thanks for the link Josh. I agree, blogoforum.com is, well, overwhelming. Check out frorum.net again. I've added tagging and kept the typical forum categorization. I'm still thinking of ways to make the main page more useful. For now it is also a bit too much in my mind. I do really like the tags. I plan on adding feeds for them. I've been doing more reading up on tagging. There is some interesting work going on. Check out http://www.rawsugar.com/www2006/tagging … edule.html for some good papers on possible ways to improve tagging.

Re: Forum Thoughts

Thanks Brad, interesting stuff.  Especially useful to me since a current project of mine makes some use of tagging and folksonomy for organization.

Josh Catone helps run this place
Rails Forum - Rails Jobs

Re: Forum Thoughts

Another useful forum feature, that I find myself missing on this forum, is the "next/previous" topic links for a viewtopic.php?id=xxx page or from the "recent posts" page.  Normally I start at the oldest topic with unread posts and work my way up.  On most forums you don't need to return the the topic list to do so, here you do (unless I'm completely missing the links).

However, if implemented you have to make sure the UI is clear -- I know that the three other main forums I visit use the same verbiage/symbols but with different meaning (next|left arrow, right arrow|previous), but whether its next newest or next oldest isn't consistent and it isn't indicated.

My RoR journey  -- thoughts on learning RoR and lessons learned in applying TDD and agile practices.

Re: Forum Thoughts

Here's an article I ran across about using folksonomy in place of a normal forum hierarchy: http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/articles … umtags.php

Apparently the author has never seen blogoforum.com wink

I still think a combination would be the best solution.

Josh Catone helps run this place
Rails Forum - Rails Jobs