An internet Forum instead of mailing lists?

Hi all,

I suppose this has been asked before, but I wasn’t able to find a discussion on the subject.

Is there a reason for not using a web based interface instead of a mailing list?. It seems to me that a using a private Forum would bring a lot of advantages.

John

Joan Lluch via llvm-dev <llvm-dev@lists.llvm.org> writes:

I suppose this has been asked before, but I wasn’t able to find a
discussion on the subject.

Is there a reason for not using a web based interface instead of a
mailing list?. It seems to me that a using a private Forum would bring
a lot of advantages.

I personally far prefer a mailing list. It is easy to filter e-mails
and doesn't require a web browser. Every forum setup I've used makes it
much clunkier to respond to messages than with e-mail.

                        -David

I think the simplest answer is just “tradition”. Most old open source projects use mailing lists for collaboration. Long time contributors are used to the current system, and they make it work for them.

Another way to look at it is that the current system suits the needs of those who communicate on the list the most, and they are the ones who have the power to advocate for change. As someone who closely follows LLVM communications, getting email for every new message helps me stay up to date and makes it easy for me to respond when interested. Maybe if I mainly studied past llvm-dev emails to find answers, I would prefer a separate web UI that I could use to search and study LLVM correspondence, but that probably doesn’t describe most of the people that would need to be convinced to use it.

To fill the gap, there are various services like nabble (I was going to say gmane, but I guess it’s dead). It’s less than ideal, but it’s what we have.

There’s also mailman 3 which allows you to post from the list-archive’s website. (I personally find browsing a mailman 3 list archive completely maddening compared to mailman 2’s pipermail archives – something about the thread layout just makes my eyes glaze over. But I guess some people like it, and it does allow posting.)

For an example, you can see: <https://mail.python.org/mailman3/lists/>. Note that by default it’s only showing you 10 of the lists, because I guess pagination is supposed to be helpful. A good example list might be <https://mail.python.org/archives/list/python-dev@python.org/>.

Hi David,

That’s interesting, because I have a totally different experience. On a forum, every topic gets its own thread, and replies are always there in order for future reference. Topic categories can be defined which encourage subject classification. Advanced searching helps to find already answered questions, prevent duplicates, and enable the continuation of discussions even years later.
Mails however are always a mess in my mailboxes, because even if filtered, it’s difficult to precisely follow conversation flows or find past topics. Also, the way to keep conversation history is by quoting others, which tends to be inconsistent and has a limit. Maintaining subjects for long is difficult and finding content a pain. To me a proper forum is superior and useful than mailing lists. Or at least based on my past experience.

John

Mails however are always a mess in my mailboxes, because even if filtered, it’s difficult to precisely follow conversation flows or find past topics.

This seems to me mostly because the existing web interfaces to mailing list archives are inferior to e-mail clients.

I wonder if mailing list archives could (or perhaps already do) expose an API that would allow importing past history into an e-mail client-like viewer, or perhaps into an actual e-mail client.

It's not like those technologies are fundamentally incompatible...

Also, the way to keep conversation history is by quoting others, which tends to be inconsistent and has a limit.

Forums do that, too... and where they don't, I tend to find the history _harder_ to follow because it is less clear what somebody is responding to.

Cheers,
Nicolai

I know that GNU mailing lists allow downloading MBOX files for their list archives in the web UI, and some searching around makes it seem like this is a feature that can be toggled. It also looks like you can wget/curl the MBOX files directly1 if you’re a subscriber, but I don’t know how the LLVM list admin(s) feel about that.

Hi,

There’re many people having used mailing list for communication for
years. Mail can be simple but flexible, so it suits well for different
workflows efficiently.

Some language communities (Swift, Rust, Scala, etc.) are moving to
online forums. It helps when someone is looking for old discussion.
It’s interesting that the communities are all using Discourse, which
has a mailing-list mode. Maybe it’s a good choice since ideal forum
should be able to inter-op with mails (like Phabricator).

For now, Nabble ( http://llvm.1065342.n5.nabble.com/ ) still works for
mail archive, you can have a look at it.

Regards,
Chaofan

Hi Chaofan,

Thanks for that. I wasn’t aware of Nabble. This is certainly an improvement over the usual mail client apps. However It seems that replies through the Nabble system go to llvmdev@cs.uiuc.edu list instead of llvm-dev@lists.llvm.org and a registration to the former is required. Is this actually equivalent in practice? I am writing this on my regular email client in the usual way just in case. Please can you clarify this for me?. Thanks

John

If LLVM enabled the Maniphest application in Phabricator (reviews.llvm.org) we could use the inbuilt discussion aspect that we are used to in the code reviews to talk continuously on individual topics which isn’t necessarily associated with a piece of code, and you can then use the {D12345} syntax to cross-reference reviews or {T12345} to cross-reference other discussions, and still keeping llvm-commit or cfe-commits as a subscribed user so those discussions also goto the mailing lists, the use of tags would let those questions be seen easily by subscribed members of the projects, meaning your question doesn’t disappear into a black hole.

You can use the rich markup to show images and or format code snippets to describe designs. (here is an example from Phabricators own instance, https://secure.phabricator.com/T13425)

My understanding is that Phabricator can also be used to intercept incoming email with the correct decorations and add it to the discussion, so those who prefer staying in email can stay there and reply to a thread and it added to the ui.

Its not quite a discussion forum but it would let you have design discussions about certain long-running topics which span multiple revisions and commits (whilst at the same time it tracks those commits that are checked in against that topic), and it lets you email out links to previous discussions easily.

Whilst Maniphest is sometimes used like a bug tracker, it can also supply workboard and project management capabilities that could let the natural sub-teams (lld,polly,clang,clangd,clang-doc etc…) show what they were planning on working on.

If your not going for a web-based forum like discourse (which Phabricator themselves uses), Maniphest is a good halfway house, not dissimilar to github issues but in my view much more powerful)

Just my 2c

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