Usability and trends in mailing lists, bulletin boards, and other web forums

Just that - what do you like and/or dislike about them? I have noticed trends over the years, and often wonder what changes were made for the sake of change, or what people find actually useful. The considerations can be technical, aesthetic, or anything else.

I was not online much in the pre-internet BBS days, mostly because my parents were worried that I would blow up their phone bill or otherwise get into trouble with it. And I mostly missed UseNet, showing up in the early naughties when it was mostly used to transfer binaries.

My first big internet discussions were on email-based mailing lists, using majordomo. I liked the text-based approach. It was single message or digest, and I found single easier to follow.

Most useful to me so far are bulletin-board style forums made with phpBB and the like. They make integrating non-text data easier, and offer more ways of organizing content.

What I use online these days are mostly what I call “whitespace forums”, because there is just so much wasted space. The topics are always far apart vertically, and posts crammed into the center leaving vast horizontal margins. More features for linking content from elsewhere, such as onebox and “share on social media” things.

What else is there? Or should there be? If you were going to use something to make a forum, what would you use, and why?

It’s orders of magnitude more difficult to keep your place on a text line that’s too wide. Even more so for people with dyslexia like me and half my family. Not going edge-to-edge with text on horizontally oriented screens is one of the two greatest trends in design the past twenty years. (The other is pages that scale well when users zoom in. Sites that don’t let you zoom on mobile are being usability naughty.)

Most of my usability complaints are about modals, the trend of having all content on a single page without much content on it at all (just big blocks of mostly stock photography), and sites who don’t even try to be ADA compliant.


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