Can We Move on from Mailing Lists?

Nothing is more annoying than to have a problem with an open source application that is probably easy to answer and has probably been answered a dozen times, but the answer is only to be had in some mailing list archive. Not only do you have to find out what mailing list, but you have to figure out how to search the list. Lots of them won’t let you search unless you join and then your mail box is filled up with mailing list traffic.

Why can’t we kill these dinosaurs and migrate over to web based discussion forums? They are more user friendly and would greatly enhance the usability of most open source software.

The objections to Web Forums appear to boil down to:

1) Don’t fix what works.

2) Web based forums have greater system and bandwidth requirements than mailing lists.

3) Web based forums are too easily hacked and have numerous security problems.

4) People who monitor the mailing lists prefer the push model of the mailing lists, once they are signed up for the group the mail just rolls in and they don’t have to do anything extra to see it.

My responses are:

1) It works for some, but not for others. I think the developer community thinks it works because it acts as a gatekeeper to keep the non-cognoscenti out. But for the vast majority of people in the user community, who only want a single question or two answered, they are a pain in the neck.

2) Not that much greater, and even so, is it not worth the extra bandwidth and computer resources to serve a much wider audience?

3) So devote some resources to fixing the problems. In any event I know lots of boards running for years with very high traffic and no security problems. This is not much of an excuse.

4) Most of the web based forums offer an option to let you track threads, sections, keywords or the whole board by email. If you want your inbox filled with traffic, they can do that.

In the mode of trying not to complain without offering a solution let me encourage users to support existing forums. I frequent forums for Mepis (, CentOS 4 ( and KDE ( Try and answer a question at least as often as you ask one. These resources will become more valuable as their databases grow with answered questions.

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