Forum Experiment Revisited

To me, the best thing about running this blog is the comments. I love the fact that over years I have managed to build a small community of regulars here. I like to see the familiar gravatars popping up in various discussion threats. I’m not great at community building, but I try.

In the past I have tried to establish a working message board adjacent to this blog but it was a compound failure. For one, the software was just bad. It was a WordPress plugin that required registration, and had a really, really shitty CAPTCHA that no one could ever read. Secondly, I failed to do anything interesting with it. I sort of put it up, and expected people to just contribute content. Few people did, but it never really went anywhere.

I guess one of the lessons I have learned over the years of watching online communities evolve is that the only strategy that can yield any kind of results is “seed it and lead it”. First you need to seed your forum/community/link board with interesting content. This is actually what reddit founders did in it’s heyday. But you can’t stop there. You actually have to actively lead, moderate and initiate discussions in said forum. Active communities usually coalesce around very small groups of active and vocal users – often merely one or two.

So I figured, why not try this again. Especially if it will give me a chance to hack FoFou Forum software a bit. I actually wrote about this project before, but the other day I actually broke down and forked it. The code is remarkably simple and offers just the bare bones functionality – giving me a lot of space to expand and extend it to fit my particular needs.

So without further willy whacking, and dilly dallying around I introduce you to the new Terminally Incoherent Forums. And experiment in bringing 90’s social media paradigms into 2012 user space.

For the time being I will use it to post various short form topics hoping to spur discussion. You know – blog post stubs that might be interesting but don’t have the makings of a full fledged 800+ word potential. What I would really like is to see people other than me post original content and/or links there – but I’m not holding my breath. I’m sort of expecting this distraction to fail miserably due to lack of content and participation. Or, if by some fluke it catches on, it will likely get spammed into oblivion. We shall see.

But yeah, check it out. I already pre-seeded it with bunch of discussion hooks. See if any of them strikes a chord with you, and join in. For now I have four two (I decided to consolidate them) forums:

  1. /fun/ is for discussing TV, Movies, Games and etc..
  2. /it/ is for IT horror stories and rants
  3. /future/ for futuristic musings and singularity/transhumanism stuff
  4. /code/ for software development and etc..

I will probably add one or two more, as soon as I come up with some logical categories and seed topics.

FoFou is very, very basic – bare bones and no frills. But I’ve been hacking and bug fixing the code and I am planning to add some tiny frills here and there. Especially if I notice people use the damn thing.

You don’t have to register to comment or post new topics. Contributing is as easy as posting comments on this blog. Just plug in a name and an email that looks valid (though it does not have to be your real email) in the box, and hit submit.

Let me know what you think.

Also – quick question: do you think breaking it up into 4 topic areas was a good idea? Or would it be easier to keep track of the forum if it was all on one page? I’m starting to think this might be the way to go.

Yes, this is an extra special bonus Thursday post. I will have another one tomorrow. Enjoy!
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14 Responses to Forum Experiment Revisited

  1. I like the simple captchas that accomplish the same thing:
    “what’s the first word in this sentence” type captchas.

    And registration pretty much =’s “LOL I’m never commenting then” behavior.
    I never comment on anything I have to register for. It’s an annoyance people take for granted.

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  2. why not zoidberg^W uhm.. ah.. IRC?

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Andrew Zimmerman:

    Sometimes registration only works. Especially if you have a built in community. When I was active in Farscape fandom circles bunch of us broke away from a much larger fan community and created a tightly moderated, registration only forum and it worked. That however was because the main impetus behind the community was to create safe and comfortable setting for discussion and to get away from constant trolling, flame wars and personal attacks that were going on in the bigger, mostly un-moderated forum.

    But yeah, it’s usually a good idea to lower the barrier to entry.

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    That could be done too. :) I was toying with that idea at some point but didn’t know if anyone would ever use it.

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  4. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I like the registration system. Simple.

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  5. I’m always surprised to see modern forum software that doesn’t support threaded conversations. That’s really a must-have feature if you want to have a non-trivial amount of dialog. People try, but it’s always really messy. Its absence is enough for me to not bother using a forum at all.

    Right now, if I wanted to make a casual forum for myself, I’d just create a subreddit. It’s trivial to do, many people already have accounts, and making a new account is really, really simple. On the other hand, you wouldn’t have full control over the forum.

    However, I wish you well in your efforts to bootstrap a community. :-)

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  6. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I’ll check out the forum, but I already spend way too much time on Hacker News and Slashdot.

    @ Andrew Zimmerman:
    Registration is an “effort token”. It’s like that delay that operating systems have between tries in the log in. They’re a small cost for a normal user, who only logins once, but they can be crucial for a brute forcer who needs to trie thousands.

    Similarly, registration doesn’t cost much to a normal user compared to the time he spends on the forum, but it forces a troll to spend much more effort to keep trolling, assuming he gets banned regularly.

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:
    IRC requires people to be online at the same time, though. Considering that in the few comments here in this post there are people in EST, GMT and GMT+1, that can be hard.

    It works if you have so many people that plenty will be online at any given time (like #debian and such), but I doubt that is the case here.

    @ Chris Wellons:
    Reddit’s software is actually open source, and there are a few Reddit powered boards out there. I have no idea what are the requirements, though.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    I think threaded vs non-threaded is actually much more complex issue. It is not merely old paradigm vs new paradigm. There are significant downsides to a threaded conversations:

    Threading creates avenues for localized conversation. It makes it easier for people to post things like “lol” or “mee too” because the comment and response are spatially linked. It also encourages users to have private one-on-one discussions ignoring the bigger thread if they please. This in turn causes redundancy as people jump in and out of the discussion at various points. I have seen reddit threads in which the same overal point-counterpoint was re-iterated 5-6 times across the entire length of the thread because folks simply did not bother to scroll down before commenting.

    Non-threaded model forces users to look at the thread in a more holistic way. It minimizes repetition because you have to logically connect your response not only to one specific comment, but also to other responses directly below it.

    Finally, you can’t thread forever – threading too deep breaks layout so most threading forums putt a cutoff point at some level. This is an artificial limit break for conversations.

    Let’s say two people are arguing some topic – after few rounds the threading software will either prevent them from directly replying to each other, or will encapsulate the further conversation away from the main thread (the way reddit does) at which it becomes cumbersome to follow.

    As for subreddit – that’s generally a good suggestion. For me, this started with me messing around with the Fofou code and Google App Engine and then getting the idea of setting up a forum. :P

    @ IceBrain:

    Yeah, we have people from all timezones here. It is a very asynchronous community we have here. Granted, if you are big enough you can rely on enough people being online to cover the chatroom at all times. I don’t think we would have that many users though.

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Hey, question – should I consolidate the 4 forums into 1? I’m jumping in between them and it seems like that could be a good idea. Easier to keep track of everything if it’s on one page.

    What do you think?

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  9. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Perhaps make a mailing list :)

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  10. StDoodle UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I’d say start with one category, then split as warranted by actual posting. Just my opinion. ;)

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  11. I hate seriously dislike forums.

    I will give yours a try, and promptly forget to go check for messages to which I need to reply. Forums make me turn out as a socially retarded person. Which I am. That is besides the point. ;-)

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  12. @ Luke Maciak:

    That’s a good point. I had honestly thought of threading as always better. But as you pointed out, it has its own limitations, which makes the decision a tradeoff.

    I have also noticed the issue where the same point is made in across several threads. It shows that forum threading still doesn’t accurately reflect the structure of real conversations. That could probably be improved, but at the cost of complicating the user interface — i.e. extra options like “reply to all checked threads” and more complicated displays which attempt to communicate arbitrary conversation structures.

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  13. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    There’s more than a couple of forums I’ve been a member of that have slowly died, but I could show up to one more…

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  14. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Terminally incoherent subreddit! I’d subscribe!

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