View Full Version : Modern discussion software less expressive than yore...
I've been doing a lot of reading about CMC (Computer Mediated Communications) including revisting Howard Rheingold's lovely "The Virtual Community" which has got me thinking... *gulp*
Anyway I used to spend a lot of time on text-based BBSs which IMHO were harder to use than something like vBulletin but were more expressive... What do I mean by that?
Well the presentation of threads, the ability to chat as well as send private emails or write public discussions created a more diverse and engaging community experience. This could be the rose-tinted spectacles of ye olde days but I'm not sure, I've got a huge involvement in web technologies and this has been a bug that I've had at the back of my bonnet for some time.
So what do others think? I'd be interested to know how non-BBS veterans differ from veterans...
Not sure about the expressiveness issue particularly, but you touch on a point which exercise me: ease of learning vs ease of use.
A lot of the good stuff with tools such vBulletin is that they are easy to learn: they are fine for the occasional user because you need to spend very little time finding out how to post a message, say.
The good stuff with things like IRC or other text-based tools is the depth of the functionality: you can do more, and once you know your way around the system you can do it quickly. However, it's bad for occasional users because all but the most superficial use requires a significant amount of time to learn.
The comparison I usually draw is between automatic and manual transmission in cars: automatics are easier to learn, but manual transmission gives the driver so much more control. It is one of the few areas in everyday life where you get a real return on your investment of time spent learning an interface.
To extend the analogy further into the area of GUIs in general, automatics are bad for the sophisticated driver because the transmission gets in the way of their ability to control the car as they want to. This is (in my experience) the difference between Windows and X/*nix - the nominally easier to learn Windows gets in the way of more sophisticated use because it is often tuned to make it easy to do simple things - which is one reason why I spend a good deal of my time on Windows machines trying to stop them behaving like Windows.
That's and interesting and helpful angle... and on reflection may well have been what I'm talking about.
Just on the Windows/UNIX thing though. I found neither balanced learnability/depth and productivity well but the Mac did. Although at first it seems very simple there is a huge depth of functionality to be accessed over time.
Perhaps this could be held up of an example which provides the ease of learning to a powerful system. The BBS systems I used to love were extremely tough to get to grips with at first but very efficient and cosy once you were familiar with their quirks.
I guess in a way the barrier to entry providing by the complex interfaces also ensure that participants were comitted to their communities.
01-18-2003, 04:22 AM
As a BBS veteran, I think there's a pretty thick pair of rose colored glasses on that there jeep. :)
If you're familiar with the keyboard commands, I'll admit a BBS was far more responsive. On the other hand, it was far more responsive at 300 or 2400 bps, not 53K or broadband speeds. The smaller screens meant you HAD to scroll, and not being able to insert pictures of any format meant ascii art was about all you had. Fewer people posted altogether, so there weren't the large number of new threads a list or forum gets today.
Anyhow, on this vbulletin forum, right here, you can send private messages. Click on a person's profile and if they want to chat, they can leave their instant messenger info. And of course, you can leave public messages. All at much higher speed and to a much larger audience. (It's funny, though: that easy access makes a tendancy from the past, many more would lurk rather than post, and turns it up to eleven.)
I suspect some of the reasons the old BBSes are remembered by us old timers as being So Cool are A) proximity. I actually knew, like, in the "real world" many of the folks on the local BBS scene. B) the relatively smaller community meant those in it, were much more likely to be "like you" than today. To post on a web-based forum is much easier today than it was on a BBS from 15 years ago, so you don't have to fit the rather small "computer nerd" demographic to participate..
- Commodore VIC modem final moment: thrown against a wall when I got a 1200 bps modem from a friend. Can't describe how good that felt...
I'm willing to admit that tinted lenses may well be on!
I agree with much of what you say PaulKroll, particularly the often geographical nature of BBSs would enhance to community aspects. However I question the speed arguments...
Somehow for the web I feel something like vBulletin (which is wonderful) is slower than a terminal interface. IRC is faster but uncontrollable. On BBSs you could post discussion threads and also chat instantaneously in the same umbrella architecture.
To do the same these days you'd need a web browser with vBulletin in one window, MailSmith running for email and then ICQ or IRC running for chat... seems less integrated to me!
01-18-2003, 09:08 AM
A decade or so ago it was really expensive to be connected live to the internet, unless you had `connections'.
Many people still don't have a 24/7 live conection to the internet, and still prefer to use a mailing list, with the messages contained in their email.
In the new vB3, it will be possible to read all or part of a post in the sent email notification. (I'm guessing that admin will be able to control how much)
At vB.org it's already possible to reply to a thread through your email instead of the web interface.
I am really looking forward to the above hybridization for our site, because our constinuency is spread out over a broad regional, economic, and technological spectrum of capabilities and preferences.
01-18-2003, 04:28 PM
Originally posted by jeep:
To do the same these days you'd need a web browser with vBulletin in one window, MailSmith running for email and then ICQ or IRC running for chat... seems less integrated to me! I have to think that the "integration" of the old BBSes arose largely because everything happened in a single terminal window. The DOS-type operating systems of the day couldn't run more than one program at a time if they wanted to -- a fact of life for the BBSes as well as their users.
On the internet, separate protocols tended to encourage separate client apps, even in the command-line era (or perhaps more so). Netscape seems to be a genuine anomaly in the way it combines mail, news, instant messaging and a browser in one suite. I'd argue that the weight of internet history falls on the side of "one app, one function" -- ease of use never entered into it.
On the other hand, you do see integration at portal sites like MSN and Yahoo, and of course AOL is little more than a graphical front end for a BBS. None of them would be mistaken as tools for power users. So integration is more like an ease-of-learning feature today.
Randall I agree with you premise over the benefits to power-users of single protocol apps.
However one advantage that the terminal window forced from a community building perspective was that all these different ways of communicating (chat, email, discussions etc) were under the single umbrella of the BBS. Nowadays you can get an IRC channel for Slashdot, for example, but it doesn't have the integrated feel with the core discussions on the site.
I regard the BBS as like a good party where you can talk to a bunch of people, lean back and chat to one person, leave a message for a friend on their door etc. The separated apps of today are more like having to go to a different room or building even to do each.
Are there ways around this or examples which I've missed on the Net?
01-19-2003, 03:15 PM
Actually I'm not attaching any virtue to either approach -- I'm only pointing out that tradition has left us with separate internet apps, whereas technology limitations forced BBS software to go the all-in-one route. Necessity being the mother of invention, etc.
If vBulletin and the like haven't quite reached that level of integration you remember from the old days, it's probably because no one's been forced to do it yet. Web-enabled cell phones and wireless PDAs might accelerate the process, since they generally resemble the old DOS machines more than anything else.
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