I talked to Daniel last weekend at DDD 4 and he asked me whether I’d ever posted to the MSDN forums. I think I’ve been there once or twice and possibly I also posted, but mainly I’ve always preferred my news reader and access to the MS newsgroups to the forums. Lots of general reasons for that and I’m not going to go into it here…
Now I thought I’d have another look at the forums and try to see how they might work for a similar purpose. I see that they have a lot of interesting functionality, like the ability to mark posts as helpful, subscribing to threads… nice. But I’m also missing some important things, and I really don’t quite see how forums are supposed to work for somebody who’s trying to follow a lot of the content that goes through and to reply to those posts that he knows the answer to.
For a start, how do I subscribe to a particular forum? Basically, I don’t want to see the full forums list all the time. I want to see a summary page of a number of forums that I’m interested in. This is the foundation of how the Usenet has been working for many years and it seems to be missing completely.
The only way to automate the process of following particular forums seems to be to use the RSS feeds that are provide for each forum. Not a very good way if you ask me, because I can’t quite imagine how RSS would let me follow a threaded discussion in a meaningful way, while also providing the opportunity to reply, and so on. I tried it anyway, and I found that the only application that the feeds work with seems to be Internet Explorer itself. What? I already have a blog reader, thank you very much. I use FeedDemon and NewsGator, and I really don’t want to change that. But it doesn’t work with the feeds for the MSDN forums – in fact I haven’t found any application other than IE that manages to download any content from one of the feed URLs.
So I don’t get it… I understand a number of the reasons why web forums appeal to users/readers, although I don’t really agree with them as a user/reader myself. But as long as important functionality is missing for me as a provider of answers/writer, I won’t be spending a huge amount of time there.