Forums Are Dead, Long Live Forums

Here’s my ForumCon 2013 keynote, Forums Are Dead, Long Live Forums — you’ll have to juxtapose the video with the slides manually, unfortunately, but here they are side by side. People seemed to really enjoy it, and I think it got the message across that I intended. I’ve been thinking about this for over a…

This topic is for comments on the original blog entry at: Forums Are Dead, Long Live Forums


Thanks for the reminder, @PabloC and @tothetick. This one has the slide deck side by side with the audio and video.


First of all, as an aside, I’m loving the fact that I have the YouTube video up on my TV while reading the slides on my iPad. A small little thing that I didn’t realize I’d really enjoy.

I’ve never seen you give a talk before, so I really enjoyed this. A lot of this was a more in-depth dive into the About page on the Discourse site, but it’s nice to hear more directly from you on your motivations with the project.

I’m really curious about the audience that you were speaking to during this keynote - looking at the convention page, I wonder what was the demographic of the audience in terms of the people who have an influence in the innovation of the forum software realm? After the keynote and Q&A, what were the kind of conversations that people wanted to have in terms of reacting to what you were presenting?

Finally, was amused to see you talk about your 2nd partner, I’m guessing that you were referring to BoingBoing. :slight_smile:

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A lot of forum operators, forum software companies, and people strongly related to those two groups. Oddly enough this was probably the talk I’ve given that got the most positive reaction, ever. It was … ebullient. A little scarily so.

Good job @codinghorror

That’s… baffling? I don’t know. I think it’s great that the reaction was positive, but I almost wanted to hear that you received tangible pushback, because at least that would explain some of the stagnation going on.

The more I think about it, the more I think that people who were trying to solve forum design problems did what StackExchange did, and simply looked at the problem as having a non-forum solution. It’s not that the innovation wasn’t there, it’s just that they just completely left town.

I’d just like to thank you for the article and talk. It’s rare to find people like you throwing a spark in the web dark places rather that going mainstream. Your words really got me, and I speak as a long time forum-mess hater.

I know this is not going to add any information to the topic, but taking action and caring about something good deserves gratitude.

Keep going

P.S. I know my english could be better…


You’re fine. Making an effort is half the battle. :wink:

Stick around and keep contributing.

Re: 8:40 -

I used to moderate a forum with a largish number of users. If there is one thing I learned that I think every other forum admin should know, it’s that a significant number of new users will not even look at categories. They will just click the first one and make their post. The corollary is that the correct ordering for categories is according to whether they appeal more to newcomers or experienced users (So “Welcome” go at the top, while offtopic and meta forums should be near the bottom). Just a crumb for anyone still stuck with Dewey.


Great talk Jeff.

You make a tonne of points that resonate deeply with me, having run forums for almost a decade now and sharing many of the same frustrations. I think you hit the nail on the head on two of the most important aspects - features/design, and (community) culture.

In fact it’s both of these things that made me turn to Ruby/Rails, so I could create my own custom sites.

Features and design are somewhat easier to tackle - because much of it is your vision of how the site should work. Culture is a much more difficult thing to get a handle on.

I hate moderating. You can never please everyone, and you will almost always piss someone off - because most people do not like to be moderated. It’s a vicious circle, someone oversteps the mark, gets moderated, gets pissed off - and at that point they begin to change how they feel about the site. I’ve seen very loyal members ‘turn’ after they were (rightly, and sensitively) moderated. People get het up in the moment, and it escalates - sometimes to the point of no return.

So what’s the solution? I have no idea!

Ok, I have some ideas.

The most important thing I think a community site needs when it comes to moderation, is a proper block function. If someone blocks someone else they should never see any of their posts or threads, or replies to posts (and vice versa). If someone is blocked they should not be able to @ or contact the person who blocked them in any way whatsoever via the site. This is especially important when it comes to anything that may constitute bullying - lots of people take their lives because of bullying, and as a site admin we need to offer the user protection, and a proper block function is essential.

With regards to community powers for ‘regular’ members, this could be really great, or really bad. The majority are not always right and you risk an element of mob culture. In fact we saw this on one of my forums recently, where, over the years many of our ‘nice’ members got pushed out through attrition and a group of more ‘nasty’ individuals seemed to get a foothold. Made worse by the fact they added each other on facebook and used it to get ‘back-up’ in debates. Great if you run a forum for ad impressions! Not so if you run a site where the community comes first.

Anyway it feels like I’m preaching to the converted here! :stuck_out_tongue:


If someone blocks someone else they should never see any of their posts or threads, or replies to posts (and vice versa).

I disagree with this specific point as this may lead to confusing situations during a discussion. Imagine A is in a vividly discussion with B and C but has blocked D. If B and C start to discuss a statement which D has added to the discussion A won’t be able to reconstruct the discussion’s progression. Blocking may be a useful and necessary feature in a social network but in a community based on discussion it isn’t the right tool to overcome bullying.

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Agreed on this one. If someone’s only recourse to protect themselves from bullying is to fully pretending another user doesn’t exist, then maybe that bully shouldn’t be in the community to begin with.

Additionally, I think the idea of flagging someone as being objectionable and simultaneously removing them from view are too tied together, especially in chat systems. In the majority of cases I admit it makes sense from the point of view of the admins, but frequently (especially in MMO games) I will want to report someone for language or behavior, but won’t because I’m in a situation that depends on communicating with them in order to succeed (like a raid group), or because they’re harassing someone else and I want to be able to defend that person and let them know that they have someone in their corner… all it takes is one disgusting person in a game or community to make someone feel like they are universally unwelcome.

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People will be aware of that, but they may decide to block anyway. I think it should be up to the user - if they’ve just had enough of someone and want to forfeit being able to continue the discussion with that person, then so be it.

I doubt it would be used extensively, but there are times when it is needed, and I think it would be good to have from a legal standpoint as well.

On my forums we have manual forced blocks that can be applied on request - here we let both parties know that an official complaint and block request was made and that under no circumstances should they contact each other, or reply to or refer to each other directly or indirectly on the forum. If they do, it’s a permanent and irreversible ban. This is because we have to take such complaints very seriously. As I mentioned earlier, people commit suicide because of bullying, and if we as site administrators do not have a proper block function we are not only letting down our users, but could be open to being sued.

It’s not easy to let the community patrol this area either, because it’s highly personal, and not always rational - what you or I may take without batting a eyelid could totally crush someone with mental health problems. My priority as admin is to allow them to protect themselves - and a proper block function would help me do that.

Edit: Having thought about it a little more, maybe posts in threads could be exempt (for the reasons you stated) but threads by the users and ability to @ or quote each other is removed.

Nice talk! Nothing new really, which is a good thing, because that means the forum has done a great job of leading me to meaningful conversations.

On a related note, has anyone found a youtube video available for this talk?

I’m curious to know what these guys (especially phpBB, ProBoards and vB, who imo left the innovation race a long time ago) had to say about the future of forums. Jeff’s video is marked as unlisted (I wonder if the ForumCon people are aware of that…) so I suppose the same goes for the rest.

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Brilliant! =D I also really enjoyed the juxtaposition of slides and video. Not that the non-audio parts of the video are entirely necessary, but it is a bit more engaging to see a speaker and not just get some slides and a disembodied voice.

I loved the ideas, which I suppose is the base philosophy anyway, of “Civil Discourse” and motivating that specifically through software. I think a lot of forum software replies are made in anger, and that catching them just-in-time with a few choice words from the system are the best possible way to diffuse that.

Calm, undeniable logic, in my experience, is the best way to send you from angry and irrational to introspective and embarrassed in like 5 seconds. And while some people might lash at at some “smarmy $%*#” who’s trying to reason with them, when SOFTWARE reasons with you, it’s hard to lash out - and if you do, it doesn’t care.

I also like the downplay of categories and pages. Both, to me, are system related, not user experience related. (ie. There because they’re EASY, more than because they’re really useful) Both think like libraries, which was fine for the early internet, because we didn’t know any better. But I sort of like to think we do now, or at least we should, given the rapid rise of social media.

As for the homepage, I completely agree categories don’t belong there, and a categories page is great. I mean honestly, we all love categories so much, so why not give them their own category? The home page should be about sparking an interest, whether showing a new user “What’s Hot” or showing a veteran “We know just what you like” I mean, things like 9gag and facebook have excelled in these areas because they make an effort to get to know, and to please their target audiences. (Whether individually or as a majority)

Anyway, I’ll stop now, because I’m such a fan of this project and I could talk about this forever. Hopefully, my reply is constructive enough (the little popup while posting did motivate me to at least try =P) But forgive me if it’s not, this is my first post, and I’m altogether to excited about technology in general right now to organise my thoughts properly.

Glad to join you, and Viva La Forum Revolución!


I moved 14 posts to a new topic: Traditional pagination vs. “Best Of” mode