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Zugg
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Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 8:10 pm   

Best Modern Forum Sites
 
I know I've talked about some of this before, but now I'm getting really serious. I want to take these forums to the next level. PHPBB and vBulletin are so old and dated compared to what some other sites are doing to enhance online discussions. For example, being able to self-moderate the forums (voting +/- on posts), building a useful user Reputation system, hiding unrelated posts or sidebars, a richer UI via JQuery, etc.

I would like your input on this. I know that most of you visit a lot of other forum sites. Please post here the links to other discussion forum sites that you think are the best. Or post your suggestions for how you'd like a forum to work if you could start from scratch and not be constrained by all of the PHPBB stuff that we have all gotten used to.

What I am planning is to write a new forum/discussion system for the Drupal CMS that brings that platform into the modern age of forums. This will be open source (like the rest of Drupal) and will be used on both the Zuggsoft.com forums and on the Tessh.com forums (which is already Drupal-based). Obviously I am also hoping this will drive some business to me in building other professional Drupal-based web sites for other clients in the future.

So not only do you have a chance to influence the design of this zuggsoft.com forum site, but your suggestions could also impact Drupal itself and future sites built upon Drupal. Wouldn't that be cool!?
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Zugg
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Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 9:36 pm   
 
I need to stress the word MODERN. I've been looking around at various forum comparison sites, and they seem to be stuck in the dark ages. For example: http://www.forummatrix.org/ tries to compare forum features. But the kind of user experience that I'm looking for in a modern forum doesn't even register in their feature list. In fact, that's the key problem: people are too tied down to specific features. We need to get past the "does it have this feature?" and try to get towards a user experience that really makes a difference.

For example, look at cell phones. For years we had all these cell phones and compared various features and plans. Then along comes the iPhone and completely changes the "user experience" of using a mobile device. That was a complete paradigm shift. You can't even compare a pre-iPhone phone with a post-iPhone phone. It's worse than Apples vs Oranges...more like Apples vs Kittens.

Here is a user case scenario to think about: Think about a local discussion forum for government policies. The House of Representatives has decided to standardize on Drupal. So imagine having the job of a Congress-person. You'd like to know what issues are on the mind of your constituents. So you implement a discussion forum system where your local constituents can debate issues such as health care, economy, etc. Ignore the technical issues of ensuring that each member of the forum is a registered voter in the correct precinct, etc. Let's just look at the forum functionality:

Ideally, the Congress-person would just look at the "top issues" in the forum to see what the current hot topics were. But with traditional (PHPBB-like) forums, there is no way for the "hot issues" to peculate to the top of the queue. It's not just "how many replies" did a post have. A post with no replies might still be an important issue. Likewise, a topic with hundreds of replies is probably more of a flamewar. You don't want the Congress-person to see all the spam, unrelated posts, flamewars, etc.

Also, we have learned over the years that every forum develops a small "vocal minority". These are a small number of users who contribute the most posts. Here at Zuggsoft we call them "Gurus" :) You find this behavior everywhere. If you look at a particular Wikipedia article, the number of edits is usually dominated by a small number of passionate people on that subject. Then there is a long tail of hundreds of people who just post once, or just edit a Wiki article once. This distribution of posts vs users is common across most community sites.

I would like to explore how a forum might be improved to make it easier for those people on the long tail to contribute more. Are people afraid to post? Did they just get flamed (or ignored) the first time? Was it too hard to post? How to we improve that tail to build a better community. After all, if you were that Congress-person, you don't want your hot-issue queue to be dominated by a small vocal minority.

On sites such as Slashdot and Stack Overflow, users have a reputation score and can rate posts and replies up and down, mark them as abusive, etc. I'd like a system to mark the "flame-ness" of a post. Maybe a color system. I'd like a way to mark an entire branch of discussion as a "sidebar" that is off-topic. Or a way to promote a branch to a top-level post and/or move it to another forum more easily.

I want a forum system that makes good use of modern Javascript abilities. For example, collapsing sidebars or flamewars. You can see the side discussion by just clicking on it without reloading the entire page. I HATE forum systems that just show the topic title hierarchy and require you to click on each reply and then click "Next in thread" to get the next reply. That came from the Usenet groups and it's horrible.

Ideally a modern forum would also show your post immediately on the page when you submitted a new reply using Ajax without the current "Reply submitted. Click here to view the message" that we have with PHPBB. Again, the current forum (and most forums for that matter) are using such outdated web technology. We can do better than that.

So to clarify, I'm not really looking for a list of specific features, but a description of what the ideal "user experience" of a forum should be.
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slicertool
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Joined: 09 Oct 2003
Posts: 459
Location: USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 10:09 pm   
 
Zugg, have you seen what Blizzard has done with their forums lately? They've got some cool user experience type upgrades. Mouse-over summaries and stats are the primary things they've done.

Here's their StarCraft forum: http://us.battle.net/sc2/en/forum/

There are some features that are very Blizzard dependent such as the "blue post" (Blizzard employee post) tracking. However, it's a good one to check out if you're looking for inspiration.
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Jouster
GURU


Joined: 10 Oct 2000
Posts: 609
Location: USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:09 pm   
 
Perhaps this is too much of a departure, but I'd love the concept of a per-post Wiki. Editing the first post in a question thread would grey out all replies unless either the replier or the thread author selected them as still being relevant; there'd be a history feature, so if iterating through multiple aspects of the original question was part of the solution, you could see each part as though it were a separate thread (point-in-time based on the thread starter) without losing the overall context of the question as a single concept/journey towards a complete solution.

Xrefs would be highly encouraged, and good ones would generate some sort of reputation reward. This would tend to concentrate and refine knowledge, while still allowing for offshoots of the context-web that dealt with unusual or corner cases.

—J
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Rainchild
Wizard


Joined: 10 Oct 2000
Posts: 1551
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2011 9:44 am   
 
I'm not sure how good my feedback will be on the "apples to kittens" scale... but hopefully there's some stuff in there that might be of interest, or spark a discussion or whatever :)


That per post wiki type thing/summary/etc would be great for FAQ's and such, but it has to be user friendly! Wiki's are powerful, but way too much effort to learn how to use.

With regards to your suggestion of collapsing/hiding posts I actually don't like having information hidden from me (even if it's not relevant or a flame), so I'd rather some kind of background color/intensity (without being garish) to let me quickly skim over posts that you think should be hidden rather than actually hiding or collapsing them. It even makes me angry when a mod legitimately deletes a post, but I guess they always need that ultimate power for legal reasons? It also annoys me when someone writes something and then edits it later and deletes everything they wrote. I dunno. In real life you can't un-say something, so I tend to think forums should be the same... and I wonder if people would be so abusive/trollish if they couldn't un-say something? Maybe I'm being naive.

I dislike multiple levels inside a topic - a topic should stay on-topic! I don't mind if a post spawns a separate discussion, but it should be expanded out to a sidebar or taken to private messages? Maybe "public" private messages... so everyone can read your replies/sub-discussion, but it's not there interrupting the main flow of the topic? I understand that the leafy topics mean you can track who's replied to who, and in theory you eliminate those "re: zugg- xyz" posts, since you really are replying directly to that person, but it makes it a lot messier. Maybe you can "reply" to a post and have your post inserted immediately below the one you're replying to, but keep it flat? I dunno. Neither system is really perfect.

Some kind of "highlight this person" / "hear more from this person" / "hear less from this person" / "block this person" on a per user basis - like social networking... I might set a few people who share a viewpoint or have proven themselves useful in the past as people I would like to hear more from, so in addition to that "dev tracker" or "guru tracker" or "blue name tracker" (whatever you want to call it) I could have a "person of interest tracker". From an admin perspective, this could be used to help detect who might need promoting or banning by looking at overall stats.

Automatic saving of drafts! You don't know how many times I've written an hour worth of forum post, only to press the wrong button/close the wrong window/etc and lose it all. And reply with "I wrote this great big novel, but meh, work it out yourself."

Something needs to be done about "bump" posts... from both angles though - I understand the poster's pain, but I also hate it with a passion. Maybe a side panel which shows unanswered topics? Perhaps the ability to mark a topic as needing attention? Not sure... there needs to be a way to make it work without it being exploited. Perhaps it would just be managed better by having support requests highlighted in red/green/blue if they need attention/solved/passive? Maybe a "+1" button for everyone who says "me too", or "+1 (with comment)" if you can provide more useful information on the topic?

Different types of post templates... eg a discussion template (traditional phpbb style), a chat template (facebook style), a support template (ability to mark things as resolved/need more info/etc), a photograph template (image with caption and chat-style comments beneath), a code template (similar to codeproject.com), a file template (so your download - small utility/custom rom for phone/etc - could have a discussion attached to it), and so on... these posts should be able to be mandated on a per forum level or per topic level (if the forum doesn't specify a required type). I'm trying to think of instances I might like to be able to change the type mid-topic... not sure yet.

Rating system should be able to support multiple types eg like/dislike, 1-5 stars, rating out of ten, etc.

Adapting the rating system for certain things - so a topic which is a screenshot competition could have like/dislike ratings on it, and when you close the votes, you can re-order the topic by # likes descending and go 'heres our winner'. For a support forum it could be "did you find this post helpful" and then it can say "20 other people found this post helpful".

A spoiler tag! Maybe guru's/people with a high enough rating can highlight text within a post and mark it as a spoiler if the poster forgets?

Ability to paste an image from a clipboard (without uploading/hosting it on my server)... how nice would that be for posting a screenshot... though perhaps it's not possible with current browser tech.

Instant search within a topic. So maybe there's a topic about a driver issue, but it's 200 pages long, I want to be able to start typing and have those 200 pages quickly filter themselves down (hopefully) to something useful that fixes my problem immediately. What I find really annoying in current forum systems is you might search for something and it could be on page 185 of the 200 page topic, and it doesn't automatically jump to that post, it just goes to the first post in the topic, really frustrating.

For support forums, the post(s) marked as "solution" should appear at the top immediately below the first post, but you can scroll beyond that to read the full topic.

Must support multiple tabs - even to the same topic... I'll generally look over the list of new topics, and middle-mouse to open them all in separate tabs, then read/reply to them one by one... I've noticed that some sites with fancy ajax don't cope well with multiple tabs.

Signatures bug me... I want to read the information, not 1 line of text followed by 10 lines of signature! Maybe they can be hidden by default, but mousing-over a person's avatar could pop open a signature frame?

Tags... useful posts should be able to be tagged, so I can do a search on #something #relevant and have the relevant topics come up, with the posts highlighted. Not sure if topics should inherit tags from their posts, or if they should have their own set (or none).

Hrm, I guess I'm out of ideas for now :)

Edit: actually I do have two more...

On edited posts, being able to see the older post even for a non-admin user

Integration with social media... I'm not quite sure how to describe this properly, but my thought was I have facebook on the phone and for selected posts, or certain tags, or whatever... having it appear in my news feed from facebook would be good - but not posted to my wall, my friends shouldn't care about it... unless I click the "share" button. Is that possible? Can you set up the forum or selected topic as a person you could become a "fan" of or something?? Could each user plug in like that, so I could add "Zugg@Zuggsoft Forums" to my friends, and any post you make appears in my feed? You know what I mean? I don't want a separate app to do it, nor do I want 10 new emails. For me at least, emails are "important - check immediately", facebook is "check on my lunchbreak".

Edit 2: and another...

Edits within a certain duration of posting should be considered part of the post... I often post, then re-read, then edit and post again... maybe the forum should hold the post for a couple of minutes before making it public?

Edit 3: they're still coming!...

When someone edits a post higher up in the chain that you're replying to, it should show you (without taking focus away from the editor), and potentially - if you've quoted any of that post offer to change the quote for you. It'd almost be better if the editor and the topic were separate from one-another, so if someone replies while you're typing you can include comments to that reply too - or if they just answered the question, you could stop wasting your time and not reply!

Edit 4: last one, I promise!...

Since I'm replying to myself so much, if I were typing these as replies in a reply box, it should merge them up into my first post... that way you don't actually edit your old post and if someone replies to it, your reply gets inserted in the correct order and if someone did reply in the middle, then they would see your new post as a new post, instead of assume you haven't changed anything and maybe miss something important in the discussion.
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Zugg
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Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2011 3:30 pm   
 
See, I knew this was a good group to ask. Great ideas so far...keep them coming.

I should mention that Drupal already has a "revision" system built into the Core, so it would be trivial to enable that and then you would always have the complete edit history of any post (or reply). I think that takes care of the editing issue since it would allow moderators to still see the original post, restore a previous revision, etc. I already use that feature over in the Knowledge Base on Tessh.com, making the KB more of a Wiki.
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slicertool
Magician


Joined: 09 Oct 2003
Posts: 459
Location: USA

PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2011 8:13 pm   
 
With the revision system in Drupal, a nice feature would be the ability for a soft delete of posts and threads. This can be used by moderators as a way to reference back to something that someone said in a post that has already been deleted as well as have a better record of someone being abusive in posts or just to undo something an over-zealous moderator pruned.

Either Rich Text Editor for posts or On the fly previews.

On the topic of "bump" posts, one solution that I saw in a forum a long time ago that no one else appears to have done is if you are the last post in a thread and you post another post, it appends the second to the first without changing the last post date. Moderators have the ability to allow update of the last post date to match.
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wrym
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Joined: 06 Jul 2007
Posts: 349
Location: The big palace, My own lil world

PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2011 12:22 am   
 
Hey Zugg,

Sorry to hear about your struggles with unicode support, but this project sounds long overdue, not just for zuggsoft.com but as you stated the internet in general, forum format has been stagnate for a very long time.

I really like several of Rainchild's suggestions/edits. in reverse order....

Edit 4, yes but only so far as maybe 24 hours? anything past that point and 90% of the time i'm starting new train of thought which possibly should be a new thread but, their does need to be a limit on how long before a consecutive post is a new post and not an update.

Edit 3 yes

Edit 2 is pretty much covered by edit 4

Edit 1 i'm not quite sure i fully understand but I think i see some interesting potential there.

TAGS! YES!!!

Signatures, hmm maybe hideable and default visible them for the first post of xxx poster over 5 lines or something? they can be anoying but sometimes there are real gems in a persons signature.

Browers tab support is basically a must these days, although i can't say i've had many issues with lack of support.

Instant search, i guess a browers has page search but a quick link to search this forum thread could be nice.

ANY kind of streamlined screenshot posting would be a GREAT benefit.

Post templates is a nice idea, could go as far as having post bug/post feature request/post code buttons instead of just a new topic/ post reply button

Some kind of rating system, if you're gonna make it support multiple formats, let the user choose how they want to view a persons/posts/threads rating?

Bumps are everybody's worse nightmare i think, maybe a bump system sortof like a facebook like system, anyone can bump a post once and a post would keep track of who has bumped it?

YES automatic saving of drafts, and automatic new post updates, originally one of the reasons i started using Gmail as my favorite email, although i can't say what any other mail services offers.

maybe we could base a posts color or font size off of how many times you have liked/disliked one of their posts? and obviously configurable per user prefferences.


I think it was somewhat touched on, but I think forums need not just tagging keywords, but also flagging, Native forum support for bugs/feature requests in unresolved, solved accepted and abandoned status, abandoned being set auto by system or mods. As well as way for an original poster to "Accept" a favorite/best solution I think other appropriate flags would be needed.

Flags, Tags, auto-refresh, Draft saving, Likes, Templates, screenshots, post appeding/editing, i think that is everything if/when I think of something else i'll post.
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MattLofton
GURU


Joined: 23 Dec 2000
Posts: 4834
Location: USA

PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:24 am   
 
How "traditional" are you thinking to remain? I mean, would you consider building forums software that was based on a chat concept, where each post is only X characters long and you could see when posters entered/left the topic? Obviously a chat concept would be much more useful from a PM/sidebar standpoint, but having that IM feel might be useful for general browsing as well.
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Zugg
MASTER


Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2011 4:08 pm   
 
I want something very general-purpose. When I think of "Chat" I think of a real-time kind of system, and I'm not sure how that would work. The system I'm building is more based upon a database architecture of posts/replies, so as long as the "chat" data got put into the database somehow, I'm not sure my discussion software would care.

Being able to limit the number of characters in a post/reply is certainly an easy option to add. And if we had jQuery doing fancy UI stuff like updated the UI on the fly as new posts/replies are added, then I guess that would provide sort of a chat feel.

Regarding Signatures from the replies above: The usefulness of signatures really depends on the specific forum site application. For the most part I don't like signatures either. But on my WOW Guild discussion forum, signatures are very important to show the current character level/stats. And certainly displaying a short user profile/signature when you mouse-over the avatar picture is a nice way that some sites handle it.
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Jouster
GURU


Joined: 10 Oct 2000
Posts: 609
Location: USA

PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 6:03 pm   
 
wrym wrote:
Signatures, hmm maybe hideable and default visible them for the first post of xxx poster over 5 lines or something? they can be anoying but sometimes there are real gems in a persons signature.

I want to promote this; this is a very cool idea: a user's signature is only visible on the [first,last] post he/she makes on a [page,thread].

Also, signatures should, by default, be "locked in" at post time, so that subsequent revisions don't eliminate something that's then referenced (e.g., someone says, "Thanks for the great tutorial link in your sig, Zugg!", and you find this via Google a year later, and there's no such link in Zugg's signature any more). However, when updating your signature, you should have an option like, "retroactively apply this signature to older posts", unchecked by default, so that you can update the link to the tutorial in question when the old link goes offline.

--J
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Zugg
MASTER


Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Fri Apr 01, 2011 4:28 pm   
 
Those are good options for sites that want some signatures, but not so much spam. Updating the signatures can go both ways. I've seen old posts where the signature was not updated that contains dead links. I also tend to like sites that show the signature when you hover over the user avatar or user name rather than always taking up space on the page.
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Jouster
GURU


Joined: 10 Oct 2000
Posts: 609
Location: USA

PostPosted: Sat Apr 02, 2011 11:44 am   
 
Zugg wrote:
Those are good options for sites that want some signatures, but not so much spam. Updating the signatures can go both ways. I've seen old posts where the signature was not updated that contains dead links. I also tend to like sites that show the signature when you hover over the user avatar or user name rather than always taking up space on the page.

Perhaps that's the way to allow those who like to have a big collection of useful links in their sig, then: just have a separate link, like /users/Jouster/bio might be the equivalent of http://forums.zuggsoft.com/forums/profilez.php?mode=viewprofile&u=36 , but /users/Jouster/wiki is where I can put whatever I want, and then I can tell people, "Oh, check out my Wiki, it's under 'Links for people running CMud on Windows 3.11,'" rather than, "Check out my sig, fiftieth line; since there are character limits on signatures, it's encoded as 'LfprCMoW311'." This also then automatically gives you ability both to maintain the link list and to be able to access older entries, since it'd be a separate node (and thus have node_revisions history).

One orthogonal request: search should be GET, not POST. Especially important in a forum setting, since many times people will want to share a handy search, which is at least difficult, if not impossible, to do when it's submitted by POST.

--J
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Zugg
MASTER


Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2011 4:54 pm   
 
Quote:
One orthogonal request: search should be GET, not POST

Yes, Drupal already uses GET. In fact, it uses a simple URL format. For example, in the Drupal forums on the www.tessh.com site, doing a search for "tessh" can be done with the URL:

http://www.tessh.com/search/node/tessh

So I won't need to worry about that. The new forum system will be build in Drupal 7, so we already get all of the existing Drupal functionality. As opposed to the annoying Google site search that we currently have on the zuggsoft.com site.
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ralgith
Sorcerer


Joined: 13 Jan 2006
Posts: 715

PostPosted: Tue Jun 28, 2011 11:58 pm   
 
I'd throw MyBB into this. I'm one of the Devs over there. We're working hard on getting version 2.0 out, which is a total re-write to bring us up to par on 100% modern standards. 1.6 is pretty close, but its not proper OO code yet. MyBB also has a very very sweet plugin system, so any features that don't exist in the core are very easily added.
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