We're talking about installing forums for Appropedia. See the BetterMeans tasks: Install a forum and .

Why?[edit | edit source]

A forum:

  • Provides an easy way to engage for the many, many people who find a wiki daunting. We want people to feel comfortable with the wiki, but this can help provide an "on ramp" and provide support during the process.
  • Provides an easy way to have discussion on particular subjects, groups of pages or activities.
  • An easy way to monitor discussions, bring active threads to the top, and make important threads "sticky". (MediaWiki talk pages can be useful for specific articles or projects, but it's hard to get an overview of discussions or follow threads. It's rare for newcomers to post to the Village Pump, and no doubt it's hard for them to make sense of that page. LiquidThreads is one way to try to improve discussions within MediaWiki, but it still has problems.)
  • Helps build a sense of community.

How is this different from other forums?[edit | edit source]

There are many forums on sustainability, permaculture, transition etc - it's possible to join those communities and discuss these topics. The Appropedia Forum is different in being:

  • Focused on building a knowledge resource. While topics and tangents may abound, we have a mutual understanding that we want to turn that knowledge into an open knowledge resource - i.e. a set of wiki pages.
  • Open licensed. The terms of contributing are similar to the wiki - your contributions can be reused (for example on the wiki), with attribution, under the CC-by-sa license.
  • A place for Appropedians to get to know each other and inspire each other. This helps keep us inspired to build this living library.
  • Somewhere where we don't have to constantly explain why something belongs on a wiki page - because we're talking with people who "get it".

Desired features[edit | edit source]

The central issue is that the forum should support the work of the wiki. It should support users getting their work done - whether that work is Appropedia in general, or the particular project they're working on. The forum should help people in writing articles, inspire them, and encourage people back to the wiki. This means:

  • Creating the right culture, and the right practices
  • Avoiding "chatty" platforms that highlight latest activity without appropriate context (e.g. BuddyPress)

Specific features we want:

  • Cross-login with wiki and (hopefully) the WordPress blog. Should be easy enough with an OpenID backend. (Sounds easy, but we haven't tried yet.)
    • Bonus points for a shared profile, and system messages that work across the sub-sites.
  • Ability to embed forums or forum threads into an Appropedia page. Our Widgets seems the obvious way - we need to test how well this works.
  • Open source - for practical reasons (easier for us to tweak, we can get all features for free) and reasons of principle.
  • Sticky threads - for important announcements & guidelines.
  • Social features: profile, link to a user's own site(s), feed activity to Facebook or elsewhere
  • RSS feeds for each forum and the entire site
  • Widely used & well-supported
  • Easy formatting - strong preference for WYSIWYG. Having one kind of markup on the wiki, and another kind on the forum, would be too much.
  • Allow users to flag spam
  • Voting, so we can find and highlight popular posts.
  • A Q&A Ticket System (task) so that community members can ask questions to the Appropedia community, (e.g. "how can I make my rainwater catchment system more potable in Guatemala?") and the best answers can be marked and compiled.)

Possibly desired features[edit | edit source]

  • Replace talk pages on the wiki with forum pages. (Probably not achievable with our current resources.)

We talked about this in early days - there's no obvious way to do this within the site, and LiquidThreads (an attempt to have forum style talk pages) has had mixed results. (LiquidThreads 3.0 is under development by the Wikimedia Foundation, however, so it may be best to wait for that.)

This may actually be a disadvantage, according to one writer about online community, as it means people don't have to revisit the site to check for answers. (My feeling is that people can still forget to come back, and it is a useful feature. --Chriswaterguy 22:21, 7 April 2011 (PDT))

  • Reply by email (not sure if it's possible, and probably not desirable - as above, better to get the user to visit.)
  • Compatible with WordPress and/or MediaWiki

Avoid[edit | edit source]

  • Fragmented interfaces that expose content and comments without context (i.e. "chatty" or noisy platforms - activity rather than purpose)

Proposed solutions[edit | edit source]

Standalone options[edit | edit source]

  • phpBBW - leading forum software
    • proven and highly supported.
    • probably the best feature set in an open source or freeware platform
  • Vanilla Forums[1] - open-source, standards-compliant, customizable discussion forums.
    • easy to use and good documentation
    • clean look
    • seems friendly towards integration - e.g. can be embedded in WordPress
    • not clear that we'd be able to export easily (they seem to be working on an export tool, and even then it depends on the format). However, being open source makes it likely that there'll be an export solution.

The standalone packages seem to be more mature. However, a downside is that they would be yet another platform on top of our MediaWiki + WordPress. This makes it harder to have consistent look and feel, and cross-login.

WordPress options[edit | edit source]

  • BBPress[2] - forum software with a twist from the creators of WordPress
    • Can share login with WordPress or be entirely embedded within it
  • Simple:Press[3] the feature rich, completely integrated and fully scalable forum plugin for WordPress
    • Clean looking
    • Plenty of functionality
  • Mingle Forum a Forum Plugin for WordPress that just works
    • Optionally integrates with Mingle

These options may be missed some features compared to the standalone options. However, they should integrate nicely with WordPress, making it easier to have consistent look and feel, and easier to set up and manage cross-login.

Unsuitable[edit | edit source]

  • Crabgrass[4] "is a software libre web application designed for social networking, group collaboration and network organizing. Our goal is to create communication tools that are tailored specifically to meet the needs of bottom up grassroots organizing."
    • Seems focused on helping users taking action - which is great.
    • Not mature enough, not very easy to use, by Jason's assessment.
  • WP Symposium is a suite of WordPress plugins to provide social networking features
    • Still in beta - looks promising, but not yet proven. Doesn't describe itself as a forum, but as a kind of online meeting space...
  • DrupalW
    • key advantage is that it would let us do our blog and forum through the same platform.
    • only feasible if we have a committed Drupal person pretty much on call. Drupal is much trickier than WordPress.
    • highly customizable, but we don't need this much power if we just want a simple forum.
  • vBulletin
    • Neither gratis nor libre, trying to become a CMS
  • WagN
    • Requires wagneering to be a forum
  • BuddyPress Social networking in a box.
    • Unfocused, gives sense of activity rather than a sense of purpose.
  • Extension:AWC's Forum (MediaWiki extension)
    • The only reasonably mature option for MediaWiki
    • Appears to be no longer actively developed

Next steps (April 2011)[edit | edit source]

Make a shortlist, then install them on our dev site, test and see which we like.

Is anyone interested in doing this?

Policies[edit | edit source]

The forum will operate under these policies:

  • Be friendly and positive: Relevant wiki policies of civility, no personal attacks, not disrupting to make a point...
  • The policy of rigor is less strictly applied, as the forum can be a place for questions and wild ideas. Though if someone is promoting perpetual motion machines or other baseless claims (e.g. the water fuel cell), we may gently point to this policy and explain why we don't give focus to such things; if someone insists on exploring such ideas, we can ask them to take it to the PES wiki, or to come back when they have a working model, or when they want to focus on other issues.
  • All posts are released under the CC-by-sa License, so that relevant content can be easily adapted for use in the wiki (or elsewhere) with attribution. (Attribution in the edit summary is enough when contributing to the wiki? This way it's equivalent in attribution terms to the person posting it directly to the wiki. Or just allow attribution to the forum, with a link to the specific page.)

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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