Fri 12 Feb, 2010 07:36 pm
In "flat" discussion systems each post to a topic is in chronological order and that is that. The advantages are that it's simple and usually more visually appealing than threaded systems, which can also suffer in terms of usability, requiring more clicks in some implementations.
The disadvantages, however, to a flat system is that it represents a single unified conversation and as a site and its threads become larger and more diverse it means more and more people are frustrated by the participation of others. In a "threaded" system replies to a thread are their own "threads" and this allows the topic to hold many different discussions without them stepping on each others toes as much.
Here are some use cases where the social dynamics seem to point to a threaded implementation being better for us:
1) There is a user who many in a thread think is being disruptive. Some don't but it's hard for others to ignore the whole conversation because some people they don't want to ignore are responding to that part of the conversation.
2) You want to reply to a bunch of people in the topic individually. In flat mode you have a bunch of consecutive posts. In threaded mode each of your replies is neatly part of their own conversations and doesn't appear to flood the thread.
3) Digressions and "off topic" are no longer as big of a deal, those conversations can fork off on their own and can be avoided altogether by people who aren't interested in the digression.
There are many more reasons that I feel that threaded topics are something that could really help our social dynamics on these forums. I've avoided this system mainly for a couple of reasons:
1) We started on flat, and it's a huge context change. Despite what some may believe I take change seriously and this is as big as it gets for a forum. Now one reason I'm starting to more seriously consider it is because we laid the groundwork to do a hybrid model where we can offer either version to the users. As we changed software we made posts reference each other explicitly (so you can see replies to a particular post and see the @username link to the parent post) with this kind of improvement possibility in mind and now that the forum has run in semi-hybrid mode for over a year now I think we may be able to take it a bit further.
2) It's fundamentally a bit more complex, and simplicity is a foundation of usability which is something we view as one of our top priorities. I am not sure we can implement it well enough to get around many of the limitations that other software implementations have had but technology has evolved a lot (specifically I am talking about AJAX for the nerds out there) since the original threaded implementations and I think we can do better.
So let me hear your thoughts. Please consider it well, if you've had bad experiences with other threaded boards in the past please think about whether it was the clunkiness of their implementation or if it was the core principle of threading the topic that made it worse.
So, in theory, do you think grouped sub-conversations to a thread would help a2k social dynamics? In practice we can pretty much accommodate both sides and we could keep a flat version for those who prefer it, the only downside for them is that there would not be a "reply all" because for those in the threaded context they won't notice, for example, that you are addressing someone merely by virtue of your post immediately following theirs in chronological order.
That's how I choose to view the threads at the IMDb forums, (they call it the nest option). But then again, I kind of gotten used to the the flat discussion system here. Plus you guys already do enough so I wouldn't want to be an imposition here and see you guys take on more unnecessary work.
I've seen the threaded style, without knowing the name for it. It wasn't a forum I stayed with long enough to get used to, so it seemed a bit confusing. Always afraid I would miss something, or follow one series of comments to the end and then picking up earlier posts.
Put me down as mildly neutral on this.
On the theoretical level work doesn't matter, we always try to pick what is ideal first and then try to figure out what might need to compromise for work. And we like the software development anyway.
A further thought; sometimes old and long threads come back to life. By going to the last page I would probably miss a lot of discussion that started on a previous page - if I understand the system. Again, I remain about neutral.
I like the threaded approach as a reader on some types of forums. There are usually fewer nested quotes [he said[he said[no he said[she said[none of it makes sense now]]]]]. It is easier to follow the parts of technical discussions I'm interested in.
The downside, in my experience, is a drop-off in more social discussions/interactions.
It depends on what you (the global you of forum owners/operators) want your forums to be.
There isn't necessarily a last page in the implementation. But the ability to follow all posts to a thread might suffer slightly when you group them that way (you can still bring the threads within a topic to surface by recent activity, for example but then you may need to read into each cluster for new posts instead of just the last page).
But remember, what I have in mind is a hybrid system in which those who prefer flat get what they want, the only difference for them would be that there's no more "reply all".
Could you design the threads so I could go back to last post I read since the last time I visited the thread so I could see whatever newer posts have arrived since I last visited?
The downside, in my experience, is a drop-off in more social discussions/interactions.
This is very insightful as it relates to the social dynamics on a fundamental level with a change like this.
I'm not sure I would agree that it would always result in that scenario, for example it may allow more freedom to get playful (on some threaded forums I see more spontaneous pun threads in response to a serious discussion because those who don't like it can easily avoid it) and digress even more but it probably will change the social dynamic from more of a group stream of consciousness that anyone can more easily surf to more intimate conversations.
Implementation may be able to tweak that kind of culture a bit but on some level there is a fundamental difference.
That type of thing is what is harder with threaded views as opposed to flat ones (where that is pretty easy). One of my ideas is to make a hyper-hybrid model where you don't just pick your option as a preference an be done with it but can actively switch between them on the fly to take advantages of the different ways to sort and organize the conversations.
It's definitely not a 100% correlation. Threaded forums don't mean "death of fun", but they do seem to have a different culture.
I think of something like the yabber-liner thread as something that would become difficult to follow for someone who'd chosen a threaded option. Tricky enough to follow it in the current format.
Has anyone done any studies on the effect of changing the culture of a forum like A2K? not sure I'd want to be a guinea pig, but it is an interesting question.
Is it possible to have both depending on the topic ? Some are more social and the current mechanism is the best, whilst others are too technical or too emotional to interest the many and the change you suggest might work better there. I think it depends on whether the topic is light or heavy reading.
What if you had a new button next to Reply entitled 'split into new thread?' It would dupe the thread but allow a new name to be added and the conversation to continue in a new direction. You could have a hamster insert a descriptive message into the thread about what happened and why it happened. That way you could stick with the existing flat structure but get the fun effects of threaded convos.
I think that this would lead to a vastly numbered increase in the number of threads but hey that's what we're talking about anyways. And it really would only be making simpler something which could already be done anyway, but add a lot of thread history into the new thread, which would be quite helpful. How would a search function work in such an environment?
Will it lead to the troll game of finding as many threads as possible to crash/close down? The defense of starting so many that they can't find the ones that conversation is going on? What about simultaneous games ran in different threads at once, on the same topic? Could you do it in reverse and join threads back together? Could it be automatically done at certain time periods?
Frankly it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun and something that I haven't seen on other message boards.
Taunton has long had the option to switch back and forth between threaded and flat. They started completely threaded, and have had the switching option since sometime in the late 1990's. The last time there was a discussion there about it (that I read), almost everyone had completely switched to flat, and didn't bother using threaded (though there was mad fury at the time of the change). I was one of the few people who still went back to threaded views - makes it easier for me to follow recipe tweaks as people discuss them.
Is it a site-wide option that you set and leave or is it easy to toggle a thread back and forth right on the thread itself (which is what I'd like to do)?
With the IMDb you can toggle back and forth between at least 4 option of thread arrangements.
thread | flat | inline | nest
As I recall, it is forum by forum. That is, you could set it one way for cookstalk and the other way for breaktime or one of the other forums.
hehe - just went to check and they're in the middle of a revamp of their own
Latest Site Update
February 11, 2010
The "Save" button now reads "Post" so there’ll be no confusion about how to make an original post public.
1. Adding ability to edit comments
Threads are somewhat useful if looking for an answer to a specific question but even there it isn't always helpful if several people gave answers and you have to follow each thread to find what you are looking for. Sometimes its helpful because you can ignore a wrong answer and 30 people telling the poster why he is wrong.
Where flat is a problem is when you have 30 or more people in a single thread and it is impossible to tell who is responding to what. The best example of that is probably responses to articles, like ESPN or MSN where the chatter is such that someone will respond to someone else and there will be 40 posts between them but only 5 minutes in post time.
I agree with ehbeth about the social aspect. If we start threading, people will split so many threads and then split those threads it will become easy to miss interesting posts because they started from a point you might not be interested in. I'm thinking of some of the evolution threads where we get some nutty stuff posted but then it turns interesting later in the responses.
I avoided reading the other responses before answering so forgive me if I'm being redundant.
I don't like threaded forums. I find them entirely too disjointed and almost impossible to follow. The one threaded forum I participate on (sometimes) is terribly frustrating -- I have to go back and remind myself of what particular point is being discussed all too often -- and finding that point can sometimes be complicated.
My opinion might be clouded by the fact that I've been around here long enough to know when and who to skim over though.
Anyway.... if I get a vote I say keep things the way they are.
What if the only change for you (who would still be able to opt for flat) is the absence of the "reply all" feature (so that we can thread the replies for the ones who do want it)?