Forums vs. Blog Posts in Ning: A Plea for Unification.

The amount of stuff Ning gets right is impressive, but they’re still blinded by tradition — and few things demonstrate this more than their forum/blog division.

Want to know the question my members on my local Ning site ask me most often?

“Should I do this as a forum or a blog?”

And all I’m able to do is throw up my hands in frustration. By maintaining weird divisions between blogs (which are posted text + discussion) and forums (which are posted text + discussion) the creators of Ning have created a dilemma where there should be none.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just duplication. But the hidden ways in which these are different require just too much understanding of how Ning works:

  1. Forums give you 15 minutes to edit your comment before it is locked (a fact which initially led me to use them for everything), blog comments are locked against changes immediately.
  2. Blogs ping services like Technorati, forums don’t. This is particularly annoying in running a public information site — it means the time sensitive comment in the educational funding forum is unlikely to get indexed when it matters, where as the blog post about one’s new cat goes out immediately.
  3. Groups can only do forums, so if you want your thing categorized under a group name, a blog post is out.
  4. Comments on blogs are called comments, on forums they are called “replies”.
  5. Forum comments can be nested, blog comments can’t.
  6. On the front page, forums show who the last reply was by to the forum — a great tool to get you to realize there’s more to respond to than the original post. Blogs just tell you the number of comments.
  7. Blogs on the front page say the exact time they were posted — forums just tell you the day.
  8. Clicking on a member name on the forum blurb on the front page lists all posts and comments a person has made. Clicking on a member name on the blog post blurb takes you to their profile page.

This is barely scratching the surface. As a person with quite a background in blogging and forums it’s confusing to me — so no wonder people with less background are tearing their hair out about it.

I understand the idea that Ning must be working with — that blogs are somehow about authors, and forums are about commenters.

But IMHO, that’s a 2006 understanding of blogging. The point is, most of the time at the point you post in a community you don’t know whether the value will end up being about the post or the comments.

That “in a community” bit is crucial. Look at the stuff that has grown up around Daily Kos, AutoblogGreen, and other community sites. Sometimes it’s a conversation, and sometimes it’s people dutifully responding to the meat of a post. But you really don’t know which it is until it all shakes out.

So why not unify these two things, instead of maintaining this false and confusing seperation? Make it all blogging, and incorporate some of these differences into admin settings?

Feel free to respond to the post in the comments, or just discuss it among yourselves. Whichever.

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30 Comments on “Forums vs. Blog Posts in Ning: A Plea for Unification.”

  1. I feel your pain —

    You could just sign off Ning and build something better in Drupal, where you would have control over precisely these items.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  2. Mike says:

    Ha!

    No, thanks for the suggestion — but I’ll stick with Ning for now. I’ve been absolutely blown away at how its structure encourages involvement; I’ve frankly never seen anything like it. It’s like watching an alien life form grow.

    There is a “source code” option in Ning, which I’ve put off doing, because I don’t want to get into programming at this point, I want to focus on community building. But if Ning doesn’t fix these things, I may dive in myself.

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    hello
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