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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    New way of organizing a forum?

    I got an idea while browsing the DevNetwork forums. I typically browse through maybe 4-5 of the forums on that site (there are a good 20 or so, all directly or tangentially related to PHP). Sometimes I'll peek at others, but I don't check them regularly. That often means I probably miss out on some good conversations, but I just won't want to wade through all of the other conversations for the 1 or 2 I want to read. That got me thinking about alternate ways of organizing forums.

    I've been thinking about a tag system, where a single thread could have multiple tags, and thus go in multiple "forums". Also, a user could have sort of "search tags" that are saved searches and grab threads that match a given criteria. For example, I could make a tag for all threads that have the phrase "data mapper", or all threads that have a post by a specific user, or all threads started by users with 100+ total posts, etc... every time I log in, I could check these tags, or maybe even subscribe to a specific tag and get updates when new threads are started that match some criteria.

    What do you guys think about that? Has it been done before? Could it be done? A system like that could easily emulate the existing forum > subforum > thread >post structure, if each thread only had one tag. That would allow higher flexibility, and give users the freedom to see the threads they want to see and hide the threads they don't want to see.

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    Did you look into bbPress?

    Their forum software uses a tagging approach to organize content, unless I misunderstand your requirements. It's been done and proably works great, certainly it makes finding the interesting topics easier.
    The only constant in software is change itself

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy kyberfabrikken's Avatar
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    The problem with "tags" (or Folksonomy as it is some times called) is that they don't have the same precision as a proper Taxonomy does. Each individual may have different interpretations and modes of categorising content, which makes the tags less valuable than a more strict category. That is not to say that it has no value, but I don't think it can completely replace it.

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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyberfabrikken View Post
    The problem with "tags" (or Folksonomy as it is some times called) is that they don't have the same precision as a proper Taxonomy does. Each individual may have different interpretations and modes of categorising content, which makes the tags less valuable than a more strict category. That is not to say that it has no value, but I don't think it can completely replace it.
    Well, the idea was that it's your own tags, and not visible to other users. So maybe each post only gets one official tag (emulating the normal forum structure) but each user can make their own tags for easier browsing. For instance, I would love to make a tag that found all threads containing the phrase "data mapper", especially if it alerted me to new posts. That's not really relevant to anybody but me.

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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PCSpectra View Post
    Did you look into bbPress?

    Their forum software uses a tagging approach to organize content, unless I misunderstand your requirements. It's been done and proably works great, certainly it makes finding the interesting topics easier.
    I peeked at it, but not in-depth. I'll have to download it this weeekend and see what it looks like under the hood

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophybronze trophy Stormrider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by allspiritseve View Post
    Well, the idea was that it's your own tags, and not visible to other users. So maybe each post only gets one official tag (emulating the normal forum structure) but each user can make their own tags for easier browsing. For instance, I would love to make a tag that found all threads containing the phrase "data mapper", especially if it alerted me to new posts. That's not really relevant to anybody but me.
    I would call that a filter more than a tag

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophybronze trophy Cups's Avatar
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    Not at all sure about this, but maybe its possible to knock up a greasemonkey script that allowed whoever installed it to add tags to urls, say, tags chosen from a taxonomy based on the GOF pattern catalog. That'd be a nice idea.

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy kyberfabrikken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stormrider View Post
    I would call that a filter more than a tag
    Yes, that sounds like a search agent. That would make a lot of sense actually.

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    Sounds like a bookmark to me
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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stormrider View Post
    I would call that a filter more than a tag
    Quote Originally Posted by Cups View Post
    Not at all sure about this, but maybe its possible to knock up a greasemonkey script that allowed whoever installed it to add tags to urls, say, tags chosen from a taxonomy based on the GOF pattern catalog. That'd be a nice idea.
    Quote Originally Posted by kyberfabrikken View Post
    Yes, that sounds like a search agent. That would make a lot of sense actually.
    Quote Originally Posted by imaginethis View Post
    Sounds like a bookmark to me
    Well, the idea came from Remember The Milk's saved searches, so I guess all of those terms could fit. The intention was that they behaved like any other explicit forum, and since I liked the idea of giving multiple tags to each forum (instead of the typical hierarchy method), it seemed to fit to have a saved search act like a tag (though it could in effect be made up of many tags).

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophybronze trophy Cups's Avatar
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    Yes, does sound like bookmarks in a shared space, but the diff would be two things (at least from what I think the OP means).

    It would be multi-terms from a taxonomy (or controlled list) rather than a folksonomy
    The references (links) would be PHP-based

    This would make it forum-independent, and get away from the main problem of folksonomies (data mapper, datamapper and Data-mapper would end up being 3 entries).

    The usefulness of it may turn upon the ease of use, adaptabilit and accuracy of the "points system" I think you are advocating, I recently started explored how simple crowd-sourcing techniques can be used without having to login etc.

    Off Topic:


    Quote Originally Posted by Cups
    ... maybe its possible to knock up a greasemonkey script ...
    Actually I wonder now if a FF add-on would be better suited, though again, I wander (eek a pun) out of my depth on this subject too.

  12. #12
    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cups View Post
    Yes, does sound like bookmarks in a shared space, but the diff would be two things (at least from what I think the OP means).

    It would be multi-terms from a taxonomy (or controlled list) rather than a folksonomy
    The references (links) would be PHP-based

    This would make it forum-independent, and get away from the main problem of folksonomies (data mapper, datamapper and Data-mapper would end up being 3 entries).

    The usefulness of it may turn upon the ease of use, adaptabilit and accuracy of the "points system" I think you are advocating, I recently started explored how simple crowd-sourcing techniques can be used without having to login etc.

    Off Topic:




    Actually I wonder now if a FF add-on would be better suited, though again, I wander (eek a pun) out of my depth on this subject too.
    Hmm... I am pretty out of my element with "taxonomy", "folksonomy", "bookmark in a shared space", etc...

    After some wikipedia enlightenment: I was talking about a taxonomy for the actual organization of the site. It wasn't the main idea though. What I am thinking of is a folksonomy that is only visible to the creator of that organization. In essence, you create your own structure for the forum, rather than moving within the rigid structure set by the forum creators.

    You could even start with no structure, just throw all threads in a single forum. As a user, you then go in and set up your own forums (or tags, or saved searches, or filters, or bookmarks) and browse as normal. Maybe you pick from a controlled list of tags to make criterion for the forum, maybe you want a phrase that isn't included. Maybe you want all threads with a response by a specific user. Who knows, but as kyberfabrikken pointed out, these forums really only apply to the individual who created them.

    I'm sure the first criticism would be that people are lazy, and they won't want to set up their own forums. There are many possibilities... include traditional forums (1 tag per thread), include forums tagged from a controlled list of tags, or maybe include "suggested forums" that give you a starting point of organization that you can customize. Which one you choose would probably depend on the volume of posts you get. A site like UbuntuForums would be hell starting out from no organization. A site with smaller thread volume maybe could start out with less organization.

    I'm not really sure how this FF/greasemonkey add-on ties in to my idea. I'd like this concept to be central to the forum, allowing subscriptions to custom forums, etc.

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    Its a lot easier to just use bookmarks in Firefox rather than in some forum application. Forums are complicated enough as it is and I would think that most of the features built it to forum software will never be used by the majority of the people using the application to begin with.
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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophybronze trophy Cups's Avatar
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    I'm not really sure how this FF/greasemonkey add-on ties in to my idea. I'd like this concept to be central to the forum, allowing subscriptions to custom forums, etc.
    Sorry, I wrongly assumed you meant you wanted to pull together the best ideas from all forums, seeing as you are asking the same question in other places.

    Added 2+2 and got 7.

    Reading my own posts again now, it seems I am advocating a crowd-source driven social bookmarking site, not a forum enhancement.

    Following this conversation here and other places, the whole thing reminds me a little of my own efforts using Google's note this feature, which I use to follow news in the industry I work in, farming the links I find via "Google Alerts", but on a shared, orchestrated scale.

    Maybe you pick from a controlled list of tags to make criterion for the forum
    That was what I meant by a "controlled vocabulary", where DataMapper means one thing, you can only add a new term to the vocabulary by following strict rules, which is usually managed by a SIG.

    To me, a taxonomy means that this DataMapper belongs to a family of data access patterns, and the relationships between these families is also clearly documented and structured.

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    I ended up trying to make a 'different' forum some time ago but ran out of speed partway through development. Here are some of the similarities of our approach, and also some of the things where, if you're taking a tag based approach, you might avoid. Here is the url to a running version of the software: http://ioreader.com/code/apps/onelobby/upload/wwwroot/

    Tags were a fairly large part of the system. One could tag threads, and then one could also view threads by tag. Here is an example of browsing all threads tagged with 'php' and 'feature': http://ioreader.com/code/apps/onelob...s/feature+php/ As a registered user, a 'save' button would be there and you could save it in a tag group, all of which are available to registered users from a drop-down menu (nifty). A lot of the interface for viewing threads by tag was actually inspired by Blogoforum, I'd suggest checking it out.

    Another thing that worked well was merging public/private messaging. I adopted a facebook-like wall posting system, but where wall posts could be public or private, thus removing the need for separate messaging systems in that sense. This was nice as it really made profiles have "something". E.g.: http://ioreader.com/code/apps/onelob...rofile/2/k4st/

    One thing that didn't end up making sense and which drew a lot of energy was that I had also thought about sticking with the old notion of forum categories. I wasn't too sure if these would be separate things, or admin-defined tag groups, but I never ended up finding a nice way to fit those into the model. (admin-defined tag groups would work as it implicitly means someone can post to more than one category by including the right tags)

    I ended up working a wiki-like idea of being able to view the edit history of a post, mostly for the hell of it, and being able to "share" editing privileges of a post with the public (or possibly another person, I forget). E.g.: revision history: http://ioreader.com/code/apps/onelob...est_MBA_Topic/ In the end, this wasn't a necessary feature and just drew time and energy.

    Finally, a good search. The search used mysql FULLTEXT (iirc), so when I say good I am not necessarily saying effective, what I mean is giving people the ability to search everything. Try hovering over the 'search' text at the top right, clicking it, then pressing the down arrow. All of those are searchable. Alternatively, try: http://ioreader.com/code/apps/onelob...h=/search/find

    In the end, one of the reasons I didn't finish this is because I had a lot of fun ideas and a lot of places to draw inspiration from (Lussumo Vanilla, Blogoforum, Facebook, etc) but very little direction and planning. If you do end up making a forum, I'd say really nail down exactly what you're prepared to make for the first "release" version and stick to it. It doesn't need to be everything you dreamed of, but if you run out of steam then you've really just dug yourself into a de-motivational hole. I hope some of what I have done gives you some neat ideas

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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imaginethis View Post
    Its a lot easier to just use bookmarks in Firefox rather than in some forum application. Forums are complicated enough as it is and I would think that most of the features built it to forum software will never be used by the majority of the people using the application to begin with.
    Now, would my approach make forums more complicated or less complicated?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cups View Post
    Sorry, I wrongly assumed you meant you wanted to pull together the best ideas from all forums, seeing as you are asking the same question in other places.
    Not a problem. Looking back I see I wasn't as explicit as I could have been... I didn't distinguish between forum (site) and forum (category within a site).

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    I ended up trying to make a 'different' forum some time ago but ran out of speed partway through development.
    You posted a lot of good ideas (very similar to what I'm going for). I don't have time to respond more in-depth than this right now, but I'll have to take a look at your links sometime.

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    Quote Originally Posted by allspiritseve View Post
    Now, would my approach make forums more complicated or less complicated?
    It makes it more complicated. Browsers already do a bang-up job of allowing individuals to organize and save previously visited web pages, so unless your idea some how exceeds the usefulness of a browsers built in features, I personally would avoid it.
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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imaginethis View Post
    It makes it more complicated. Browsers already do a bang-up job of allowing individuals to organize and save previously visited web pages, so unless your idea some how exceeds the usefulness of a browsers built in features, I personally would avoid it.
    I'm confused... where in all this did you get the idea that I wanted to "organize and save" web pages?

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    Quote Originally Posted by allspiritseve View Post
    I'm confused... where in all this did you get the idea that I wanted to "organize and save" web pages?
    You said
    a user could have sort of "search tags" that are saved searches and grab threads that match a given criteria.
    And I said
    Sounds like a bookmark to me
    And I said
    Its a lot easier to just use bookmarks in Firefox rather than in some forum application. Forums are complicated enough as it is and I would think that most of the features built it to forum software will never be used by the majority of the people using the application to begin with.
    and so on..
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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    @imaginethis I did say that... note I was talking about threads and not web pages. I am thinking of new ways to organize threads in a forum application, which has nothing to do with the browser and everything to do with what threads go in which forum (by forum I mean a "category" of threads, like 'PHP Application Design').

    I have no desire to reimplement bookmarks, I just assumed that those who called this a bookmark were speaking more generally than a bookmarked page. If you want a working example of what I'm going for, look at Remember The Milk's saved searches.

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    Quote Originally Posted by allspiritseve View Post
    @imaginethis I did say that... note I was talking about threads and not web pages. I am thinking of new ways to organize threads in a forum application, which has nothing to do with the browser and everything to do with what threads go in which forum (by forum I mean a "category" of threads, like 'PHP Application Design').

    I have no desire to reimplement bookmarks, I just assumed that those who called this a bookmark were speaking more generally than a bookmarked page. If you want a working example of what I'm going for, look at Remember The Milk's saved searches.
    Ok abstract it a bit further. A thread when rendered becomes a web page. Which can be bookmarked. Bookmarks can be created and organazed.
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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imaginethis View Post
    Ok abstract it a bit further. A thread when rendered becomes a web page. Which can be bookmarked. Bookmarks can be created and organazed.
    A page can contain many threads, and a thread can span many pages. They're not the same thing. Nor do bookmarks have the behavior I want.

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    Well http://www.sitepoint.com/forums/show...65#post4144065 is a thread on this forum. And I can bookmark it. From what I've read seems to be the same thing.
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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophybronze trophy Cups's Avatar
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    This discussion reminds me of this old thread splitting up this forum, folksonomies and tags. Maybe there is something of interest in it.

    The main difference is that, probably mistakenly in hindsight, I thought that this current discussion seems to be addressing the use of a controlled list of words (e.g. a patterns catalog) rather than a folksonomy, and therefore much of the argument above is not valid.

    Quote Originally Posted by OP
    For example, I could make a tag for all threads that have the phrase "data mapper" ....
    If the forums target audience was PHP, OOP programmers and improvers then allowing users to tag posts with nutty stuff like "PHP" would be out of the question, and imposing a controlled pick-list of well defined pattern names, or programming principles would really make sense.

    Would it make sense enough to move from being simply tagging to becoming a navigational element? In my mind undoubtedly it would, if the quantity and quality of posts was there. and CoolURIs is a big bonus.

    yourforum.com/php/datamapper
    yourforum.com/php/datamapper/feed.xml, twitter

    Parsing the posts for tags can be a semi-automated, auto-suggest method which enhances the posters' experience.

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    Spirit Coder allspiritseve's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    As a registered user, a 'save' button would be there and you could save it in a tag group, all of which are available to registered users from a drop-down menu (nifty).
    Exactly! Except instead of a drop-down menu, I want those saved tag groups to appear the same as any other subforum.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    Another thing that worked well was merging public/private messaging. I adopted a facebook-like wall posting system, but where wall posts could be public or private, thus removing the need for separate messaging systems in that sense.
    I like that idea, though I'm considering going one step further and making the backend code for PMs and forum threads the same. I have a client who has requested threaded PMs (like facebook) and I'm having trouble trying to find a real difference between the two (other than who has access... which is the same difference you found above).

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    One thing that didn't end up making sense and which drew a lot of energy was that I had also thought about sticking with the old notion of forum categories. I wasn't too sure if these would be separate things, or admin-defined tag groups, but I never ended up finding a nice way to fit those into the model. (admin-defined tag groups would work as it implicitly means someone can post to more than one category by including the right tags)
    I like the idea that one post could go in multiple categories. I think the best approach would be to start out with "suggested" tag groups that you could modify as needed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    I ended up working a wiki-like idea of being able to view the edit history of a post, mostly for the hell of it, and being able to "share" editing privileges of a post with the public (or possibly another person, I forget) In the end, this wasn't a necessary feature and just drew time and energy.
    I have considered shared editing priviledges before... they aren't always necessary, but in cases where you're working on a project with a bunch of people it would be REALLY useful. I almost wonder if that shouldn't be a blog post, but a wiki page that's attached to a thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    Finally, a good search. The search used mysql FULLTEXT (iirc), so when I say good I am not necessarily saying effective, what I mean is giving people the ability to search everything. Try hovering over the 'search' text at the top right, clicking it, then pressing the down arrow. All of those are searchable.
    I agree that's an integral part. I like how google and RTM do their searches, where you can have things like tag:work or before:date, etc. I don't really have much experience in that arena though, so I'll need to do some research.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Goodman View Post
    If you do end up making a forum, I'd say really nail down exactly what you're prepared to make for the first "release" version and stick to it. It doesn't need to be everything you dreamed of, but if you run out of steam then you've really just dug yourself into a de-motivational hole. I hope some of what I have done gives you some neat ideas
    Thanks for the advice, and you have given me lots of ideas. I may end up doing a prototype of the tag-group idea, and see where that takes me. I don't know for sure yet whether I want to commit to building a whole forum app.


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