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Thoughts on the ideal conversation platform

Originally posted on Reddit on 2017-03-31

It occurs to me that the ideal forum probably would have these three attributes.

  • Each comment can have multiple children. Conversation threads can be followed even after they diverge (e. g., when two people reply to the same comment).
  • Each comment can have multiple parents. Conversation threads can be followed even after they converge (e. g., when one person replies to multiple comments).
  • All comments are easily searchable by full text and permanently archived. Conversations can be found and read long after their original production.

Compare some real conversation platforms.

  • On Reddit and Voat, a comment can't have more than one parent. Conversation threads can't converge and be consolidated. If I want to reply to multiple people with one comment, I have to use username alerts for all but one of them.
  • On XenForo and vBulletin forums, a comment can't have any children. You can follow a conversation thread backward, but you can't follow it forward!
  • On anonymous imageboards, archival is temporary, incomplete, unsearchable, and/or conducted primarily by third-party sites.

(I don't at all understand the popularity of Discord.)

Further thoughts

  • Header: ID, author, time
  • Div: Content (typically including replies and/or references)
  • Footer: List of replies to this message, list of references to this message

Replies and references are separate types of links. Very often, a user wants to reply to one comment (and implicitly request a response from its author by sending an alert to that person) but merely reference another comment (without seeking to include its author in the conversation).

Et cetera

  • Each message (except the ultimate root) is at least one of a response and a reference.
  • Users can filter messages by looking only at the response-descendants or the reference-descendants of a particular message.
  • A moderation mechanism (whether user-directed or moderator-directed) can remove off-topic messages from the reference tree by removing replies and references. (For example: Message B is an off-topic response to Message A. Message B is displayed in the list of responses to Message A. A moderator can remove it from the displayed list of responses to Message B, but without actually breaking the response link.)