Discussion Forums

Newsgroups seem to be dying. Doing searches for anything on Google Groups yields fewer and fewer results from recent months; most results point to posts that are at least 2 years old. A lot of newsgroups that were once probably thriving hubs of conversation have been reduced to spamtraps.

The fact that the popularity of newsgroups as a medium is waning isn’t the issue. People don’t just “stop talking”, obviously – conversation is moving elsewhere; in particular, most conversation seems to be moving toward web-based discussion forums. This isn’t a problem in itself either, the technology isn’t so bad at all and allows for posting of images, post counts, etc, more of a community spirit if you will. The 2 big problems I have with discussion forums are:

1) There is no centralised way of searching all forums, everywhere, regardless of forum software used, like Google Groups allows you to do with Newsgroups,
2) Whenever you feel you want to reply to a posting on a forum you haven’t used before, you have to REGISTER EVERY SINGLE BLOODY TIME.

Number 1 is a pretty bad thing. I LOVE the ability to search Google groups for answers to questions, reviews of hardware/software, discussion of hobbies, meeting people with similar interests… the list is endless. Now I see the amounts of new postings going down for Newsgroups and I’m thinking “OK, fair enough, Newsgroups are on their way out, now where do I have to go to search all the world’s forums for answers?” There is NO WAY, yet, that you can do it. Google staff – if you’re reading this – why not set up a way to search forums worldwide just as you can search the Newsgroup archive? Is the time not right?

Number 2 is the WORST problem with forums. With almost all newsgroups, the system is simple: you go there, find a thread you want to reply to and reply to it, or just start one up yourself. No faffing with verifying your identity or email address. Engaging in the conversations was EASY and made spontaneous expression possible. Now look at most web forums. Before you can add even a small reply to a topic you’ve seen (for example if you think there’s a little something you can add to it), you have to go through the same TEDIOUS registration process – pick a username (probably taken so several retries needed), enter email address (twice), enter password (twice), full name, date of birth, ICQ number, MSN, AOL, interests, location, secret question, mother’s maiden name, cat’s middle name, number of toes on left foot…

PLEASE!!!

Can we PLEASE have a central forum registration system at least? Like MSN Passport? Sign up at one place and then you can post anywhere. Your info gets sent to any forum you post to so they can ban you if they want to. If this doesn’t get done, people are going to be put off engaging in conversation by having to register to each and every sodding forum they want to use. I don’t want to have to sign up to 500 forums just to post in 500 different topics. This is a definite step backwards from the unhindered, universal accessibility of newsgroups and I hope someone addresses it soon, before people give up trying to discuss anything over the internet any more.