[swift-evolution] [Swift4] Mailing list vs. Forum

Jacob Bandes-Storch jtbandes at gmail.com
Wed Aug 3 00:46:59 CDT 2016

I hope my replies aren't too curt — I don't want to pick a fight (any more
than I did by starting this topic), but to explore how Discourse can serve
these use cases. Feel free to re-rebut.

On Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 3:03 PM, Brent Royal-Gordon <brent at architechies.com>

> I don't think enough has been said in favor of mailing lists. Some
> advantages for them:
> 1. Available on every platform.
Browsers too.

> 2. Performant on every platform. (Discourse, for instance, struggles on
> Android.)
Browsers are heavily tuned for performance, and Discourse is a relatively
lightweight site. If you prefer the performance of your email client,
there's mailing list mode.

> 3. Native on every platform.
Browsers too.

> 4. Based on open standards with multiple implementations.
Browsers too. You may argue that the forum itself is too centralized, but
Mailman is necessarily centralized too.

And this isn't always a positive: formatting of styled, quoted, and even
plain text is quite varied among email clients, so popular threads often
end up looking like huge messes.

> 5. Does not require you to proactively check swift-evolution.
Email notification settings, or full-on mailing list mode, or RSS, can
solve this.

> 6. Supports offline reading and drafting.
Mailing list mode or RSS / reply-by-email.

> 7. Supports clients with alternate feature sets.
Discourse has RSS feeds and JSON APIs.

> 8. Supports bot clients for both sending (like the CI bot) and receiving
> (like Gmane).
Discourse has an API
<https://meta.discourse.org/t/discourse-api-documentation/22706> which can
be used for posting. It also supports bot-like plugins
<https://github.com/discourse/try-bot/blob/master/plugin.rb> which can
respond to various events, although I imagine that requires self-hosting.
External bots interested in receiving would probably need to poll RSS, or
just make use of mailing list mode as a receive hook.

> 9. Supports user-specific automatic filtering.
Topics and categories in Discourse each support a range of notification
options from "watching" to "muted". My understanding is that these settings
are respected by mailing list mode.

> 10. Users can privately annotate messages.
Discourse has "bookmarks", basically a way of saving individual
posts/replies for yourself. Users can also send themselves private messages
note-taking purposes.

> 11. Drafts and private messages are not visible to any central
> administrator.
I'm not sure whether Discourse drafts are saved on the server. Moderators
are restricted from viewing private messages
Of course, you can always contact someone via other means.

> 12. History is stored in a distributed fashion; there is no single point
> of failure that could wipe out swift-evolution's history.
This is a fair point. But:
- The Git repository of proposals is distributed.
- Discourse is as easily backed up as any other computer system:
- Users who would like a low-fidelity local copy for themselves can enable
mailing list mode.
- Anyone is free to access/archive publicly accessible content using the

> 13. Usually the medium of choice for large-scale, long-running open source
> projects.

Is that just because people already know how to use email? Is it because
the projects are so long-running that email was the best/only choice when
they started? I'm not sure anyone has done real academic research on the
use of mailing lists in open source projects. If someone can find any, I'd
be interested to read it.

> I could probably go on, but I'll stop here for now.
> I would love to have a great web archive for swift-evolution—something
> with a really solid search function, good threading, and most of the other
> niceties of forums. It'd even be nice to have an upvote feature. But these
> are all things that you could do without taking swift-evolution off of
> email.

This seems like status quo bias to me. It's just as valid to *start* with a
great forum system, and build any desirable additional features on top, as
it is to start with a mailing list and build additional features on top.
(Discourse being open-source is a pretty big advantage in terms of the
ability to add features.)
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