Archive for May, 2009

Forums are so 1999

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I cringe forums1 or message board every time I visit one.

They are usually cluttered with distracting animated gifs, elaborate signatures and tons of useless stats about the posters (novice/expert level, im status, joining date, etc.)

They are notoriously cumbersome to navigate, let alone find what you need. The forum administrators and moderators know it, so most forums use stickies as a band-aid. For the casual visitor, stickies are usually road signs that tell you where to look for certain things, a summary of important points or FAQs. Needless to say, they’re pretty effective when you compare them with the rest of the mess, but a band-aid nonetheless.

I’d blame the user interface for this awkward communication medium. It’s not so much due to its age, because I’d rather read stuff on old skool NNTP with vi key bindings than to navigate these forums. Rather, it’s the constant need for paging (displaying page 1 of 32!!), which means that you can’t effectively use the browser’s in-page find feature. Search is usually broken or otherwise less than relevant. No threading, nor ability to easily filter messages. I could go on.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of tweaking the skin and applying sane user interface design. Certainly, there are some better-designed forums out there that are less painful to use. I haven’t seen much innovation in that area in a long time, actually not since my first encounter with them. I suspect people actually like and have come to expect those cumbersome features.

Forum communities are an entire subculture of their own, and I don’t expect a shift anytime soon. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if we can do better.

1 In case you’re wondering, I intentionally used the word “forums” instead of “fora”.