Saturday, November 18, 2006

Forums, Feeds, and Foundations for Answers

The web forum. Mailing lists. Newsgroups. They all boil down to the same thing: digital forums of discussion. We have relied on these mediums to carry the Internet from prototype to fad to craze to necessary base of our culture. The discussions we enable through the web (and its friends) drive everything we do in the digital world. How can we pay tribute to this with an upgrade?

We have migrated from discussing to just broadcasting our opinions. Maybe we'll tune in to some other opinions on similar topics. Maybe some of them will have read ours, who knows. We are deviating from the formula that has driven us to everything we think models the technology we desire. We need to move back to real discussions, bringing what we've learned from feeds, blogging, and content subscriptions.

Forums, beloved as they are, have lost their way. Unfortunately the number of Internet users has risen so high that no forum can carry nearly the percentage of knowledgeable users they once could. This leaves all forums at a loss for intelligent information and leads to a loss for anyone using them. Either we must spend eternity locating the perfect forum for each exact question, or we cross post dozens of forums and monitor them all for updates. This simply does not cut it.

Everyone has at least one feed these days, and what we feed the world with is still pretty limited. We write little posts, usually barely enough to call an article. We can post anything. We can feed the Internet our pictures, voices, or our minds. We can send out our questions, formatted for consumption, and allow everyone subscribing to our feed or receiving the questions through aggregation and search engines to get a full range of questions from the curious and in need. Instead of browsing to a forum page, we can find those in need through the same feed readers we already enjoy.

For the responses to the questions, the same feeds can be used to broadcast responses with meta-data attaching them to the right questions from the current feeds. The questions can even be posed with information on HTTP requests the responder can make to inform the original poster of a feed with a response.

No, this isn't even a draft of any idea for a technical spec. It is just a few ideas, and maybe even just enough for a micro-format. It would not be a lot to put together, would be less to pose the questions like this, and most of the work would be in informing those asking of the answers, but not much work.

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I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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