When there’s something that I’ve learned over the last week, then it’s that online forums are a really hard sell in this AHDH-ish age dominated by Facebook and Twitter. As someone who figuratively grew up in online bulletin boards I have been somewhat astonished that futurists do not use such boards to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate. Instead, there seem to be disparate camps, one of which is the “mailing list camp“, and the other being the “social media camp“. Both camps seem to be quite uninterested in online forums, even when I try to convince them of their advantages. So, let list some of the disadvantages of mailing lists and big social media platforms as communication platforms:
Disadvantages of mailing lists:
- Mailing lists are relatively closed. You need to subscribe to a list to read what has been written and to participate in the discussions. And even if there is an archive which lists previous conversations, it’s inconvenient to navigate. Which is mostly due to the following point:
- They are unstructured! Forums can be neatly structured into categories, and sub-boards, or can even use a tag structure. In the typical mailing list, you get all the different kinds of topics and conversations at once. Unless you split up the mailing list into different mailing lists, which then kinda destroys the cohesion of the community, if people actually subscribe to different mailing lists.
- Posts in mailing lists are very hard to reference. If you want to refer to a mailing list post to someone outside of the list, you are left with the decision to forward a mail, or to link to a public archive of the list. Both of which being rather poor alternatives – at least when compared to linking to a forum post or blog post.
- Mailing lists are very feature poor. Forums have member lists, profiles for members, shoutboxes, proper moderation and administration tools, post counts, karma scores, and perhaps even social media integration.
Disadvantages of big social media:
- Big social media are loud, messy, and evanescent. Contributions in social media are forgotten more rapidly than promises made by politicians.
- Even though they could be structured nicely, they are just antoher really unstructured platform in which it’s really hard to filter the valuable and interesting items out of the torrent of moderately entertaining and pointless fluff.
- Postings in social media are very hard to reference, too. Especially to those outside of the network in question!
- Social media have a lot of features, but these features are hard to use for supporting in depth discussions about topics.
- The big social media sites belong to big corporations who set the rules undemocratically and have partially very questionable policies. You can get banned from a social media site for any or no reason at all, which has recently happened to Khannea SunTzu. Her two week long Facebook exodus was a brutally harsh experience, which really demonstrates the unsocial nature of Facebook’s “service”.
Sure, there is Diaspora*, which is decentralized and not owned by a corporation. I really like that social network which I’ve joined recently. But it still suffers from all the other drawbacks of big social media sites.
I would have expected these disadvantages to be obvious and annoying – especially if you feel the need for more thorough discussions. Sure, you can discuss a lot of things on blogs, and I am all for it. But a forum has a much better dynamic in the sense that everyone can not only comment on the threads started by others, but also start another thread in the same platform. It’s much harder to do something similar in a more or less disconnected set of blogs, or just a single blog.
We could go on to discuss the merits and problems of each possible discussion platform, but the real point is that forums are still quite unique in providing both good possibilities to structure content, and facilitate thorough and open discussions, which can finally also be referenced meaningfully.
My conclusion was and is that the futurist community – especially the community of futurists who deeply care about society as a whole – really need a good online forum. And that’s why I have made one even in spite of all the negative or missing reactions to the idea of making such a forum for futurists. A common argument was that there are already more than enough media fighting for the scarce resource of attention. That may be very true, but if one good platform can replace two or more mediocre discussion platforms, then its existence obviously is a gain for its users.
So, here it is: The Social Future Forum at http://radivis.com/sff
What can it do?
- It has five broad categories: issues, proposed solutions, theory, free area, and SFF governance. Each of which has several boards for a wide range of topics. This structure is intended to facilitate productive discussion of important topics while also providing some space for less sophisticated activity.
- You can register and log in via Facebook! Similar log in functionality with be added for Twitter and Google+, soon.
- There is a portal page that lists the latest activity.
- A shoutbox in the header of the forum can be used for intant-ish communication.
- You can like posts, as in Facebook. In principle, it would be easy to activate the Karma system of the forum, but I think that systems with downvotes can cause some problematic dynamics. So, you will have to come up with really good arguments in order to convince me to actually turn on the Karma!
- The forum has meaningful URLs. No garbage numbers or symbols that mess up all the URLs of forum threads.
- Threads can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
- Users can even activate a personal optional “wall“, just as in Facebook.
- Posts can be formatted with fancy BB code.
- There are hundreds of extensions which can be installed to provide even more functionality for the forum!
But wait, aren’t there already other futurist forums? Well, yes, but they don’t have this focus on actually solving the big social problems of our world in a realistic manner (friendly AI is an elusive and questionable deus ex machina – at the very least it won’t save us from the problems we are suffering from right now). Seriously, the SFF was created by me to be useful for exactly that purpose. Idle transhumanist talk won’t make the world a better place for many (or even any) people. Projects with positive social impact are what we need! And these projects would profit a lot from using a forum for conversaion, coordination, and collaboration.
Sign up to the SFF to improve everything! Share your great ideas, insights, plans, and projects! Participate in a wonderful community full of interesting people and great aspirations! 😀Share