We’ve been having a big argument on Milliways today on the relative merits of web forums and mailing lists. Basically the arguments are:
- In favour of forums:
- Most people are familiar with their interface
- They have a pretty interface
- You can leaf through old conversations
- In favour of mailing lists:
- I’m not forced to use any particular interface; my user experience is not dictated by the admins’ taste in UIs
- (following from the above) I can pick an interface that’s nice and fast
- I don’t have to poll them – my email client tells me when there are new posts
- I can read all the ones I’m interested in in the same place and with the same interface without having to set preferences for every single one individually
- Email is cheap to send, so doesn’t result in much server load
- You can leaf through old conversations with the help of an archive
- You get proper hierarchial threading (as opposed to linear sequences of posts with no structure)
All these points were reiterated ad infinitum by all sides, with none of the forum junkies listening to the arguments of the mailing-list liking hackers. It was generally agreed at last that a hybrid was probably the best approach for an online, persistent communication mechanism for the society, so people can use both if they like. Which in effect means that we have a web forum without any of the disadvantages of web forums, which is that people can treat it like a forum (with all the eye candy) or like a mailing list (with all the flexibility) as they please, and ignore the other part.
Sadly,this being Milliways, all the pro-forum people ignored FireFury’s eminently sensible suggestion that someone start a wiki page with the arguments in favour of forums and just carried on trying to argue their relative merits… repeating the old arguments ad nauseam. Proof by assertion, ugh.
As for my opinion: forums suck. I detest the interface, and the fact that I can’t use another one makes them useless for me. Mailing lists make them easier to work with since you can give it whatever interface you like. Including a forum-like web interface, if you really want one. So I’m working on providing one. Gmane looks likely, but unfortunately the software it uses, while freely available, is very poorly documented.