Hey guys, this is a personal project of mine that I’ve been working on for a while. It’s a place where you can create your own online community, similar to Reddit, but with more of a focus on content rather than links. One of things I do differently there is make search the primary way to find content. As a board owner you are able to create your own custom categories and tag filtering system that users can use to search on.
Some additional highlights …
Is the source available anywhere?
No, it’s not open source right now. I would like to do this eventually, but not at this early stage.
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To be honest, it’s both a security and a legal risk for me. The source code is completely original, and I have audited my code pretty extensively, but there’s always a chance I missed something… and this opens up the site to an attack or a frivolous, patent infringement lawsuit, that otherwise would have not have happened had the source not been made public. This would pretty much kill the project, and I’m not willing to take that risk right now… and really, does a SaaS software solution really interest anyone? I doubt the majority of users on Reddit care that it is open source. They just want their ideas implemented, and the moderators want tools created to enable them to manage their communities effectively, which I’m more than willing to listen to and do.
Having said that, if a whole bunch of you guys starting saying “Hey, this project is freaking awesome, and the only thing holding me back from participating and creating some communities is for it to be open source!” then I might re-consider, but for now it is too much of a risk.
Nice work - I’ve only had a quick browse around but it looks like a lot of work has gone into it.
One thing I miss in all forums is a bidirectional email gateway - I’d love to be able to subscribe to a forum (or subforums within that form) and be able to interact with it via email. This means receiving an email for each post (with proper headers so that my MUA can thread) and being able to post by replying to emails. Yahoo Groups and Google Groups do that, but none of the open source forum software I’ve used does. Which sucks. But maybe it’s just me that wants that kinda thing? I just find interaction by email so much faster than having to login to 20+ forums and read the threads I’m interested in. Yes, I do miss the heydey of Usenet, damnit.
Hehe, I do miss Usenet too, damnit :) Yea, I’ve heard this idea before on a few mailing lists I used to subscribe to, so I don’t think you’re alone in wanting it. But unfortunately it would be quite a bit of work to implement. Integrating with an email server is not easy, but definitely going to note this down as something to scope out in the future. Thanks!
We’ve talked about our dissatisfaction with the traditional web forum on… this forum.
Interesting, thanks for the link!
I downloaded your notes from that thread, and I would like to address some of the things you mentioned and explain how they are done in GrokBB. I will read the rest tonight and provide more feedback, but here are some of the points …
Conversations are often lost, as they get buried in Page 12/60 of the thread or forum. “Thread necromancy” is discouraged, but this only encourages more posts on the same topic to fill up the forum.
In GrokBB, the topics display the top level comments only by default and everything else is considered a side conversation and automatically hidden. If you want to follow a side conversation, you can expand it and respond there, and then those replies get turn into a flat model (but you retain the ability to quote users so you can follow the responses easier). Replies can also be sorted differently if you want (oldest, newest, by most responses, by most times someone saved it to read later - i.e. a possible indicator of quality).
This is my attempt at keeping topics On Topic and making the most relevant replies the most visible, well, that’s the theory anyway. There hasn’t been enough users on the site yet to fully test this model. Also, a few months back I had a feature in place that would automatically split topics if they got too many levels deep, but it started to feel like a forced thing and was making it hard to have conversations, and so that was disabled, but it may be something to revist again in the future and possibly make it something the topic creator or moderator controls.
What about tags? They’re often present, but used wrong, or not used at all. Tags are useful for organization, but enforcement is rare and not frequently used by users.
In GrokBB, I have created a system that lets the board owner create the tags relevant to their community, and then moderators can assign them to topics as needed and they can’t be removed. This way you can be sure the tag is appropriate and not someone trying to spam their own topic with irrelevant tags. Users can also tag topics themselves, but they are only visible to themselves, and so they can use them later to search on. This gives them the ability to create their own system for what they think is Insightful, Funny. etc and not affect other users. I would like to expand on this and possibly see what other users are tagging topics with, and so maybe you can find topics that other users find funny, but this still needs more thought.
Organization is often poor. Threads are often placed in the wrong forum, don’t fit one particular subforum, or fit several.
In GrokkBB, there is a category system implemented that user have to assign their topic to. It is more high level than tags and really a replacement for the sub-forum concept.
Content is frequently full of infighting, or community in-jokes useless to a visitor.
This is a hard one to address. I have been thinking about a system where the topic creator can mark the replies they feel is most appropriate to the topic and then users could have a way to filter and only see those ones. Then the most useful answers / replies are displayed at a glance. This hasn’t been implemented yet, but is something I have started to think about.
Users have little voice for personalization and self-expression.
In GrokBB, you have the ability to specify an avatar and to create a profile page where users can enter any content they want, but that’s fairly standard. I would be interesting in hearing what kind of self-expression you think users should be able to do. I am all for giving users more tools, though I’m not sure what that could be.
Many forums have cruft and fluff such as post count and join date that only serves to create an imaginary number people must increment and elitism. This is not useful to the community nor to visitors.
I think this information is useful for moderators, but yes, other information is more important to determine quality and the user’s contribution to the board. In GrokBB, I have create a badge system that allows moderators to award users SVG badges for their contributions. They can also award the user moderator points, which increases their reputation for that board, and so visitors can see, at a glance, who the best contributors are.
These things are strictly controlled by moderators only, because they are the best indicator of what is quality content for their community. There is no up/down voting system because, in my opinion, I feel it is a completely useless system that usually represent a person’s bias more than quality content. Instead a user’s reputation is based on the actions they actually do (what content you create and if moderators feel your content is of good quality). This could be expand on some more, and I would be interested if anyone has additional ideas around this.
Having said all that, this site is Beta right now and probably will be for some time. I’m very open to adding additional features if anyone is wanting to work with me on brainstorming and testing different concepts out.
I read the rest of your PDF and the other posts, and I have some more input if anyone is willing to discuss it further …
Touching on this issue again, I noticed one user mentioned an idea about “every thread gets a block of wiki content on the top to aggregate knowledge” … and this could be another way of dealing with that issue. It’s basically a TLDR of all the replies at the top, so new visitors could see the important points that have already been covered.
On a larger timescale, I feel like all of those—HN/lobsters/Facebook (and Reddit, Slashdot, etc.)—are very oriented towards the “hiding” part, with any content older than a week or so virtually invisible (often a day or two). So discussions rarely last long.
I think this is a major problem with the current sites out there now. Discussions don’t get into any kind of depth because they get hidden after a few days by newer posts, even when the replies are recent. In GrokBB, I bump the topic back up to the top when a new reply has been added, similar to how the older style forum software do it… but I’d be interested in hearing anyone else’s ideas on fixing this.
What this ultimately means is forums, while useful for inquiries and community building, are a poor fit for actual resources -stuff a user might want. The communities are insular and resources poorly placed. They deserve more than stickies. Having both discussion services (a forum, IRC) and some form of resource service (a Wiki, content management) would be nice, or could be combined? Another problem is that resources are often rarely fixed by the community/visitors/administration unless that is the site’s primary focus, often making the discussion service the primary resource location, which is not ideal.
In GrokBB, I have implemented a live, chat system right into the site, and eventually each board will have their own private chatroom too, no IRC needed (while I love IRC, it’s like pulling teeth to get anyone to use it in 2016). I think that helps with moderation (allows moderators to discuss issues in real time), with new users (who want to ask questions or are unsure about rules) and with getting a quick answer on a community related topic without having to create a whole new topic… but this only addresses part of the resource issue. Forums can create a lot of useful content, but it’s scattered in bits and pieces throughout different topics. I can’t say I have a solution to this, but I have some possible ideas …
maybe the forum can be integrated with GitBook in some way, and the useful information can be compiled and written up in a standard, more professional format and these books can be provided as official resources (but the issue here is who is going to do that work)
maybe topic creators become responsible for their content and they get reminded to select the replies that are most relevant to the discussion and these automatically get transferred to some kind of wiki where it can be edited and refined further by the community
the issue of handling file resources is a hard one to address too, download links go dead all the time, and so ideally they should be uploaded to the forum and maybe versioned in some way (or maybe an integration with a 3rd party, distributed file system might work too). Also, there should be a central “gallery” to download them from too (so you don’t have to scour through different topics to find the files) and for that they need to be automatically organized in some way. One idea might be to inherit the category and tags assigned to their topic and this automatically creates a “directory structure” for them.
It’s really one more PHP forum ?