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Discussion Forums/Request For Comment

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Mozilla is interested in gathering feedback on how the community feels about the state of Discussion Forums (mailing lists, newsgroups) and how they can be improved.

Please contribute to this document.

Contents

Status Quo

At present, Mozilla IT manages two Mailman (v2) instances, the first is for 'simple' Mailing Lists (various @mozilla.org addresses) and the second for a "Discussion Forum" a Mailing Lists that is transparently synced with a Newsgroups and consequentially Google Groups, and have @lists.mozilla.org email address. Currently, GigaNews hosts nntp://news.mozilla.org/, which is the Newsgroup half of the Mailing List + Newsgroup combination.

Discussion Forums are the primary form of communication for projects within Mozilla, and are meant to be made available over the widest array of communication protocols: email, newsgroup and the Web via the Google Groups' website. All posts are synced (hopefully) across all other mediums transparently, making for a maximally inclusive set of users. To encourage the largest range of voices, Mozilla wants our discussions to take place in as many useful formats and devices as possible.

Problems

SPAM

SPAM has been a consistent problem in the past and is tricky problem to solve outright. IT is deploying a well-trained Spam Assassin to catching incoming junk mail. SPAM that originates from Google Groups or from GigaNews' side (news.mozilla.org) is outside our direct control at the moment.

Google Groups Syncing

Discussion Forums are synchronized from email to NNTP newsgroups (the Usenet), hosted at nntp://news.mozilla.org/. These newsgroup messages are synced by Google Groups and in turn provide a web interface to post responses that then show up correctly as expected on the email list. For various reasons, Google Groups has had trouble reliably syncing posts from our mozilla.* newsgroups(bug 716007, in particularly new Forums that get created from time to time. This inconsistency causes confusion and fragmentation of the conversation, and ultimately frustration.

Newsgroup gateways break threading

The 2.x mailman we are using clobbers message-id's when gatewaying messages from mailing lists to newsgroups. Because of the naive way in which this is done, this breaks hierarchical threading in mail clients like Thunderbird. See Bug 651527 for more.

This may not be obvious to people using the gmail web client because it only orders messages chronologically and it uses a mixture of content analysis to establish conversation groupings.

(added by asuth)

Duplicate messages (from Google Groups)

It's pretty common as a subscriber of our mailing lists to receive duplicate messages that seem to involve multi-path issues. There may actually be several variations on this, but an obvious one is on dev-webapps where Jason Smith's posts from google groups (I believe that's what User-Agent: G2/1.0 is) show up twice as a mailing list subscriber. This is not a message-id issue; the 'to' on one of the lists is "mozilla-dev-webapps@lists.mozilla.org" (with mozilla-dev-webapps@lists.mozilla.org) and on the other is "mozilla.dev.webapps@googlegroups.com" (with X-Original-To: dev-webapps@lists.mozilla.org).

(added by asuth)

Unreliable Web archive creation (Google Groups)

Google has had trouble creating new groups for new Mozilla lists. We have also had trouble getting the groups created in a timely manner. There are still several Mozilla lists without Web visible archives. (See bug 716007) We need a more reliable Web archive solution.

Unreliable archive - some messages aren't archived (Google Groups)

As Myk describes here, some messages to a mailing list may not make it to the corresponding Google Group. We need a reliable archive of our discussions.

Long Term Future of Google Groups?

It's unclear (to me) what Google's long-term commitment will be to the Google Groups archives. When first launched it provided a significant advancement (for the time) in making Usenet more broadly accessible, and they made a big push to make it a rich archive (eg Dejanews acquisition, incorporation of backup tapes from the early days of Usenet).

Since then the UI has become stale (though not long ago it got a much-needed refresh), it has a spotty quality record (see other sections in this document, and I've seen issues in non-Mozilla groups too), and the usage of Usenet as a discussion medium has continued to drop.

As we a consider a replacement, if we use a 3rd party service we should consider if and how we are able to extract/mirror content so it can be migrated in the future.

Stuck in a Web 0.1 World

I know, I know. Those kids using HTML in your email need to get off your lawn.

But every participatory environment on the web these days allows some form of rich content. Images, link previews, content formatting, etc. As one example, look at how useful StackOverflow answers can be when answers have visual explanations and nicely formatted code.

The inability to include images makes the current forum options useless for most UI/UX discussions (which is part of why you'll not find much usage from Firefox FE/UI/UX people there).

<<insert your own>>

Desired Features

Web Interface

The ability to reliably post from a webpage to a Discussion Forum (as would be expected in a traditional 'Web Forum') is sorely lacking from Mozilla. Google Groups (as mentioned previously) is not always reliable with our forums, and has a distinctly foreign feel.

Mailman currently can only provide a read-only archive of messages.

Mobile

A tablet or mobile-friendly interface, as a growing number of users will be using Firefox for Android, etc.

[dolske] I would qualify this a bit: A first version should be readable on a mobile device. Given the large overall scope of this project, and the tendency of mobile device usage to be more in the realm of consumption than generation, a polished interface for contributing via mobile would be entirely fair to defer to a followup version. Especially considering that email/google isn't a great experience on mobile today.

Improved Moderation tools

Being able to crowd-source the task of moderation would be a great way to encourage participation and ease the burden of current List Admins.

There must also be explicit moderation tools for list moderators. The inability to block abusive users, redirect disruptive threads, halt flamewars, etc is a major reason why many avoid the existing discussion forums.

Make it easier to spin up new mailing lists

There is often the need to create a mailing list, even short lived, for a project. The "file an IT bug or use google groups" results in just not creating a mailing list.

URLs in email from list

Just as it is very important for mailing lists to have a usable archive, messages from the list should have a link to that archive thread. This is one of the major shortcomings of google groups.

Better interopability with other tools

A hard and open ended one. Mailing lists should work with and extend the existing Mozilla infrastructure in meaningful ways.

<<insert your own>>

Suggested Improvements

Mailman version 3

Mailman v3, has a number of promising advancements that could improve the current state of our Discussion Forums.

  • Multi-domain support.
    • Allows IT to combine the two separate instances of Mailman, potentially.
  • Persona (OpenID) Support
    • no more shared Admin passwords, no more monthly subscription reminders
  • Web interface (Django) for administration
  • Improved web API, allows for automation of common tasks (subscribe, create)
  • http://wiki.list.org/display/DEV/Mailman+3.0

Nabble

Gmane

Buddycloud

Diaspora

Open Source 'Social Newsfeed' software exists. Should Mozilla pursue hosting Social Network tools for Mozillians (community members and volunteers, plus Mozilla employees)?

SaaS Hosted Solutions

Misc

  • phpBB? This seems to be extremely widely used, and is the first thing I think of in this realm. Dare I say it also has the benefit of familiarity for Mozillazine users.

Relevant Reading