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]

Discussion[View | Edit]

Other forum sites[edit source]

For the arguments in Appropedia:Forums#How is this different from other forums? to be convincing, someone would have to search for other potentially suitable forum sites, evaluate them, and find them wanting. My naive initial guess would be that given the large number of other existing forum sites on the Web, there should be at least one of them that has all (or sufficiently many of) the properties Appropedia needs. For example, I just randomly Googled and found SustainabilityForum.com, which "is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License."

Comments on specific desired criteria for a forum we can use:

  • "Focused on building a knowledge resource."
    • "Focusing" any site has the side effect of making it smaller and excluding some participants, who want to do things that fall outside the focus. I don't understand what would be the problem with using an already existing forum site that happens to have a somewhat broader focus. Surely the people who want to build a knowledge resource could do that within a subset of a forum that has other uses besides. Also, the focus of any online collaboration tends to evolve over time, as the community itself gradually figures out what it wants to do. Limiting the focus ahead of time may not be realistic - the focus will depend on factors we do not entirely control, such as who shows up and decides to participate.
  • "Open licensed."
    • With a trivial effort I already found one existing forum that is open licensed. Perhaps there are more within the sustainability community, or more whose operators could be persuaded to open license them.
  • "A place for Appropedians to get to know each other and inspire each other."
    • I don't see how our ability to know and capacity to inspire each other would be different on our own forum vs. on some of the existing forum sites. Plus Appropedians already have Appropedia on which to inspire each other.
  • "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"."
    • I don't get this argument. We don't have to constantly explain anything - we only have to document something once, and thereafter link to it by shortcut. As a general rule, any time we find ourselves explaining something more than once, we should write a manual page for it, and assign a shortcut link to it. That's what the Wikipedia community does to save vast amounts of time while grappling with the Eternal September problem. (As long as people remember to display shortcuts as links rather than as unlinked gibberish codes.)
    • If we limit the forum to people who "get it", that contradicts the stated purpose for the forum, which is to make participation more accessible to people who do not "get it" ("it" being Appropedia's MediaWiki markup, and the whole complex idea of a wiki with all its rules).

In short, I'm not seeing a convincing argument here against using one or more of the existing sustainability or appropriate technology forum sites. I do, however, see arguments in favor of using an existing forum:

  • Eliminates the technical labor of selecting, setting up and maintaining our own forum software, and training users to use it. Someone else is already taking care of that nasty job. Instead we can focus on what we know how to do that other people do not.
  • Eliminates the need to recruit our own user base - an established forum already has a user base.
  • Synergy and serendipity - by going to other forum sites, we may find people who want to do more than have throwaway forum discussions, and we can tell them about building collaborative content on Appropedia. Or tell them passively by linking to Appropedia content in our forum posts.

As a general observation, I think it is inadvisable to keep generating ideas faster than we can implement ideas. It takes only a few minutes to think of tasks that would take person-years to complete. We can keep writing to-do lists that get longer forever. Someone must have the discipline to prioritize all the wish lists, and attack items in decreasing order of priority. When arguing for or against any particular to-do item, one must consider its opportunity cost. Spending our time on one thing means we cannot use that time to do anything else. Thus if we set up our own forum site, we would have to be able to say the gains from having our own forum instead of simply using the existing forum sites would exceed the gains from anything else we could do with our limited resources. Have we shown that to be true? --Teratornis 15:27, 15 May 2011 (PDT)

Just a quick note - you commented somewhere that the principle of "making a successful new wiki is hard" will also apply to forums. This is absolutely true (though I'd say no as hard, especially for an existing project).
If we go ahead with this, it needs to be done properly - with planning and commitment from a numner of people. I've been reading a bunch about online communities and finding it very helpful.
As you mention, we've got a bunch of ideas backed up, so I think a higher priority is getting other important tech tasks done, and building a tech team - both of which are making progress. This perspective has delayed any forum launch significantly, IMO... but I'll revisit your comments later (& also see if anyone else wants to comment - RichardF has done so). --Chriswaterguy 08:02, 16 May 2011 (PDT)

Improved discussions within the wiki[edit source]

See Appropedia:Discussion development#Options (just updated). I hadn't looked at this for a while, but there are some interesting options now.

The DPLforum extension as used on Wikia is looking much nicer than last time I looked, and it's had a lot of use on Central Wikia's forum. It felt ugly and clunky before - neither fish nor fowl - but now I'm liking it. And it has a key forum feature I really like - conversations sorted by latest activity.

If we go with DPLforum (creating a "Forum:" namespace for the Village Pump & any other forums we want) it won't be as full-featured as dedicated forum software (phpBB, Vanilla...) but it would be within our wiki platform, it would be edited in the same way as any wiki page, helping to familiarize newbies with the wiki. Thoughts? --Chriswaterguy 11:37, 17 May 2011 (PDT)

Another possibility would be to look into how MediaWikiWidgets Iframe could be used to frame any discussion board. That approach could be used for http://blogs.appropedia.org as well. Going the other way, perhaps Wordpress, or something like it could be used to create the main Appropedia.org frame structure that holds tabbed pages for the wiki, blog, forum, etc. --RichardF 17:00, 17 May 2011 (PDT)
p.s. I tried to add the widget to test it out, but I was shooed away from WidgetSpace. :-) RichardF 17:35, 17 May 2011 (PDT)
Richard, interesting extension - I can see how that would be very useful in a few ways.
Using our own forum via iFrame doesn't have some of the advantages of DPLforum (native MediaWiki without an external platform; wiki editing; ease people into wiki editing; forum posts searchable within the wiki and part of the category system). So DPLforum is still my (new) favorite.
But for displaying another forum where Appropedians might want to contribute, for organizations wanting to display their own site, and no doubt other uses as well, Iframe widget looks great.
I created Widget:Iframe - please test! If you want to experiment more with MediaWikiWidgets, sign up to whatissustainability dot org (our dev site). I have user rights management rights there, and can give you access to Widgets. If you want to edit Widget space here (& I don't see why not) then Lonny will need to do it. It's a separate user right from adminship. --Chriswaterguy 02:31, 18 May 2011 (PDT)
Thanks, I'll give it a go. I also started a more general discussion about "framing" Appropedia subsites at Integrating Appropedia subsites. From the perspective of that general approach, any forum software could be implemented as the Appropedia subsite application. --RichardF 09:29, 18 May 2011 (PDT)
Not yet. I'm thinking the contents of Widget:Iframe should look more like this.
--RichardF 09:38, 18 May 2011 (PDT)

I changed the above code to a link to Widget:Iframe on the development site. Here's an example. --RichardF 13:39, 18 May 2011 (PDT)

With transclusion, we need to address the security aspects. We can leave it aside for now - it only becomes an issue if and when we have a platform which is external to the wiki that we want to integrate in this way. Now... what is the platform that best serves the needs of Appropedia and Appropedians?
I'm very interested in hearing reactions to Central Wikia's wiki-based forum. --Chriswaterguy 11:36, 26 May 2011 (PDT)
Structurally, this appears to be a one-forum forum -- Community Central. Conceptually, that structure would be inadequate to me. A "typical" forum structure would allow for categories (big groupings) of multiple forums (collections of topics). If the discussion is limited to wiki topics, then I see no real need for an external forum. If the forum scope goes beyond the wiki, then a one-forum limit (wiki) doesn't cut it. The mechanism of the posts being entered in wiki style is moot after that for me. --RichardF 17:04, 26 May 2011 (PDT)
Looking around, it looks like we can have sub-forums: Campaign Wikia forums. That's important - we'd want a few sub-forums, to allow for topic discussions, help, and wiki issues (categorization, structure, templates...). I think an "Off-topic" forum would be good as well (in part because it would help keep other forums "on-topic"). --Chriswaterguy 11:32, 27 May 2011 (PDT)
Subforums definitely make a positive difference. I don't consider "off-wiki" and "off-topic" to be the same. The blog, other foundation projects and the foundation itself are "off-wiki" but not "off-topic" when the foundation defines the scope of the forum. And who knows what types of "off-topic" topics will eventually turn themselve into "on-topic" topics?! ;-) --RichardF 12:28, 27 May 2011 (PDT)

Forums[edit source]

Hi I am in the middle of creating a template which allows you to create a form for example


I am in the middle of adding more but I have added first name and last name I am adding more

If you go here Template:Forum you can help I am using inforbox User555 11:31, 9 March 2013 (PST)

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