email vs forum (was Re: OK, the forum is coming..)

kent at kent at
Tue Jul 24 21:15:08 CEST 2007

On Tue, Jul 24, 2007 at 10:45:32AM -0700, Daniel Robinson wrote:
> The fact that you are subscribed to 20 different mailing lists and you would
> find it difficult to read all of that information on 20 different forum's
> is your issue, and it is not the responsibility of this community to
> address.

Probably it is.  There are many people *in this community* in the same boat,
and in general, those people will be the most knowledgeable and the most
valuable sources of information, since they will tend to be more technically
oriented, and be the most experienced internet users, and will be plugged in
to more numerous sources of information (since email is indeed more efficient
for being connected to many different information sources). 

> To state, axiomatically,  that mailing lists are more efficient is to
> attempt proof by assertion.

Not trying to "prove" something -- trying to give benefit of long experience
in similar situations.  Email is substantially more efficient, because it is
intrinsically more powerful.  For example:

1) Essentially any functionality a forum can support can be supported by good
email clients -- threading, sorting (or categorization), searching, 
restricted visibility.  Converse isn't true (see below).

2) Forums cannot be viewed when you are offline, but email is a store and 
forward protocol, and works perfectly with only occasional connections to 
the internet -- you can read your email on a plane; you can't read a forum.

3) A forum, and indeed any web-based application by definition, is fundamentally 
restricted to the functions that can be provided by a browser.  Web-based 
email suffers the same restrictions, but email clients can make full use of 
the OS interface.  And contrariwise, email also supports pure text-based 
clients -- try using a text-based browser on typical forum applications for 
an exercise in frustration.

4) With email, you get to pick what you want to keep and don't want to keep.  
With a forum you have no control -- garbage stays there unless removed by an 

5) Email is accessible to a far larger population.  Email supports both
web-based and client based interaction.  It supports text and graphical UIs. 
It gives a decent user experience over less bandwidth.  It works better
with mobile devices (eg blackberry).

6) Email has far better support for exchanging documents, media, and other
kinds of information.  (Web interfaces have good support for *display*, but
lousy support for *sending*.)

7) When you get really good at using a particular email client, that real
"down to the fingers" expertise generalizes to every email list.  Forums use 
different interfaces.

Well, then, why not have forums for people who want them, and leave email 
for people who don't want them?   The thing is, it doesn't work very well in 
practice.  If experience is any guide, then the technically knowledgable 
people will use email, and won't waste much time on the forums.  But a 
project at the current stage of the openmoko project will require lots of 
*technical* help for everyone, so what will happen is that you will have to 
follow the email lists anyway... I mean -- I could be wrong, but that's the 
way things seem to go with this kind of project.


Kent Crispin
Technical Systems Manager

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