I Hate Web Fora

I hate web fora.

I do not think I can adequately express the loathing that I have for web fora as a communication medium. Whenever somebody proposes that I must take part in a discussion on a web forum, I want to pull out the foulest curse words in my vocabulary. Which, thank goodness, look something like this.

For years, I have managed for the most part to avoid using web fora for interactive communication. For example, I have tenuously avoided the MozillaZine forums. But recently, some (well-intentioned) mozillafolk have proposed to move the Mozilla corporation internal discussions from a mailing list to a web forum. I hate the very idea. Perhaps I have been tainted by years of badly-implemented fora, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it. I would like to identify, as precisely as possible, what about web fora engenders such vengeful feeling in my soul and what tools would be necessary to change my mind.

How I Work

How Web Fora Don’t Work (for me)


The most obvious solution, to my mind, is to provide a web-forum interface for standard mailing lists. Mailing lists are great! They do exactly what I want, all the time. There are many well-tested solutions out there that provide a web interface for a mailing list. I will happily use the web interface to search and read old conversations.

An alternative possibility involves improving both the web forum and the client tools. If the web forum provides an Atom feed with the conversation threaded using the Atom threading extensions (I don’t know much software that uses Atom threading extensions yet, including the tbird RSS reader). Then, you would have to solve the reliability problem, probably by teaching the client to ask for historical information back to a specific last-read date. Finally, in order to allow posting/replying from the client, you’d have to implement the Atom Publishing Protocol, or maybe a reply-by-email gateway.


Since I’m still feeling angst-y, let me vent about using web browsers for everything. Just because I work for a company that makes one of the world’s most popular web browsers and I use web browsers constantly doesn’t mean I want to use my browser for everything. In fact, I would prefer to use my web browser less. Why am I writing my weblog in a little textbox in WordPress? Because it’s the best solution I’ve found, not because I wouldn’t desperately prefer to be writing my blog post in Thunderbird and push it to my blog (using Atom Publishing Protocol or whatever). I read all my watcher bugmail in gmail not because I want to, but because it has better searching capabilities than Thunderbird and doesn’t barf at 4GB of mail.

I want to use my web browser to… browse the web. For a whole class of “internet” activities, browser != better.

Atom Feed for Comments 13 Responses to “I Hate Web Fora”

  1. Robert Accettura Says:

    I’m suprised you manage(d) to use Thunderbird for RSS. I tried in several instances, but as of 1.5, have never found it usable, because it keeps feeds separate. I’d rather see it more planet style. Instead it feels like an email rigged into handling RSS using duct tape. Hopefully that will improve over time, but for more than a handful of RSS feeds (I do occasionally put 1 or 2 in Tbird with success) it’s just a waste of time. RSS Bandit is the best I’ve found so far for my needs, and it’s not great, but it’s the “best” I’ve found so far.

    There are alternatives to posting in wordpress. You can do it via email (the functionality is built in). You can also use w.bloggar or Windows Live Writer. Both work, though I found the HTML they generate is not as great with those two.

    Yea, forums do stink, but I don’t think they are going anyplace. Best I’ve managed to do is receive email notification for a thread, and just follow up on it. Mark one of those notifications to help keep track of it. It’s far from perfect… but works rather well.

  2. Jon Smirl Says:

    I use gmail and rssfwd. http://www.rssfwd.com/

    I subscribe to all of the Mozilla nntp newsgroups via their email feeds.
    Rssfwd will forward any blog postings to gmail and thread them together.

    By using the appropriate gmail filters you can sort everything into folders. I then use another filter to add a ‘star’ to any thread that mentions me or has a keyword I am interested in.

    This results in everything ending up in one searchable store that is maintained and backed up by a competent operator.

    http://www.cocomment.com will let you track comments you leave at various blog sites.

  3. David Smith Says:

    Heh, I’m the opposite. I loathe mailing lists. They’re intrusive, they fill up my mailbox with stuff I don’t want to read, their threading support is abysmal… and I’m just OCD enough that I can work well with unread messages in my mail. That said, I totally agree with you about the solution. Google groups works reasonably effectively for me, because I can just treat it as a forum while everyone else treats it as a mailing list. It’s not perfect, but that’s mostly due to protocol limitations (we need xmpp mail! or atom with threading, but that’s not as nice).

  4. Steuard Says:

    How would you say Usenet fits into all of this? Given that it can be accessed through Thunderbird, Google Groups, and a wide variety of more specialized readers, it seems like it can satisfy both those who love web forums and those of us who aren’t fond of them. I’ve had pretty good luck meeting at least the majority of your desired features even with an old text newsreader like “trn”. (There may be some issue of making sure that your newsserver stores messages as long as you need them for reliability, but worst case it is always possible to download the news feeds you’re interested in to your own machine.)

  5. BSBlog » Blog Archive » Threaded Atom for WordPress Says:

    […] RegisterLogin « I Hate Web Fora […]

  6. db48x Says:

    How can anyone say that the threading support of email is ‘abysmal’? Perhaps your email client doesn’t handle threading correctly in all cases, and that’s what you’re seeing, David. With a web forum you are limited to a strictly linear sequence of messages in any given thread, so when the conversation branches you get several smaller conversations interleaved in the same thread. With email that branching is made evident, and you can ignore the branches that you don’t care about. Web forums are just a pale imitation of newsgroups, though I suppose there’s something to be said for making the software easy to install and set up.

  7. db48x Says:

    Oh, and I include weblog comment systems in with the other web forums too, I suppose. Showing the comments on the webpage along with the weblog entry is fine, but I ought to be able to reply to the rss feed, and see the other replies in my email client. Oh well.

  8. Martijn Says:

    Personally, I prefer web fora.
    I hate newsgroups, I don’t really like mailing lists, I don’t really use rss and I almost never use a mail client (only using gmail).

  9. Stephen Duncan Jr Says:

    Nabble: http://www.nabble.com/ does mailing list archiving in a forum-like way, for instance: http://www.nabble.com/Mozilla—Thunderbird-f6673.html

  10. Daniel Glazman Says:

    agreed 10000%.

  11. Allan Beaufour Says:

    I feel the same. An approach allowing both mailinglist- and web-“access” would be optimal…

  12. rjm Says:

    here, here mate. i completely agree. when someone posts about what new features ff should have – nothing. it’s a browser. i want to browse the web, that’s it. nothing more. do one thing and do it well.

  13. .jon Says:

    There is nothing better than UseNet for public discussions. At least, as long one has a better Email/UseNet client than Thunderbird, which is the most amateurish UA I have ever been forced to use. Who forces me ? An Outlook to even more amateurism.

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