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Forum design!


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I have decided to post this to the Watercooler forum as there doesn't seem to be an appropriate place for such thoughts. A number of us have been having some posting problems which should probably be addressed somewhere. Note the final post from "Idsoftwaresteve" on the Philosophy of Science thread:

Well, as to the posting problems, one thing is that I never got an indication that a post was made.
I have a very strong suspicion that there is a subtle bug somewhere in the php scripts which handle the interactions of the forum and organize the "update queries" for the underlying database. It is quite clear that those scripts are not simple and that there are a significant number of different tables involved: source of information for all that activity (yielding status of a thread, notifying people subscribed to the thread, actually posting the thread itself ...). There is most assuredly a lot of other activity going on at the same time and all of these activities require database information to manipulated. It seems to me that a long post might trigger an safety cancellation of some steps under the assumption that a particular process has failed (it is quite usual to use a timeout function to get by such failures).


The physics forum has a length constraint on posts. You might take a look at an interesting mathematical demonstration in relativistic physics which I tried to explain to "Hurkyl" on that forum. It gives a pretty good example of the allowed length. It is a very decent forum from a design perspective and I would not have left except for the fact that most members seem to be either totally ignorant of physics or unimaginative toadies of the establishment (just my opinion). At any rate, I am beginning to suspect that the length constraint was put in as a mechanism to assure that exactly the kind of thing that happens to long posts on this forum wouldn't happen on theirs. Certainly a length constraint could assure that a specific timeout might be a reasonable constraint in the great majority of cases.


Since I am mentioning forum design, in my opinion, the best design of a forum out there is the forum at "astronomy.net". Again, the problem is once more that the membership is essentially limited to very uneducated and/or unimaginative people. John Huggins is the force behind that forum and has set up an excellent design (except for the lack of LaTex). It seems to me that a forum of his design together with a little organization of the membership (that would be different categories of posting authority similar to the "quiet lounge" on this forum only somewhat more structured) one could have an excellent platform for education and communication. But John won't talk to me; I have a very strong suspicion he thinks I am a crackpot.


Take a look at that forum and note that how easy it is to follow the strings of thought on the threads. The "God and Science" thread (where I used to post years ago) generated a very prolific discourse which was still easy to follow. In fact, in a very short period of time, the volume of posts got so high that John decided to moderate it in order to cut back on the posting. Notice the number of posts on that thread compared to the others (or even compared to posting on this forum). At the same time he began to moderate it, he also pretty well blocked me out. As I said, I suspect he did this under the idea that I was an off the wall crackpot (personally, I don't think good judgment is his long suit). After that I posted for a while to "General Issues not covered elsewhere" but he soon moderated that also and began blocking and removing my posts.


At any rate I am seriously trying to pick up on php so I can design my own forum and structure it intelligently but it's going slow (my life is too full of other things to do). If anyone is interested in talking about these issues, let me know.


Have fun -- Dick

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Thanks for your input, I appreciate it.


The posting problems are, as far as I can see, very new. I think they might be related to a MySQL problem on our server, and not PHP.


We use the same forum software as Physics Forums (it comes from vBulletin at http://www.vbulletin.com/ ).


As for the way our forums are organized we are always open for input. Our forums have grown immensely in the past 12 months and it is certainly ripe for a reorganization. The mods and admins have discussed it a couple of times but we have not managed to come to any conclusions (we probably have too many things to do).


So maybe we should have a public discussion on it insted. I certainly welcome it.



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BTW I have moved this to the "Suggestions and Wish List" forum
Yeah, it took me a while to find it as I had already trashed the e-mail sent to tell me you had responded.
We use the same forum software as Physics Forums
I think you missed my point. Most all database management programs have error correction when indications of failure arrise. If they are not in the forum software, they are in the database software. Either way, your forum does not seem to have a limit on the size of posts. When I first ran into that at Physics Forums, I didn't quite understand why they did it. Now I suspect it has serious consequences; particularly if traffic gets high.


How about opening another restricted forum concerned with Forum problems and possible solutions. Many people might enjoy reading it as they might come to understand the problems which arise when trying to institute seemingly minor changes in design. Let it be open to people who have at least a reasonable understanding of database management. The "mods and admins" ought to be able to pick up on competence quite quickly.


Maybe use the wish list request as an entrance point. Let anybody read the restricted forum and make suggestions on the wish list. If the "mods and/or admins" find their suggested solutions valuable, give the suggesters authority to post to the restricted forum (that power can easily be revolked if they decide they have made a mistake).


Think about it. You might end up with a tremendus support staff out there if you let them in. I think there are a lot of competent people tracking this site who would be delighted to help you out.


Just a thought -- Dick

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The problem with post size is actually not in the forum but with our host. Since we are on a shared hosting plan we are limited by their setup. That is why we are looking for a dedicated hosting solution so we get more control over the system.


But I hear you. Maybe it could even be the topic for a blog..."Forum Design Issues" or something.

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