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discussion system

by Jörg Baach last modified Oct 27, 2007 10:56 AM
a couple of thoughts on discussion systems


I was thinking about discussion systems, especially threaded ones, which also applies to mainling lists.

The story / background

  • hard to read
    Its really not that easy to follow, if you have  a 'proper' threaded discussions - which direction do I read first? Down or over?
  • easy to write
    I think the reason why we have threaded discussions is because they are really easy to write - you just drop your message whenever you feel like it, even though that part of the discussion where you step in might have been some while ago.
  • like bad discussions
    When there is a group discussion happening, its really bad if people don't follow each other - either by speaking at the same time, or reffering back to long ago remarks, or by inserting to many new issues at the same time. People learn (hopefully) over their lifetime some discussion discipline. I have the feeling that threaded discussions are just emphasizing the problematic discussion style
  • time order display
    I we did not have threads, but just posted things in a chronological order, it would make reading propably much easier - provided that people use some discipline to not just shout out their answers,
  • like web boards / forums
    In the end this pretty much all like 'normal' web boards, as long as they are non-threaded. Topics, replies, thats all.
  • problem of synchronous answers
    When using the web or email it can happen that two people answer at the same time.This is unavoidable, but only becomes a problem if there is a message, somebody starts to type a reply, and somebody posts another message in the meantime. But this rarely seems to happen, when looking at mailing lists archives etc
  • Spawning topics
    I guess if we want people to stay within the shared flow of discussion, it must be possible to open up a new flow (topic) very easily, otherwise the current one gets cluttered up
  • Topic order
    Topics could be ordered by creation date or latest reply (latest activity) - both could make sense, a switch would be good, preferably with latest activity activated by default
  • newest entry viewer - like slideshow, autoupdating
    On the one side I want to see the latest messages first (like entering a room, when you hear whats going on), on the other side I want to be able to read through the discussion as it happened. I could imagine a box on top of a discussion where it always shows the newest entry, ideally autoupdating. A bit like a picture frame with changing pictures, or a slideshow. Maybe with prev/next buttons as well.
  • paperclip and referencing
    It could be handy to still mark previous messages that you want to especially relate to, allowing readers to jump more easily around. Maybe thats not that far off from what we got on unicef already? I guess its a question on what 'replying to' or paperclipping really means  - is it a strong or weak relation? Maybe it could be replaced by some easy linking method (say "as Gary said in #11")?
  • one place where all topics on the site show up
    Maybe it would nice if there was one place where all the topics showed up, like a central form or so?
  • Linking topics into places
    One thought, but not sure about that, is to be able to cross reference topics - even though it started on a different document, I might still be able to link it in? But maybe that just leads to spamming...
  • mailing lists
    The hardest bit might be mailing lists - because here we would need to basically switch off the 'reply to' feature, or use it in a way that it directly translates to the topic/message pattern. This could either done by clever setting of the reply-to header, so that effectively the mail client sends a reply to the topic, or some form of resorting on the server side, where replies on messages are rewritten to be replies to topics.

Results / Learned

  • We are on the right track
  • Unthreaded web forums are a good idea, but they are to heavy
  • Integration into email is the main problem, but can be solved
  • Its about balancing time order versus connection between messages
  • User interface design before implementing is a good idea

Conclusion / Where to go from here / Questions

  • Implement a prototypical email integration
  • maybe replace listen for our projects
  • How do we integrate mulitple topics + message display all on one document / coedit page? Is this context important?
  • have a interface prototype
  • Do more research about existing system before implementing ideas
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