Other Apple discussion forums

I haven’t been on this forum for very long. I assume the owner of this site wants to expand his audience rather than shrink it, because that’s what a smart business does. This might be a good time to list other sites, whether active or defunct, that you have been involved in with perhaps a brief note of what it did right or wrong. This is looking at the competition to try to answer the question “Compared to what?”

Sites with forums I have read include Macintouch, FineTunedMac, MacRumors, Apple Discussions, Ars Technica, and Stack Exchange.

Forgive me if this rambles a bit…

I don’t know if the goal is always to expand the audience. There does come a point where it is too big (at least for me). For instance, I rarely read any discussions on MacRumors because any subject that’s interesting ends up with several hundred comments - which consumes more time than I want to spend on a single subject.

One of the things I like about TidBITS is that I can read every comment posted to every thread. The quantity of comments never gets so large that I have to start ignoring threads due to a lack of time. Unlike MacRumors and others, where there simply isn’t enough time in a day to read everything, even if you want to.

Moderated discussions are important because flame wars, spam and other related things destroy the signal-to-noise ratio. I don’t want to wade through a site that’s 90% junk in order to read the 10% that’s interesting.

SlashDot attempts to solve this with their moderation and meta-moderation system. No comment gets deleted, but comments get moderated up and down on a scale of -1 through 5. Readers can select a threshold so they can choose to only see high-rated comments or they can choose to see everything, or any level in between.

This sort of works, but it can get weird if there are highly-rated comments in response to low-rated comments. You end up seeing only part of a discussion. Of course, you can choose to view the filtered comments. My biggest problem, however, is just that SlashDot is too popular. Just like MacRumors, it’s drinking from the firehose.

Stack Exchange works well, but it is not a discussion forum. It is a Q&A forum, highly optimized for people to ask questions and for others to answer the questions. The software and moderation system explicitly rejects discussion. This is why (for instance) anybody can edit anybody else’s answers, and even questions - the goal is to provide high quality responses to high quality questions, not discuss topics.

The author of the Stack Exchange software, Jeff Atwood, has a different software package designed for discussion. It’s called Discourse and is what TidBITS Talk is currently running.

iFixit’s forums are interesting, but they (at least the ones I’ve participated in) are focused entirely on Q&A related to their repair guides and teardowns. There’s a thread of comments associated with each step of the guide in addition to one for the guide itself. But that’s clearly not appropriate for any other kind of forum.

I personally don’t see a problem having a different set of rules for TidBITS articles and TidBITS talk threads. As @ace wrote, the former should be questions and contributions to the article, while the latter should be discussion related to the message that started the thread.

One feature I’ve seen that I’m on the fence over is automatically locking threads after a while. For instance, the comments associated with articles on opensource.com are automatically locked some time after the article goes live (I think it’s a month or two). On the one hand, it prevents people from discussing topics that may no longer be relevant, but on the other hand, it means you can’t contribute if you read an old article and want to make a point that nobody else made.

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That’s spot on, and I too would be perturbed if I couldn’t read everything posted here. I’m much more interested in quality than quantity. TidBITS Talk plays only an indirect role in the financial health of our company (while occupying a disproportionate amount of my time), so I have no incentive to increase the number of posts.

In fact, I’d prefer such quality discussions that the organic Web traffic from search engines increases because so many people are learning more from what’s posted here.

Discourse can do that, but my experience is that the old topics that get re-opened generally benefit from the new posts. I’m sure there are forums where that’s essential to keep people from hijacking old topics with at best tangentially related posts (or just using them to post spam links, though Discourse is pretty good at stopping that too).

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I agree with much of what you said. I haven’t looked at Slashdot in years. I found it unwieldy and overwhelming. Reddit, too. Reddit is confusing to navigate. I can’t think of any Mac forum that had too many members or was overwhelming. Stack Exchange is interesting but strictly limited. Firehose is the nature of the internet. I have so many things bookmarked, I wouldn’t expect to read them all in a lifetime.

So far MacInTouch has not come up. I used to read it daily, and one could almost say religiously, since I first ran across a copy of MacWEEK at a consulting gig I was doing.

I think the world of Ric Ford, and I also think the online rise and later struggles of MiT reflect the pitfalls of a very small operation. The forums were essentially long threads of “reader reports” for many years, and it took a seismic shift to move to any kind of actual forum management software. As of January 2020, it’s not possible to register a new account on the forums, which makes it essentially a closed community. He has stated his intention to phase out discussion forums altogether.

I know Ric has his reasons for these things, which I respect, but I’ve stopped seeing MiT as a source of useful information and until just now I hadn’t looked at it for the past two years.

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Indeed. Ric and I talk about this stuff every so often, and he’s aware of TidBITS Talk discussions.

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Like @shamino I enjoy that this place is not too big. I can actually read a thread within the limited spare time I have. I also appreciate Adam, Josh, and many other regular TidBITS writers for their insightful articles and the advice they offer in threads.

Like some, I am rather convinced Apple has taken steps in the wrong direction (just some, not all for sure) and I believe, as with all things in life, the way to betterment starts with a frank discussion about what works and what doesn’t. In that sense I don’t mind ‘conflict’ and I usually enjoy reading opposing viewpoints because I believe they broaden my horizon. If every once in a while a post gets too annoying I just skip to the next. But that all said, this is Adam’s site and his rules are what count.

I stick around because I enjoy the place. If I couldn’t deal with Adam’s rules I’d just leave. I’m a big fan of consumers/users voting with their wallets and feet. Truth be told, I wouldn’t know another similar small but knowledgable joint though. There used to be a hobbyist forum that emerged when MacNN forums became really obnoxious. It was small but had a couple of nice and helpful people. Forgot the name, just remember it was run by an interesting Irish character who would write lines in Gaelic every once in a while. :wink: No idea if it’s still around.

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I’m fairly new to the discussion forums but have to admit I love they way it works and is handled. The discussions are to the point, the information really helps me in what I am doing, and the contributors are diverse and knowledgeable. Especially during these long months of being homebound and having health issues, the daily visits to this site has been refreshingly fascinating.

What I value here is something i do not see at other sites, and I do appreciate pointers to sites and articles that contribute to the discussion at hand. I’ve learned a lot because of the format of the forums and excellent “shepherding” by Adam.

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Macintouch is the only Mac site I read every day. I don’t use the forums, though, just the news and the responses. I don’t recall how many years I’ve been reading it.

Hmm. I’m not sure that discussion forums are a reflection of total audience, any more than tech support calls are. That’s not entirely comparable, but toxic discussion forums seem to me to do as much to drive away audience as to increase it.

I value TidBITS-talk highly because of the general intelligence of the discussions, but there was a growing tendency to turn threads into laments about how Apple was Doing It All Wrong. I thought Adam diagnosed that correctly and think he’s right to try to tone it down.

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I had been reading it since 1985, in print form. Once the reader reports turned into forums, I found that feature less useful, even though it was more organized and a little more focused.

I agree. Toxic discussion forums will draw eyeballs, but not necessarily the ones that are searching out help. For the most part discussion on TBTalk has a deep underlying tone of advancing the art of humane and useful technology. That draws a whole different crowd, and one that puts its money where its mouth is.

A really smart business builds loyalty and a useful product. When you’ve got those two factors, “monetization” is no longer a goal because it takes care of itself.

Most of the time…

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