Recent Development on the Use-LIst

David Vaughan dvk at
Thu Dec 15 18:52:27 EST 2005

On or before 16/12/2005, at 7:58, various people wrote in relation to  
the old question of forum vs mailing list.

After a few years on the RunRev Use and Improve lists I switched to  
digest mode which cleaned my mailbox a bit but took away the ability  
to see messages in a timely manner. A few months ago I observed that  
there were so many new users asking and answering questions that I  
had no great need (or perhaps ability) to contribute and nothing to  
ask for myself at the time. I considered this a triumph for Rev,  
evidence of both a growing user base and increasing sophistication  
rather than it formerly being a mix of the deeply knowledgeable and  
the deeply inexperienced.

This week, tackling an SQL database for the first time, I had need of  
assistance (although the problem naturally proved to be my own) and  
was impressed to see Chris Bohnert and Mark Wieder both take the  
trouble to test my code and respond very helpfully. I have no fears  
for the constructive quality of the readership and contributions. It  
was also a bit of a homecoming, to see (for example) Klaus and  
Richmond being their very different selves.

So, to the actual topic here which is the medium for the discussions.  
On one of the occasions this debate ran a few years ago, I found the  
mailing list format easy to manage and use and agreed that it was  
preferable to forum software. The content was not very voluminous  
then. In the past 6-12 months I have spent much of my time on another  
list, on a wholly unrelated topic, using forum software. It employs  
Discus which is reputed by some to be not the greatest piece of forum  
software. Despite that supposed disadvantage, I find it to be vastly  
superior to the mailing list in every significant respect with key  
gains in responsiveness, coherence and time management.

The notion, recently expressed by one highly respected member here,  
that a forum obliges trolling material or does not allow casual  
integration of list review with other work, is probably born of a  
lack of knowledge of the alternative. These are precisely the  
problems I find in a mailing list whereas a forum simplifies and  
expedites working with the list.

Firstly, topics are broadly categorised based on input from the  
users. Secondly, a single button brings up in tree format every post  
made since you yourself last checked, and no others. Additional to  
the topic/thread categorisation, the hierarchy gives you crucial  
information on author and the first line of content. Using a tabbed  
browser you quickly pick out the items of interest and review or  
respond to them. Timeliness is superior because you manage the  
material in bulk when you wish to without waiting for a digest to  
turn up or alternatively being bombarded with irrelevant messages. If  
you wish to trace material there is a powerful built-in search  
facility. You can also immerse yourself in a topic or thread from the  
start for learning purposes, and having learned will most probably  
use the Posts ["since I last checked"] feature. You can use basic web  
text styling for clarification without tripping over mail reader  
limitations and easily add diagrams or pictures (size and density  
restricted) where relevant. It also facilitates creation of  
informative user profiles, although in the forums I use I do prefer  
the one which excludes signature lines within the post (additional to  
author identification in the left column) as completely useless clutter.

I guess these advantages have all been discussed before, but I wish  
to emphasise their superiority in my practical experience. No-one  
expects everyone to favour a change but from what I am reading at  
least some of the pro-mail-list group are going to be pleasantly  
surprised when the inevitable change occurs. Whether RunRev manages a  
forum of its own, blesses an existing forum, or abandons the whole  
thing to the market is something on which I choose not to have an  
opinion at the moment but I agree that one of the alternatives they  
are doubtlessly considering needs to be taken up.

Sorry about the length of post. Perhaps I have indulged myself in  
compensation for having been away for a while.


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