May 25, 2004 spout

Post/Reply Alphabet Soup

Newsgroups, mailing lists, web forums and blogs (with comments) are all very similar. Fundamentally, they’ll all about posts and replies. Sometimes the posts are replicated to servers around the world, acccepting replies in the same way. Sometimes the posts are replicated to a set of subscribers via SMTP and replies come in via POP3. Sometimes the posts are part of a web page and provided via HTTP, using HTML forms to take replies. Sometimes the posts are served up via a centralized server using HTTP + RSS or HTML, accepting responses via HTML forms or the CommentAPI. Fundamentally, it’s all the same thing, though: posts and replies. Why do I have to suffer with the limitations of any one of these protocols just to hang out with my friends to talk shop?

I don’t like newsgroups because I don’t like having a separate reader outside of my mail reader (and NewsGator ain’t anywhere close to what I want yet). Plus, newsgroups are very susceptible to spam, although the MS newsgroups are carefully patrolled to kill it before it spreads.

I don’t like web forums because I either have to poll the site (which RSS has cured me of) or the integration of the forum into my mail reader is limited to notification only. Plus, every single web forum has a vastly different UI and set of features and the inconsistencies bug me. On the other hand, web forums are pushing the envelope on features that I really want, like author and content ratings. I love mailing lists, but don’t want to duplicate any of the WinFX newsgroups in mailing lists just yet to avoid fracturing the budding developer community.

Blogs are wonderful, of course, and RSS is the only thing that’s worth me spinning up a whole separate reader than my mail reader, but it’s impossible to follow a thread of conversation between blogs or comments on other people’s blogs. On the other hand, the server-per-poster model is great because I can just subscribe to the posters that I like, increasing the signal to noise ratio substantially.

I think we should pack all of the features of mailing lists, newsgroups, web forums and blogs into a single backend and expose it via HTTP, NNTP, SMTP/POP3 and RSS as appropriate. Is it time for a new protocol that can be dumbed down to the existing protocols for the diehards that won’t give up their readers of choice? Personally, I’d like to get everything via SMTP/POP3 except for my RSS feeds (although I don’t know why — maybe it’s just that I can’t seem to get a handle on a keyboard-only mode for RSS reading in NewsGator the way I can in SharpReader…).