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Which Forum Display is Better?

Flat or Threaded View?



12:18 am on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I've learned quite a bit today from the postings on this forum and am wondering if I can get some opinions on which display works best.

We're an association of international educators and are in the process of designing a discussion forum for our members.

Which view seems to work best for forum members, flat or threaded? Thanks in advance for your thoughts. Al

12:33 am on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Flat is more natural.

The approach mentioned here:
<link removed>
seems simplistic, but really works well in practice. Consider applying some of the principles if designing your forum software from scratch.

I'm curious - why design from scratch?

[edited by: rogerd at 2:19 pm (utc) on Mar. 25, 2005]
[edit reason] No links/URLs, please... [/edit]

1:19 am on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Wow, glad to see that my homebrew forum system is almost exactly what Joel recommends. Except I go back and forth over whether to require registration. I certainly get many more posts on the forums without registration, and the spam is not too bad... vs almost no posts on the forums that require reg.
3:54 am on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Great article--the point about email notify is especially interesting. I believe I'll go disable that directly. I don't know if I agree with all his points, but they're well-reasoned at least.
12:47 pm on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

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One of the things I've been thinking about with email notify, rather than not doing it at all, is just say something like "someone has reponded to your post" but without going into detail. That way they still have to come back to the site to read the responses, but they don't have to keep checking.
2:32 pm on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)


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Welcome to WebmasterWorld, AlfonsoA!

1) I suppose that if people seek out the kind of forums they are comfortable with, you'll find that most WebmasterWorld members prefer a linear display.

2) From what I've seen, a small but vocal minority of forum participants prefer threaded displays because it lets people reply to specific posts.

3) I think that big threads in a threaded-mode forum can get hard to read and also have a tendency to ramble off-topic. Take this advice with a grain of salt, though. (See #1 above. :))

In linear forums, you can also decide whether to display newest or oldest posts first - that's another area of dispute, and is somewhat dependent on the nature of topics. Q&A threads work best when read from the first post; "new info" type threads (e.g., latest bird sightings) that run for a long time work best when the newest posts are displayed first.

Some forum software packages allow various types of display, and even user-selectable modes.

2:48 pm on Mar 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I'm one of those threaded fans. I've never found the flat forums natural. If someone says something that I want to respond to directly, but a few other people have already tacked on their replies, it is awkward to reference the older post. Flat may keep the discussion more on topic regarding the original post, but it doesn't allow for natural conversation. Conversations involving many people do evolve and fragment. I don't see anything wrong with that. Even in flat forums, conversations evolve, except there is only one path of evolution, and whoever is logged in at the time gets to decide that evolution. People who log in later are basically forced to accept the evolution that was set by previous posters, and the opportunity to add their input to earlier posts and maybe take things in a different direction is pretty much lost.

One thing I never liked about threaded forums, as in the old wwwboard-style, is that their main page is such a mess. So when I built my own, I had the main page only show the first post of each thread...so that part looks like a flat forum, but when you click, within there is the tree of replies.