Forum Misnomers

3 minute read

February 11, 2010

Forum Misnomers

This word in theirs: is this in Vanilla: meaning this:
forum Category A method for categorizing/organizing discussions
thread Discussion The topic of discussion
post Comment The actual content of a message posted by a user within a discussion

Their names and our names have similar meanings except for one: forum/Category. In our minds a forum is the container for all discussions, not a way of categorizing them. A different forum in Vanilla would have a completely different set of users, while a category serves only as a method of filtering discussions to their various sections. This is really just a difference of opinion, since technically we could make a page like most other forum packages have where it lists all of the categories, the number of discussions in each, the time of the latest discussion, etc. But we’ve always founds pages like this to be utterly pointless in smaller communities. We’ve always thought, “Why do you have to go digging to find the discussions? Why can’t they just be up-front in the user’s face when they get to the forum?”

So, we have some differences of opinion with the meaning of data structures in traditional forum software. Fair enough, we’re not trying to do what’s been done before. Lately, however, there have been some new friends on the playground. Get Satisfaction, for example, has a strict set of categories: Questions, Ideas, Problems, and Praise. Get Satisfaction is trying to specifically help businesses by giving their customers a place to get help (or share their thoughts) on a product in a structured way. The really interesting thing about their approach is that these four “categories” aren’t just words to describe the discussions within, they actually have meanings that are completely separate from each other.

All too often I’ve seen Vanilla forum categories fall into the trap of being so similar in meaning that people don’t know where to start their discussions (ie. Joe wants to start a discussion called “The theory behind Vanilla”, should it go in the “Vanilla 1” category, or the “Vanilla 2” category?). With Get Satisfaction it goes a step further and allows special features for each of their four categories. For example, you can “Like” an “Idea”, or you can say “I have this problem, too!” for a discussion about a “Problem”, etc. In my mind, this is where the real innovation appears.

That being said, I look around the web at the “big” social sites, and I see almost all of them as “forums” in one way or another. If you’re looking at the data structure alone, Digg is a forum where you share and discuss links. Facebook is a forum where you share and discuss your thoughts, your pictures, your videos, etc. The difference between a traditional forum (structurally) is that no discussion title is required – they are just lists of comments with various “media” attached, and comments in reply to comments (threading), etc. They throw in “Likes” or “Diggs” to add social currency to the mix.

All of these things are possible with Vanilla, and we want to drive the software in these directions, so we can help businesses grow their communities in any way they see fit – as support-style forums that allow their customers to get answers, or as community-hubs where their users can interact in a fun and meaningful way, etc.

The really interesting thing is that all of this growth stems from our conceptions of the data underneath, and these “misnomers” that draw the divide between Vanilla and traditional forum software.

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Mark O'Sullivan

Written by Mark O'Sullivan

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