New forum software?

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lysol
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New forum software?

Post by lysol »

Since discord is non-foss and since it is more of a chat and less of a forum, the forums would make more sense for us as the main form of communication. Fact however is that Discord despite this took over completely a few years ago which, to be fair, can be explained by a number of superior features Discord has to the forums. My take on this:
  • Responsive design for mobile use
  • Markdown instead of horrible bbcode
  • New posts appear in real-time
  • Ease of uploading or linking and embedding images and videos
At the same time, discord has a big flaw for us -- it is a tool much better suited for chatting compared to structured long-term discussions. The archiving is far from optimal. And, again, it is not open source. Matrix is open source and a great tool, but it has the same issue with being too chat-centric. It could very well ve the ultimate compliment to a forum, but it cannot replace it imo.

Is it possible that there could be another more modern open source forum software that could replace phpBB that would give us at least *most* of the above mentioned superior features Discord currently gives us?

Real-time posts would require java scripting which some might disagree with but in my mind I get the feeling that such a feature in theory should be possible to turn off (practically making it work like a regular forum that requires updating before new posts appear)... Depends on the software I guess.

Importing from phpBB is of course essential.
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Mantar
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Re: New forum software?

Post by Mantar »

Discourse seems to work fairly well and cover at least most of those points. All forum software seems to have its own brand of suck built in, so it's kind of pick your poison. But Discourse's suck is at least minor. (It relies heavily on javascripting, and sometimes it gets weird and screws up its CSS)
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Husaco
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Re: New forum software?

Post by Husaco »

The reality is that people just don't use forums that much nowadays. Sites like Reddit have essentially consolidated what used to be hundreds of thousands of self-hosted forums into one place, and the rest of the social media have taken over a lot of the places that forums used to. Forums really haven't been relevant for a decade, and they're probably going to continue being a niche technology that is not going to see a lot of investment in (and judging by the monstrosity of things like Discord, I don't see that as a bad thing).

What you perhaps don't realize is that it's hardly unusual for chatrooms to be the main medium of discussion and forums to be semi-active: that has been the case in many places long before Discord was the twinkle in some web dev's eye. As you said, forums are a medium for more structured, substantial discussion instead of extemporaneous, off-the-cuff conversation, and it's perfectly fine to have two platforms for those purposes.

Probably the only dot point I agree with is that phpBB isn't really designed for mobile devices (again, when you haven't been relevant since everyone had smartphones, not surprising).
  • BBCode is perfectly fine and I find markup languages where daring to using more exotic punctuation than a comma threatens to completely screw up the formatting of your post aggravating. I really think it's just a question of familiarity.
  • Real-time updating seems to miss the point that forums are designed for longer-formed, considered discussion, and in a place like this where posts might not get replies for hours, is utterly pointless. That is why forums have notification systems instead. If we really wanted it, automatically refreshing webpages is another example of technology that has existed forever, long before people wrote 10MB scripts to accomplish effectively the same thing, and I'm sure there exist phpBB plugins to do that exact thing.
  • Uploading, linking and embedding is perhaps another place where I don't see the big deal because I don't use markup languages or what have you. Uploading and embedding images seems fine to me, I don't know how you would do it much differently outside of some horrible WYSIWYG deal (wresting with Word documents comes to mind). I suppose things like automatically embedding video frames to Youtube videos could be seen as a minus, even if it's not behaviour I care for.
The bottom line, though, is that even if we had all these features, it is doubtful it would change how the forum is used.
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AnyOldName3
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Re: New forum software?

Post by AnyOldName3 »

Basically, a lot of planning that should have a record is happening on Discord where (even though it's technically not ephemeral) it's getting buried by other stuff. Some of the team believe that the convenience of Discord versus the forums is causing a problematic amount of stuff to be mismanaged. If the convenience gap can be closed by improving the forums, it might partially address this.
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lysol
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Re: New forum software?

Post by lysol »

Exactly this.

Regarding BBCode being perfectly fine... No. No it's not. I've used BBCode on various forums since the early 2000s and it's just a worse version of html. It's not powerful enough to justify its complexity and it's too complex to be fast.

Markdown is fast and easy to use and people are already familiar of it through reddit and discord. Sure there are more cases where your writing might end up being unintendedly formatted, but these cases are rare and can often be worked around.
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AnyOldName3
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Re: New forum software?

Post by AnyOldName3 »

The whole point of Markdown is that the kind of pseudo-formatting that people applied in the 80s/90s/00s gets turned into the formatting they'd have used if they went for actual formatting. *This being italic* and **this being bold** is hardly a massive leap, and there are semi-WYSIWYG editors that preview the formatting without hiding the markup characters so it's immediately obvious where you need to put a backslash if you don't actually want things in italics. The only people who could have a problem with Markdown are people who still think they live in a pre-formatting age and want to use special characters all over the place as fake formatting, but definitely don't want actual formatting, people who've been using nicotine patches exclusively when writing BBCode in an attempt to become addicted to it, and people who've used things with nearly-Markdown (e.g. Slack) who are used to the same characters doing opposite things.

There's a good reason why so many modern communications platforms use Markdown of one variant or another, even those aimed at total non-techies. If the familiarity argument comes into it, as a ballpark figure, I'd guesstimate that as many people use Markdown daily as have used BBCode ever.
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Husaco
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Re: New forum software?

Post by Husaco »

The problem is that using particularly single punctuation marks as tokens for a markup language inevitably causes text to be formatted in unexpected ways when the intent wasn't to format or pseudo-format the text (censoring words with asterisks is an amusing one), and the symbols we have on our keyboard today are so precisely because they are/were commonly used. I'm not really bothered about the "should code look like natural language" debate, but markup is supposed to be distinct from the surrounding text so that both humans and computers can easily parse them. If you have to escape characters in pretty much any text not along the lines of "what are the tags in x markup language?" your markup language is bad.

BBCode is, I maintain, serviceable, at least for the purpose it was designed for (lightly formatting forum posts). Most people don't (consciously) use markup languages at all, and otherwise very seldom, as should be self-evident. On the platforms that don't avail users of any, there is never any great outcry that they cannot be sufficiently expressive without access to e.g. italics. I don't have any attachment to the language-- I can barely remember basic tags, much less use them effectively-- but it's not exactly onerous to type out the bold tag, even if this textbox didn't have a button to automatically insert them. It seems conversely that the people really bothered by BBCode are the ones who are so attached to a certain syntax that deviance thereof is ipso facto burdensome.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned, people rarely use markup languages here anyway, so it's hard to imagine that the vast inconvenience of typing square brackets is hampering use of the forums. What exactly is the convenience of Discord, exactly? I tried it a few years ago and would describe it as being a monstrously overdesigned and sluggish chat client whose features like uploading photos hardly justify being literally orders of magnitude worse than IRC in basic respects like responsiveness (not to mention size and resource consumption). If it really is just that everyone is using it and has it at their fingertips all the time, it wouldn't matter what forum software is being used: any self-hosted solution is going to be less convenient than just using Discord or Reddit or something.
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Re: New forum software?

Post by Naugrim »

Quick drop, anyone has had a look at Zulip? It's opensource and for OSS projects you can ask to upgrade without cost.
It's a threaded conversation model with a more modern approach and mobile integration.
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AnyOldName3
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Re: New forum software?

Post by AnyOldName3 »

The problem is that using particularly single punctuation marks as tokens for a markup language inevitably causes text to be formatted in unexpected ways when the intent wasn't to format or pseudo-format the text (censoring words with asterisks is an amusing one), and the symbols we have on our keyboard today are so precisely because they are/were commonly used. I'm not really bothered about the "should code look like natural language" debate, but markup is supposed to be distinct from the surrounding text so that both humans and computers can easily parse them. If you have to escape characters in pretty much any text not along the lines of "what are the tags in x markup language?" your markup language is bad.

BBCode is, I maintain, serviceable, at least for the purpose it was designed for (lightly formatting forum posts). Most people don't (consciously) use markup languages at all, and otherwise very seldom, as should be self-evident. On the platforms that don't avail users of any, there is never any great outcry that they cannot be sufficiently expressive without access to e.g. italics. I don't have any attachment to the language-- I can barely remember basic tags, much less use them effectively-- but it's not exactly onerous to type out the bold tag, even if this textbox didn't have a button to automatically insert them. It seems conversely that the people really bothered by BBCode are the ones who are so attached to a certain syntax that deviance thereof is ipso facto burdensome.
The world of vaguely-nerdy people left this way of thinking behind the best part of a decade ago. People are more likely to expect asterisks to do something than to remain as asterisks as Markdown is so prevalent. Except for IRC, which exists solely to insist the nineties are still ongoing, every other communications platform OpenMW supports uses Markdown, so no one's getting tripped up by there being more Markdown and less 2004-ish syntax they don't use anywhere else. Even ignoring the slight typing-speed advantage of Markdown over BBCode, not using a weird language that's fallen out of favour makes life easier and helps keep the typing speed and thinking speed in sync as you're not having to think about typing it. For the average Internet Person in <current year>, Markdown's familiar, whereas BBCode might as well be a custom domain-specific language invented by one site, and obviously, we wouldn't implement a custom markup language on our forum.

The keys on the keyboard are mostly there because they had particular uses in the late 1800s and early 1900s in specific kinds of documents rather than natural text, and also the mid-1900s to late 1900s often because they were common in programming languages rather than natural text. They only arose as a thing that got used in informal text on the internet because they were a way of hacking in support for formatting on systems that didn't support it using the characters available, and there's no good reason to keep using them once there's sufficiently convenient support for convenient markup of some form. I write literally thousands of words of Markdown a week (maybe tens of thousands or more - I've not measured, just made a conservative estimate) and I can't remember ever needing to escape anything when not trying to explain Markdown syntax or go on the hunt for ambiguous constructs. You're making assertions about Markdown that just don't reflect reality.

Basically, you're batting for Betamax even though Super VHS levelled the playing field and also it's a long time later and people no longer bother replacing broken DVD players. The world has just moved on.
Nevertheless, as I mentioned, people rarely use markup languages here anyway, so it's hard to imagine that the vast inconvenience of typing square brackets is hampering use of the forums. What exactly is the convenience of Discord, exactly? I tried it a few years ago and would describe it as being a monstrously overdesigned and sluggish chat client whose features like uploading photos hardly justify being literally orders of magnitude worse than IRC in basic respects like responsiveness (not to mention size and resource consumption). If it really is just that everyone is using it and has it at their fingertips all the time, it wouldn't matter what forum software is being used: any self-hosted solution is going to be less convenient than just using Discord or Reddit or something.
There clearly is some advantage to Discord over forums or IRC as people use it much more willingly. To a certain extent, it doesn't even matter what the advantages are as we're never going to convert everyone to using the forums as their primary communication method. The goal here is to try and make the forums more convenient so the things that are definitely better served by something forum-like (e.g. that we'll want to be searchable later) happen on the forums. One such step is getting rid of a markup syntax that's widely agreed to be more of a pain that we don't use anywhere else.

As for the sluggishness of Discord, on a vaguely modern PC, despite being incredibly hungry for resources, it manages to be completely responsive - a user wouldn't notice it being slower than a stripped-down IRC client even though it's eating 2GB rather than 2MB. It would be better if it managed the same speed via more efficient means, but the world's decided it's okay with things being written in inefficient JavaScript in an embedded browser environment, so that's what some apps do. Anyhow, as you asked, a few basic advantages of Discord/Matrix over IRC include:
  • Chat history sticks around so you don't have to miss stuff if you turn your computer off. If you ask someone a question while they're offline, they're still likely to see it.
  • Formatting is convenient, intuitive and useful enough that people actually use it, unlike on IRC. E.g. IRC lets you change the text colour, which basically can only be used to be annoying, and requires either something client-specific to do so, or that you know how to type the non-printing 0x03 character.
  • They don't target the lowest-common-denominator IRC client as everyone's roughly up-to-date, so new stuff gets added and can reliably be seen by everyone.
  • No need to learn any commands to do anything - it's all available via the GUI and keyboard shortcuts, so discoverable for first-timers and convenient for regulars.
  • Non-pathetic message length limit.
  • Things like pictures, which most people do find worth the resource-hogging (as they're unlikely to actually notice that unless something else is competing for RAM).
  • Grouping of channels so you don't need to join all fourteen public official OpenMW ones separately.
Regarding dropping the forums in favour of our subreddit, a big part of that is that Reddit's search is a load of ass. Also, the massively branching conversation structure doesn't suit planning things very well - it's harder to reach an eventual consensus if things can spin off lots of little tangents that get separated from the wider context and relevant ideas that come up in other contexts. I'm not even sure Reddit was suggested as a platform for organising things.
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EvilEye
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Re: New forum software?

Post by EvilEye »

Husaco wrote: 11 Nov 2021, 03:17Probably the only dot point I agree with is that phpBB isn't really designed for mobile devices (again, when you haven't been relevant since everyone had smartphones, not surprising).
In all fairness to phpBB, its default theme works on mobile (for vaguely current versions anyway.) The OpenMW custom theme not being mobile friendly is more on us than on them.
AnyOldName3 wrote: 15 Nov 2021, 02:24There clearly is some advantage to Discord over forums or IRC as people use it much more willingly.
For me personally, the reason I have a Discord account has absolutely nothing to do with Morrowind. Discord and Reddit have a similar advantage in that people don't have to sign up separately for everything they want to respond to -- unlike this forum. Obviously allowing SSO sign in using Google/Facebook/whatever is one (platform agnostic) way around this issue.
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