I had this idea the other day for a new style of forum software. And maybe this has been done, but I haven’t seen it anywhere:
The Infinite Forum (or The Freeforall or Guten Tag )
The specifics of the forum structure would be these:
There would be no mandatory “forum categories” per se. Or, if there were they would only be organized according to some politeness schema (like age appropriateness, potential offensiveness level) or maybe along lines of preferred language spoken.
In place of standard topical categories each post would be defined by a unique identifier and a set of tags. These tags would take the place of standard forum categories. This is the centerpiece of this system, the cornerstone around which the rest of the forum software is generally organized.
New Posts – When a person starts a new post (unrelated to a previous post) they must apply at least one tag to the post, though multiple tags could be applied as the poster sees fit. A list of suggested tags might be provided (and related or sub-tags suggested when a given tag is chosen). When someone starts typing in a tag a list of commonly used tags containing those letters will pop up (somewhat like the bookmark utility from Furl.com), and one of these tags may be chosen or the user may continue to type in their own unique tag.
Lists and “clouds” of tags would be available helping indicate popular tags, or tags often used in conjunction with other tags, or tags frequently used by the specific user.
Reply Posts – By default all replies to a post get tagged with the unique identifier of the post they are responding to and with all the tags of the posts they are responding to. Any tags can be added or deleted by it’s creator until the post is locked. To preserve continuity of posting chains posts may be deleted but they will still leave an empty place-holder connecting prior posts to those further down the chain.
Each post also would contain a posting date, a “last edited” date, and would be “locked” after a certain period of time (maybe a couple weeks). After locking additional material could be added to the end of the post but no content could be deleted without moderator intervention. This is done to preserve material for historical reference and prevent infinite revision of posts which could cause later posts in a chain to appear as if they were responding to text that no longer exists. The allowance of additions after locking is to allow for things like the author realizing awful mistakes at a later date or pointing out replacements to links in their original post which no longer function properly.
Posts can be displayed in either a tree structure or in simple chronological order. Filters in the search engine can be used to narrow down queries to specific dates, specific tags (or combinations of tags), or any other relevant piece of information; also the search should be able to find “all except” specific tags, dates, etc.
Of course people will want to be able to do “open” queries (without tags) for specific post contents. These will be allowed but might be given low processor priority since (I assume) they involve a lot of crunching on the part of the server’s processor.
Moderation – As Vulcan said in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen “Oh, we cater to all types here.” So in a forum with this philosophy the challenge arises: What needs to be policed and what doesn’t?
Objections – There should be some way to flag posts as inappropriate or in need of editing. The reasons I can see might include: Rude (but marked as polite), inaccurate tags (could be considered subjective), age inappropriate as compared to markings, criminal activity (blackmail, sharing of someone’s personal information, child porn, etc.). Other reasons for objection might also exist, though they don’t come to mind at the moment.
Processing power – In my understanding one of the biggest problems with maintaining forums is that as they grow in size people start searching them more and more frequently for the contents of old posts. In the case of at least one forum I was a member of this actually led to the forum crashing on a relatively frequent basis. I’m not really an expert on these sorts of technical details. My only solutions would be to get some sort of superior/efficient search algorithms and/or throw additional processor power at the issue. But I have a feeling these solutions are probably a bit short-sighted and there may be other aspects to consider. I wonder if there’s any way some of the work could be farmed out to distributed computers (like the protein folding or SETI projects)? Doesn’t exactly seem like the type of thing that would work since forum queries are typically expected to yield real-time results, not get processed in bulk packs. And who wants to install a piece of software just to search a forum? Still, all those wasted processor cycles out there, it’d be interesting to figure out how to harness them to take a little pressure off servers.
Interest vs. ability – I want this thing to exist, however my programming skills are pretty much nil. Any entrepreneurs and web developers interested in taking up the challenge?