Newsgroups -v- Forums
I was at the Microsoft MVP Summit last week in Redmond Washington where I attended an open discussion regarding the future of Microsoft’s various online support communities. I was looking forward to the session because as an MVP I have a vested interest in communities but to my disappointment the discussion descended into the age old, and very pointless, argument about newsgroups or web forums. Why is it pointless? Because there are very clearly two polarised opinions here and hence these discussions never reach any conclusion.
A similar discussion occurred today on the Live Mesh forum and I couldn’t help but get embroiled. I am an unashamed fan of web forums as opposed to NNTP newsgroups and I spelt out why very clearly in a bulleted list. I find that I’m involved in this discussion quite often and hence I thought I’d record this list up here for prosperity so that I could refer to it the next I get into this debate. So, below is what I said in that discussion, near word-for-word:
The reasons I prefer forums are:
- Accessible without client software (except a browser – which is ubiquitous)
- Each thread/post/etc… becomes a resource. In other words, something addressable with a URL. That, for me, is a HUGE thing and is the primary reason why I prefer forums. I believe Google Groups may enable something similar but I believe there is less value in linking to a copy of a resource rather than the resource itself.
- I’m an interface junkie – rich interfaces I like
- Better tracking abilities for Microsoft employees. I have an anecdote to share regarding how useful this can be – maybe I’ll save it for a later day.
- Forum member reputation. Some see this as a pointless and intrusive feature but I like it. If I’m new on a forum then its a guide as to how useful the answer might be. More information is, to me, a good thing.
- I can setup notifications for when someone replies to a thread. i.e. If I choose to I can get content pushed to me rather than having to pull it.
- The Live Mesh forum (just like the ones where I earn my MVP stripes) has the ability to insert and therefore highlight/format code. I consider that to be a good thing. I’m sure anyone that used to code in text editors as opposed to Visual Studio can’t deny that code formatting is a good thing.
- Instant indication of when a thread was posted e.g. "artfudd 1 hours 31 minutes ago". Again, more information – good thing.
- I have the option to embed hyperlinks rather than having to post a whole URL that doesn’t become a hyperlink in some NNTP readers
- Thread summary on [the Live Mesh forum] is useful. Again – more information.
- I can delete/edit posts which I don’t think I can with NNTP (I stand to be corrected)
- Those edits can be commented upon in some forums – again, more information.
- Correct answers can be marked as such. This may seem inconsequential but I know that it is HUGE for people in Microsoft (I know because I’ve spoken to them) because they can track ratio of questions to correct answer, and trend those stats over time, and stuff like that.
- I can search for threads that have certain attributes. e.g. On the forum where I earn my MVP stripes I can go and retrieve all threads that haven’t yet been marked as answered. This saves me time because I don’t have to read threads that have already been answered.
- Forums can be arranged hierarchically. I don’t think that’s true of NNTP (I stand to be corrected)
- Some forums show presence. i.e. I can see if a person who posted a thread is online or not. This will be leveraged greatly in the near future I’m sure – it isn’t happening yet.
- I’m a heavy RSS reader so RSS feeds are a plus for me.
- I read forums and newsgroups on multiple machines. If I read a thread on one machine that won’t be reflected on another machine, instead that thread will get marked as "unread" which is not the case.
Is that enough? I could type more but my fingers are hurting 🙂
Of course, the massive downside is no offline capability but that doesn’t bother me too much.
Of course, the ideal solution would be something that syncs between both. There’s that magic word again – sync. What’s Live mesh? its a sync platform. I hope that the Live Mesh platform can provide a good solution in this space.
Its a matter of opinion. I’m not saying I’m right. I just happen to prefer forums.
[I’ve also posted this as a lista.]
What say you? Are you in a position to compare NNTP versus web forums? What do you prefer?