Be Careful What You Wish For
Reading this post on USS Clueless this morning was ironic.
I've been conceptualizing a site redesign for this site (which is going to include a message board of some form), and soliciting comments from a few people on various aspects of the redesign concept. About the time I had finished Den Beste's post and was getting ready to send the link and some comments to one of the people I've been soliciting (ooohhh.... doesn't that sound naughty?!), she had already sent an email asking if I had seen the post. Made me laugh. THERE is a valued member of the Virtual Brain Trust! :)
Anyway, ages ago Den Beste lamented that he wished he had more visitors. Through hard work and quality writing, he has those visitors he wanted now -- thousands per day, I would guess. I'm a member of the daily horde, and I think it rocks. But as the horde has grown, I found that even I stopped going to his message boards (though I must admit I was only ever a casual reader/lurker in any case) because they were beginning to suffer from the problem Steven addressed in his post: drift.
I think as soon as his site began to attract a much larger group of casual readers, the forums probably weren't going to work for the sort of focused feedback he wanted. It's almost like a party. It can be hard enough to manage really significant, focused, meaningful conversation among a small, intimate group of one's closest friends; turn it into a social gathering of an only slightly related group, and it's even tougher (which is why I tend to avoid such gatherings); make it an open-invitation festival, and it's virtually impossible. I think Den Beste the engineer has come to that conclusion, and I think he's probably right.
Yet I'm determined to put a message board back on this site. Why?
For one thing, I don't have Steven's thousands coming here each day. There's a few hundred most days, and the orientation of the site is situated to keep it that way. It's a personal site completely devoted to things I find interesting, whether the "blogosphere" or the bigtime linkers or other self-important, overblown creations of 11 September necessarily agree. I don't strive for placement on the blog ecosphere or praise from other bloggers (though I do appreciate those who do link, because they usually "get" me, and that's always nice). And even the design discourages random passersby (i.e. reciprocal links are on a separate portal page, no webrings, etc). The people who are coming here generally have some reason to be here, rather than just a random link they found somewhere.
That's helpful for a message board. I'm guessing I would be pleased to have a beer and a face-to-face chat with most of the visitors here. But some of those folks, for whatever reason, are more likely to post a line on a well-designed and maintained message board than send an email. Fine. The message board's for them.
And that's one reason that Movable Type's inline comments don't interest me. Maybe they would work with a PostNuke or similar setup, because those types of content management systems handle comments more like a message board, whereas MT does not. It's a pretty limited comment system, with no real ability to thread or quote or do anything with editing. Plus it's no deterrent for the random stranger to post something silly after reading one paragraph. I'm enough of a Straussian to HATE that. It strikes me one ought to read and think for a while about ANYTHING before writing. A message board might not accomplish that, but at least the trouble and time of registering and such cut down on the random silliness.
The final reason that a board is coming back is that like Steven, I do want feedback on posts. But unlike Steven, I sometimes do find good stuff in conversation even as it drifts -- I don't mind if conversation strays to related topics (although only tangentially related topics may just get moved to a broad "chatter" forum that I won't really participate in). But only when I have some degree of control over the participants (through means I've described partially above). Inline comments don't allow that. Various message boards do, although they are imperfect (as Steven notes).
I'm actually looking forward to the return of the boards, which went away in the move to the new webhost (which doesn't allow cgi-based boards) and in light of the pending redesign.
[Posted at 18:12 CST on 07/13/02] [Link]