Mailing-list VS Forum

It is very common in the Open-source world to make use of mailinglists both for users and developers communication. The fact is almost an historic one since the old-web had almost no dinamic pages support and forums weren’t born yet (AFAIK).

The fact is that when we are discussing a specific subject we wish to keep that subject organized and sometimes we need to take more information about that discussion like the dates of the posts and keep following the discussion in the original order.

Those aren’t the strong points of mailinglists. It is very difficult if not impossible to keep track and make an accurate history of a discussion because mail systems itself don’t support it. It is true that mail clients and some mailinglist managers do a great job keeping that organized, but none is perfect.

Forums are usually web-based and one of the strongest points is that they keep discussions well organized. You can follow the discussion and write an anwser much more quickier than with mailing lists. In fact:

  1. They are easier to seach
    Either an usual user or a casual user (ex: googling user) can follow the entire discussion and find the solution much easier since mailing list histories are ugly, difficult to navigate and sometimes badly organized.
  2. They don’t require you to receive 1000 mails when you only need an anwser
    Unlike one of the frustrating points of mailing lists, when you subcribe, you don’t need to receive all the mails from each and every discussion. Instead you can receive only those related to your discussion only.

So, the “big” advantage of mailing lists is that they can keep someone working on a project updated about everything that happens. But! Foruns can do that… you just need to subcribe to every forum and you’ll receive each and every discussion.

This is a point I really don’t get, why is open source so tied to mailing lists yet? Why don’t we move? Aren’t those advantages obvious and for the good of our users?

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6 Responses to “Mailing-list VS Forum”

  1. Sean Middleditch says:

    I switched my project over to Google Groups specifically because of how it has a top-notch
    web-based, forum-like interface in addition to excellent email support.

    I’d love to see a merger of a mailing list archive with a forum released as open source with high quality and tight
    integration with popular mailing list software packages.

    I also started working on a little project meant to improve upon the traditional web forum interface and merge with email, in addition
    to provide a new mail protocol that can use the features of forum-like software and make it so that users’ mail clients can access old discusison messages as well. (Apps like Evolution have plugin
    systems so using a new protocol is theoretically quite easy.)

  2. Mailinglists have their merits as well;

    Archive is stored on my harddrive – I can search that a LOT faster than browsing through search result. Maybe a modern wep-app can do this just as nicely, but few things beat searching

    * I can browse the mails while on the train

    * And the last one is probably social. Mailing lists attract less non-serious users, so you get less traffic. The slightly higher
    effort required to join keeps away a lot of people using e.g. webmail – this usually does not affect developers. The end result is potentially a better signal-to-noise ratio.

  3. knocte says:

    Have you tried Gmane? In my opinion it’s the best solution between three worlds (mailing lists, newsgroups and


  4. Vasco Costa says:

    Well, different people have different tastes.

    I hate forums. What you describe about them doesn’t apply for me. I think it’s much more efficient to follow a ML, instead of loosing time browsing through a forum which though organized takes some time to reach the latest posts (the ones which really matter).

    Forum organize things in a nice way but that only suits you when starting to read a discussion from the beginning. You click on some topic and you can easily read all the posts. However if you simply want to read every new post and reply to some of them it is much easier to do it through email since you simply get them at the top of your inbox, rather than having to browse them.

    I love MLs for this!

  5. Wesley says:

    Its so much easier to keep a track of what you’ve read and what you haven’t read in a mailing list. You also loose that degree of anonymity that people stick to in forums.

    However its difficult to search for old answers like you said. I’m divided on the matter.

  6. Arend says:

    I hate mailing lists with a passion. Many projects have very poor ways of searching the archives. Who wants to join a mailing list just because he has a simple question? Who is going to give feedback long after the mail batches are send out ?
    That said forums probably need more maintenance and requires the people involved to regularly log in.

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