I have some strong opinions about forums. It's not that they aren't useful in many ways. It's the fact that forums are pain to navigate. Just look at this list on Firefox Add-ons.

So if forums are so bad, why are they more popular than ever. Mostly because they are easily accessible. Anyone with a web browser can access them. There are things that bother me, some are being addressed and some tried to be addressed in the past. I'll address a few problems here:

Logins are a web wide problem. Just about every site out there has separate login. Bulletin boards are no exception. Luckily there is a new standard in the works that is addressing this. Yes, I'm talking about OpenID. For example there is the phpbb-openid, which is a plugin for phpbb that allows one to log in with OpenID. So yes, I see this problem going away in future.

Navigation is hell with forums. This is usually a design error, but It's interesting to notice that even commercial forums suffer from this problem. There were some projects to address this. Like the forumzilla project, which is an extension to thunderbird that tries to present forums as structured mailboxes. This is the biggest problem with all forums and I don't see this improving.

Tracking new content is never easy. With mailing lists we have threads that extend to multiple levels. With blogs we have RSS. So what do we have for forums, threads and RSS. One could think that everything is just fine, but It's not. When you combine threads with RSS you get a huge mess. Now you can select if you want to see new messages or new threads. Neither of these will help you track the contents in the forum. So what you are left with is manual polling and when you combine manual polling with the navigation mess, you usually want to take your life before too long.

Forums are a good medium, but when ever I run in to one I get the urge to hurt myself. Forums work quite well if you are willing to put some serious effort in to tracking them. But for a casual visitor like me forums are usually the final straw.

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