What's the ideal discussion platform?

The following is a copy of one of the first threads on the old Social Future Forum:

What really annoys me about most online discussion platforms is that they are rather unstructured. Sure, you have groups in Facebook, different mailing lists in your inbox which you can sort into folders manually, different blogs for different topics, but there’s no good public structure in all of these. In a forum that is different. This forum has categories and boards into which posts have to be placed into. This places the burden of categorization on those provide the content, and not those who read or react to it, which is an advantage if you want to get a quick overview over what’s actually going on in the discussion space.

This public structuring is the biggest advantage I see in forums. It helps to keep the interaction and conversations manageable. In social networks discussions are all over the place and not really focused. For 1 discussion or post you are interested in, you are confronted with 9 moderately interesting, but mostly irrelevant posts. Forums are better to stay atop of the important debates, because you can find them much quicker without having to go through all the irrelevant chaff.

Any discussion platform that doesn’t include the multi-layered public structuring of topics cannot be a full replacement for forums! And the navigation needs to be user friendly, so that you can dive into the categories that interest you quickly and find the discussions that are important to you not much later. Anything other than “classical” bulletin boards are really bad in comparison.

If we want to make a difference, we need to facilitate effective discussions. You cannot be effective when you are drowned in moderately relevant to totally irrelevant stuff!

So, the main advantage of forums in my opinion is that they put structure into the focus, not convenience of data aggregation (mailing lists, social networks), or post / reply ratings (Reddit, Quora, “StackWhatever”, etc.), or content presentation (blogs, wikis), or speed of interaction (Twitter, Facebook, chat platforms). The second advantage of forums is that they are still best for relatively even level discussions that have the slight chance to be actually productive – though you might want to couple a forum with some other content management platform like a wiki to get to the “actually productive” stage easier.

Now, if you really want a publicly structured discussion platform, how would it need to look like? And what features should it have?

  • The primary focus of the user interface should be to get a quick overview over all possibly relevant activity. Classical forums do this relatively well, but they could still become much better at that by more aggressive use of AJAX technologies. Think forum + Facebook notification bar + different “frames” for navigation and interaction.
  • Activity notification by email or RSS/atom/whatever feeds. With personal customization and filtering.
  • Chatroom-like instant messaging capabilities, implemented via the XMPP protocol for example.
  • Content should be able to be formatted easily (WYSIWYG) and richly, ideally with at least as much possibilities as with HTML + CSS.
  • The platform should ideally not be controlled by a corporation which owns all the data on that platform and has the capability to censor and shut down discussions and people.
  • It should enable collaborative editing on some kind of common canvas. Wikis can do that. Google drive documents enable that feature pretty nicely, too. Google Wave could enable pretty awesome collaborations while it existed (though long waves got terribly laggy).
  • The platform needs to be search machine friendly like nothing else! It should provide the top search results for every interesting conversation that is going on within it!
  • There should be an options to integrate the platform with reputation systems.
  • Interoperability with existing social networks would be a plus.
  • It should be fast
  • It should be secure
  • It should be really public (unlike mailing lists which you have to be in to read them, or Facebook which you have to register and log into to see what’s happening there)
  • It should be fun to use, but not so much fun that it is used to spam it full with mindless content
  • Discussions should be archived (and backups stored in a distributed way), and ideally the system should have version control capabilities!

I think that a forum like this one could in principle be most easily extended to fulfil most of these requirements. At least in comparison to other platforms.

[Remark from 2015-02-04: Discourse seems to be quite good at satisfying most of the points I wanted from an ideal discussion platform. Sure, it’s not 100%, but it seems to be significantly better than anything else out there]

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I wasn’t sure were to reply, here or in the topic “Influence evaluation and monitoring system”. I have a model to present for a communication platform, but is also a knowledge base and content sorting system. Pretty much a deliberation platform but with a plus, were to get information verified. It would be interesting to make this project open source. I can translate my previous work for the spanish wikiparty given some time, but is better to give some details now.

Interoperability. These are required to get this things used regularly, is a must for increasing participation (and its actually a good reason to interact with other social medias).

Modular management. It supports creation of hierarchies, but only if so wished. Many people want to have a direct democracy, but others want to rely on specialists. This model accepts both.

Sort, Split And Merge (SSAM). This mnemonic is useful to visualize what can be done with every content, including categories and topics.

Tags as topics (tags as hyperlinks to topics). A foundation for knowledge linking.

Records as visual display. This is a display of activities with dynamic information, presented as a tree, with information from edits to possible “lobbying”, so its an early warning on intrigue. The idea is to prevent editorial wars from Wikipedia, or at least minimize it.

There are a couple more, like having an independent set of protocols for each module, to allow things like personalized security for private networks, than I will leave for the last to explain. And there is the voting system, some terminology and more to clarify. I would discuss this in various topics. What do you think?

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So, what you seem to be suggesting is a wiki with

  • Access Control Logic for handling user groups and their rights.
  • a tag based structure, rather than a directory / category based structure.
  • a version control system with a graphical user interface, or at least graphical displays of the commit history.
  • a voting system
  • some additional features for managing data

That would be interesting for a wiki, but this doesn’t seem to be a good discussion platform.

But what if we could somehow meaningfully merge the forum with a wiki? How?

  • Every edit (!) can be extended to a full threaded forum topic.
  • Every forum topic can be turned into a wiki page

Now that would be interesting – and potentially very messy.

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Similar to Livestream?, the chat displays is at one side, it has tags as communication channels, also the wiki and the “record/navigation map” (and everything else) are customizable; to be open, reduced in size or closed, or just able to partially collapse.
Now, the wiki is not just one, is a central community editable wiki at the top?, and wikis from multiple users down that. One personal “version” of wiki by user, but with the option to unlimited comments under each wiki.

Having said all that, one has to use things like Quora (and the now defunct Orkut) to find the reasong for this method being effective. It would be very helpful if you start using just parts, like the navigation and tagging.

The record display is also a navigation map. It is intended to be used as the folder system viewers, and that is why tagging becomes less cumbersome. I suggest to experiment with a nagivation and a SSAM. Here is a link from a people who did something somewhat similar, yet not fully:

Now, thinking back, Google Wave was some really innovative software:

It was sold as “mail 2.0”, but it was also a weird combination of wiki, forum, and IM features. Perhaps it was this complexity that caused people to reject it. If we want to create something similarly complex, we might run into the same problem. So, yes: Better start with some isolated features and see what can be developed on top of that.

Perhaps the most important question is: What is the actual purpose of the software we are trying to create? Why do we need it? What can it do that other software can’t do well, or at all?

Edit: There’s a service that’s pretty similar to Google Wave called Rizzoma. It seems to be mostly used as collaboration tool.

Facebook brought a narrow view of conversational social media with so many changes. Orkut is more or less an example of thematic social media, where the main difference with Facebook were two, comments to the posts were hidden, but you could view the posts content (or most of it) once inside the groups, and it also had a cleaner search of groups by subject.

But what do YOU want to accomplish with this forum? To continue the talk we need something you mention, the goal. My aim is deliberation platform and a knowledge base, I am not sure is what you aim for.

Right now I wish I could tag some parts of your comment, add some pop-up notes and show you what I mean.

Great question! This forum is just the first step in the constructive collaborative creation cycle: Discuss -> Collaborate -> Publish -> Share -> Discuss

The Social Future Metanet is supposed to become an effective collaboration platform for various different projects. So, what do I want to accomplish with the forum? There are a couple of projects that I want to use this platform for:

  1. Pushing forward the universal basic income idea
  2. Developing my reputation economy system Quantified Prestige (see document) further and test it within the Social Future Metanet.
  3. Work on my concept of The Universal Upgrade (see blog post), write a book about it, and then use that to guide my next steps.
  4. Initiate debates about connecting minds with brain to brain interfaces to establish telepathic and empathic communication networks.

I’d also be glad if others came forward with other promising projects. Ideally, there would be some synergy between different projects so that they can support and build open each other. If not, there might still be this positive energy of working together on projects that have the potential to improve the world. :slight_smile:

You should definitely check out Rizzoma. I think you’d like what it can do. Maybe we could use that as additional collaboration tool.

You could borrow the comment capacity of Reddit for the discussion part, and I mean ONLY the commenting part. Reddit condenses many comments on its tree structure, and its less bloated. No free spaces and the text extended to all the screen.

For collaboration tools, you could start adding a mini wiki at the top of each post, therefore we can collaborate on ideas in real time, like a mini version of google docs (where I can make the pop-up notes I need, maybe? :wink:).

To publish, well, here comes the big question, in which format? Tell me that and perhaps we can work on it.

To share actually comes it handy, because here comes the part of interconnection with other social medias. Totally doable like any other part. But yet again, what do you mean by share?

Interesting, but first I want your opinion on the previous options, they take your forum as the center.

Your comments on the C4 (constructive collaborative creation cycle) are interesting.

  • Discuss: This is currently done in this Discourse forum. You seem to be fond of Reddit for its comment feature. Sure, it save some space, and is actually threaded, but apart from that, Discourse seems to be quite sufficient as forum software. Discourse will also get significantly better over time, since it’s still pretty new.
  • Collaborate: Yes, wikis are well know collaboration tools. This weekend I want to set up the DokuWiki on sfmeta.net, so we can start collaborative editing. Also, Discourse has some wiki features, but we need to test out how well they compare to an actual wiki. As open collaboration tools, wikis are pretty good. But there are also very good more closed collaboration tools like Rizzoma.
  • Publish: Blogs should be sufficient for publishing polished results of collaborative creation. If you feel the need, you could also create .pdfs for shiny whitepapers or stuff like that. And if you want to share software, you just might want to include a link to GitHub.
  • Share: Yes, we will use social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Diaspora, …) for that. It’s the most logical option.

Rizzoma looked great, and if you can implement that it would be great, go at will. The case I do is not for Reddit but the use of space. The free space around comments seems a misleading visual effect. Its there a way to use more of the space? Maybe to compact limits and get comments closer to the edges of the screen would do the effect. Enough to see more than one comment at the same time.

Note: the content creation still is limited, an strategy for attracting people is needed to be discussed.

Even though I host this forum, I have limited ability to adjust its function. The Discourse software is based on Ruby on Rails and I have about 0 experience with that programming framework. If you think your wish is important enough to be pursued actively, you may comment on the official Discourse forum or urge other members of the SFF to do the same.

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I am not sure this software suits my necessities. I have not programmed before either. I am learning java and xml for generate a multi-platform software that suits that, obviously it would be from scratch. Realistically speaking, it will take years to develop.
But we do have enough platforms to use, you showed a couple of interesting alternatives. Is anything else the site can implement? Can you do a list?

Why do you want to create a multi-platform software on your own? For what purpose exactly? What are your requirements precisely? Who else do you want to use the platform, too? If it’s only for fitting your own personal tastes, then people won’t be eager to adopt it.

There are lots of “Software as a Services (Saas)” which we could use. The alternative is to host stuff on some “personal” space, like a virtual or dedicated server. There’s no clear reason to prefer one over the other, unless there are specific requirements which would need to be met. I could implement lots of services on my virtual servers, but there better need to be some good reason to do that, otherwise it’s just wasted effort.

On the multi-platform software I mention, is a fact-checked wiki and an easy deliberative tool. Will be open to everyone. It has multiple uses, but specially for journalism and related. My reason to work on it is the current problems in my country. To be short, we have a crisis on information, too many lies, and we may face civil war because of lies, and its not an exaggeration. I cant explain this shorter without help, and this is exactly the problem we have in Argentina.

Returning to the maters which concern this forum, can you make a list of the tools this forum can use in the wiki? A list with details on the wiki might just be enough to clear ideas.

I have this idea called Jera (mentioned in Facebook), that had basically the same goal as this forum and Project Future, as far as I understand. I just uploaded the specifications we had worked out to GitHub (we haven’t really done much coding at all, as I am quite busy with my studies at the moment). Ignore the “Community v1” as it’s an old version. Also, I would check the “Data structure” section first to get an idea of what it is about:

Jera specification

The overarching idea, reached after a lot of discussions and brain storming, is that the objective of the platform is to facilitate the purposeful creative process; and that this is divided in three main aspects:

  • Identifying the things that people want (i.e. specific goals"to
    improve society),
  • Finding ways of achieving these goals (through
    projects), and
  • Identifying and organizing the requirements of these projects.

These correspond to the main data types, and each of them can be further sub-organized into categories, via tags (like transportation, health, IT, etc.), although these don’t give the main structure (they are actually ancillary) to the system, but connections. So the proper way to implement a typical structure is to have a big goal called “Improving transportation” with a lot of children goals (more details about the type of connections in the document).

The important thing, as you point out, is that people should find what they are looking for as readily as possible. However, most people don’t know what to look for other than “improve the world”, so having a way to explore ideas is useful. That is why we put a lot of emphasis on connections between ideas (which was inspired by some other guys working on something called “Rhizi” as well as a set of idea tools like this one: http://hackathonideas.tk/).

People exploring the “goals section”, whether in “list view” or “graph view”, would be able to find the goals people are more interested in, as well as related goals. They will then find projects that people are proposing/working on to solve that goal, and also find the requisites that that project is looking for. Maybe they will even offer themselves for help if they have that requisite (could be a skill).

Some other user could be exploring the “requisites section” directly, to look for things to help in, if they had a certain skill/resource they wanted to offer/use. They could even filter the requisites for requisites used for projects that are aimed to solving a certain goal, or goals.

Basically, what we tried to design is the best way in which people with the intention of improving the world could find what they wanted to, no matter from which angle they came.

For each of the “goals”, “projects”, “requisites”, there is a corresponding page that holds information about it, as well as a “newsfeed” (a name that maybe isn’t that good, as it reminds me of Facebook’s) that basically has the “blog” and “discussion” features you talk about for the creative process (I actually put this “blog” and “discussion” features separately but a friend said maybe it’s best together, although I am not convinced).

So that people that want to discuss about a certain goal, will go to that goal’s page (which will load the “newsfeed”/thread page) by default, and they will post a new thread, like in a forum, or they will search for threads (sorted by date or vote-ranking), and discuss in it etc.

There are some more details, but that covers the most important stuff.

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Your Jera project looks quite interesting, guillefix. At the very least, it would be a great way to visualize and navigate the different projects (and I would even include organisations as projects as I’ve described in the Project Future thread).

The question is how to integrate Jera with the Project Future.

The ideal solution would be have some kind of CMS that would combine blog, forums, wikis, and the Jera project navigation. I’d still want to keep a dedicated and advanced forum like this Discourse forum, and a dedicated wiki, because they provide great advanced features, but the way to combine them would be via single sign-on and by embedding everything into the CMS plus harmonizing the themes of all components.

As far as I understand it, Jera tries to be a CMS in its own right, rather than only focusing on the project visualization and navigation. This may not be ideal if we go with the big CMS that could include everything.

As choice for the big CMS I’ve considered Drupal. But Drupal 7 is a bit messy. Drupal 8 is hopefully going to be really good, but its development could still take years. So, I’ve settled for not having an advanced underlying CMS, but using separate components, each optimized for its own task (Discourse forum, DokuWiki, Wordpress blog, etc.). In this framework, Jera would be “just another component” with its own features and strengths.

Anyway, Jera is a cool idea that might be very useful once it’s ready to be used.

I haven’t read this whole thread properly yet, but i just wanted to add an thought.

My biggest gripe when using this forum is the problem of ‘where to put stuff’.

I have an idea or question I want to discuss with the community, and it always feels like the first thing i have to do is to decide where to ‘put’ it. It’s a small thing, but it frustrates me a lot.

The way I think my software will work is first you’ll write the idea/question/thought and then when you’re done you’ll be able to link it in with other things on the forum, and this can be done at any time. Also other users can see your post and they can link it in with other stuff, and that’s how it’s place will be determined. Threads are too restrictive.

I hope to demo something that can do this soon. It’s 70% done. I have the networking code and logoot syncing algorithm, and large parts of the GUI done.

You don’t have to select a category for your threads. At first, you can leave it uncategorized, first. Afterwards, you can still change the category of a thread later on. Tags can also be added later on.

Ok, it might be possible to do it that way, but I don’t think that would be very easy. The question would then be whether it’s comfortable to navigate that. Perhaps something like a good post network navigator would be needed. Ideally even in 3d.

Yup. I can do that. That’s the plan.

Someone ‘liked’ a post, but the post contained two points, and I’m not sure if the person was liking only one or both or what?

My software will allow people to stick a ‘like’ after every word, I think slack also does this, which is another reason i like slack. Actually I think slack allows it after every sentence, which is better but still not quite accurate enough for some cases!

This post should prob be linked in with threads about ideal software, etc. I don’t have the time at the moment to decide where best to ‘put’ it. Admin Edit: Done!