|Thread divergence: When a thread takes off in 3 different paths|
What are the best approaches to this common issue?
The front page thread about dealing with ad blocking software brings something into focus: Threads often diverge. There's actually 3 threads running within the one thread about Norton blocking AdSense.
1) (Technical) How best to implement a strategy for dealing with ad blocking software? and,
2) (Policy) How will the propagation of this idea impact the broader society? and,
3) (Economic) Is this proposed action likely to be good or bad for business?
Sometimes, the value of a thread is eroded, sometimes enhanced by the addition of all the perspectives.
I find that when a technical issue (How do you implement this?) is overtaken by the policy discussion something is lost by all the additions.
What are the best methods for dealing with such common divergence?
Ya, I know, we could say "Please stay on topic" but I really prefer to avoid that approach. (Exceptions for emerging flame wars and a few others.)
Do the popular versions of forum software make the process of splitting off diverging comments into a new thread a simple task? Do they even accomodate the process?
To me, the solution would entail a way for an administrator to "mark" each thread they wished to move, create a new thread caption and then hit a button to move all the related threads into the new thread. Such an approach should also allow the original posters the opportunity to go back in an amend their post to remove any part that then becomes entirely irrelevant. (Comment about another post that isn't transported.)
Is all this "too much work and interferecne"?
Are we simply so accustomed to the "rabble" approach? Everyone coming in from all angles?
When and how should a divergence/convergence strategy apply?
IF you were going to devise a software or policy solution to the recurring issue what would you add to the software or policy to make it work better?
This is one reason why I prefer hierarchical threads over the flat structure. Flat structure forces diverging topics to to continue inline, pretending to be a single, on-going converstation.
Also, I would imagine it would be easier to snip off a diverging branch of a hierarchical thread and make it a separate thread, if that is desired.
I know Invision makes it easy to split/mertge posts and threads as you described, using a checkbox system (like you might deal with emails on a webmail system - check all the threads or posts to carry out a certain action, then choose the action from a list at the bottom). How much you interfere is up to you, really.
If you want to keep a thread on topic, non-physical action is often the best way - make a good on-topic post and use a fake account or other members on the team to use it to create momentum
Threaded discussion software lets individual threads head in multiple, meandering directions. This makes certain things easy, like replying directly to a post that might appear on an earlier page in a linear forum (like WebmasterWorld). To me, though, a large, threaded topic is kind of difficult to read.
From a usability and searchability standpoint, these threads aren't very good either. Perhaps the original post was, "Are apples good for your heart health?" After a few posts, someone makes the comment, "Oranges are better for you," resulting in a sequence of orange-related posts. Then, another poster posts a list of apple vs. orange pros & cons, producing another series of posts. Meanwhile, the original poster is still trying to get an answer to his basic question about apples...
It's very moderator time-intensive, but I'd tend to split this into a few parts, adding an "health benefits of oranges" thread and an "apples vs. oranges" thread. This gives clear focus to each one, and creates a more useful archive than one long, random thread that heads in different directions.
In real life, of course, lots of these threads develop without intervention. Few forums are so intensely moderated that every digression can either be turned back to the topic or split into a new discussion. I'll usually let minor excursions stand, but if someone raises a really good point that's somewhat off-topic, I'll route that to a new thread.
Almost every forum software I've used (as a mod/admin) supports pretty easy/flexible thread splits. So to that question, most software handles it relatively closely to your wish list, Webwork.
I can recall occasions where I've consciously started separate technical and discussion threads. In one case there was a widget group buy, adn the technical thread was ruthlessly culled to technical info posts while the "I bought 5!" posts were relegated to the other thread. You'd tend to think that the explicit subject lines and dire warnings in the first post would have improved the situation, but alas no. I spent a lot of time moderating the tech thread. Enough that it frustrated me seriously, adn I didn't make much attempt to repeat the experience.
Editorial control can be pretty intensive, and on busy boards moreso. It may not always be worth the effort.
From my humble experience :
- Moderator says "well, let's go back to topic!" : members think "sorry i just can't help telling my passionated opinion" or some others might think "poor frustrated cop!". Then moderator thinks "boo i m nothing but a misenderstood superheroe". Admin says "what a headache!"
- Moderator splits topic :
-> if topic easiely splittable (5%) :
Moderator splits to new topic.
Some members immediatly scream "where is MY pooooost!";
Moderator explains "blabla please continue it there(link)"
-> else if every post contain answers to several aspects :
stupid moderator split
Members don't understand new topic, some might think "stupid mod!"
Moderator thinks : "i m stupid"
Admin thinks : "yes you are young arrogant!"
- Moderator methodologicaly splits :
1 lock topic
3 edits first post from new topic : "split from here + any extra info that makes it more understandable"
4 answers old topic saying "thanks to continue blabla related stuff there"
5 unlocks topic
6 success! but tired! -> drink a beer.
Admin thinks "moderator tired. moderator drunk. Bad!"
- Wise moderator puts voodoo in topic :
Topic gets back very focused, members think "focus, or open new topic for discussing divergence"
Admin thinks "wise moderators = too rare"
Conclusion : with posting increasing, i have totally let down the split approach, progressively abandoned maniac "zéro off topic" approach. the board is now very liberal to this. More members now learn by themselves how to manage their topic so they stay focused.
Also give them a place them to chit chat, let them run free so that after they can focus and think better, very important!
goldminer - LOL
Besides my own tiny site forum, I've just been asked (and accepted, silly me) to mod on a very active forum I've been a part of for a few years - long enough to see that process a number of times. As an "old-timer" I've occasionally suggested a new thread be started, and sometimes even started it myself, if an interesting side discussion gets going that I don't want to see disappear with "well, let's get back on topic." (The forum uses flat threads.)
On the large forum, it often means moving the discussion to a different subforum, which can be amazingly difficult for folks who've found a "home" and don't want to venture into foreign territory. I explain that there are other people on the board who'd be interested in the topic, so let's put the discussion where they'll be looking for it. Most people will follow if they're really interested - and maybe even find something else in that "other" subforum that they want to paricipate in.
Actually, splitting a thread to create some cross-forum pollination is a great idea. Folks that hang out in just one forum need to get out more! :)
I love splitting. Recently one topic on my board ended up turning into a big spam-related-jokes topic (I mentioned that I'd like to get more people to join, and one member asked if spamming was OK, and it all snowballed from there), so I simply split off the spam-related stuff into its own topic. Members didn't mind at all and it worked great.