What are the comparative advantages of DiscussionBoard?s and wikis?

What critera should we use to pick WhatCommunicationSoftwareToUse?

Is it possible to create a web site that combines the advantages of discussion boards and wiki?

Technical advantages

Discussion boards are a special case of wikis

BayleShanks asserts that Wikis are nearly categorically superior to DiscussionBoard?s, in a technical sense. DiscussionBoard?s seem to be almost a special case of a Wiki. Specifically, a Wiki in which all comments are signed, no one edits any previous comments, and no new pages are started except when a new topic is introduced would seem to be a discussion board. 1

However, practically, there are still a few features that DiscussionBoard?s have that Wikis don’t:

Technical advantages of discussion boards

It would be nice to see RecentChanges history in this way - with sub-nodes named by the Summary, and sub-sub-nodes as the diff…

But compare to the features that Wikis have over discussion boards:

Technical advantages of wikis

Note: this sort of analysis is ahistorical

Considering discussion boards as special cases of wikis may be formally defensible, but it is a dramatically ahistorical view, given that discussion boards, and the culture which surrounds them and which they, in part, support precede by decades the development of wikis. --AnonymousDonor

I do not agree with this being ahistorical. It is quite usual that the general case is discovered after a specific case. Often, general cases are found by looking at a set of specific cases, and going “Hmm, that’s funny, those could all be solved by …” --EivindEklund? (but feel free to anonymize for refactoring)

This analyzis does not take into account SocialAffordance (WhatIsAffordance). I believe this omission makes it practically useless. Wikis and discussion boards (or fora) have dramatically different affordances leading to very different usage patterns. And when you start to analyze how to do a wiki that has all the affordances of discussion boards (like adding a ‘quick comment’ feature that would append a message to the wikipage) you’ll see that it is not that easy (for instance such a ‘quick comment’ would suffer from allways changing topic of discussion).

That’s a good point, Zbigniew. Perhaps the hidden assumption that it is possible to add the affordances of discussion boards without mangling the affordances of wiki is false.

Thanks. I fact I have been searching for the good way to characterize the difference between wikis and discussion boards (and between email and instant messaging) for a long time and now I am very happy to find the affordances vocabulary - it seems like the right language for that (when unified with the analyzis from ‘Online Community as Genre’). I feel that characterisation of the differences in terms of affordances is a very important work to be done with immediate impact on designing new communication tools.

Information management advantages

Information management advantages of wikis

The information dynamics of wikis has the potential to surpass that of discussion boards in many ways:

BayleShanks believes that the most important and powerful of these is the information consolidation.

Information management advantages of discussion boards

The usual disclaimer & what-work-well-where discussion

The initial premise of this page ranks SocialSoftware on a strict hierarchial scale of better and worse. Each type of software has comparative strengths and weaknesses, but this is true even amongst implementations within a given category (MediaWiki vs OddMuse, for instance). The extent to which a feature provides a relative advantage depends on the context of the community’s composition, goals, time horizons, technical skills, and so forth.

Rather than “better” or “worse”, most people see wikis as complementary to meatspace discussion, to threaded discussion board software (Slash?), to linear discussion board software (such as Motet or PicoSpan), to email discussion lists (examples too numerous and ubiquitous to mention), perhaps even to many other forms of conversation mediated by SocialSoftware (chat, instant messaging, network news, MUDs).

Wikis are excellent repositories for holding documents developed collaboratively through discussion in media more suited to hosting them. The succeed on this strength, and perhaps in spite of their weakness in hosting linear conversation, or perhaps only because of their ability (by virtue of the general-purpose flexibility) to accomodate short conversational exchanges.


Seconding Zbigniews comment above: Is it really about vs? One should use the tool that does the job best, and there are times where this tool is a Wiki and there are times where it is a board/forum/whatever. And btw, comparing technical features might be interesting to developers and geeks, but the user just wants to solve her problem, no matter francy teck speak.

Like others I feel that there is no “superior to” in this matter and that both are superior for their initial target usage and that both are trying to mimic the properties of the other.

See this wiki for instance, there are avatars, boxes around each post just like in a forum, this is great for question/answer or discussion mode, there are homepages for “private” messages just like a forum. So one might think that it proves wikis are superior, but what is the result? This wiki has been transformed into a BBS. See the recent additions that have been made, someone creates a new page, others conveniently add their 2 cents or more valuable comments, but little organization or reworking effort has been made afterward.

But a forum is still easier to use for this kind of work, the “registration” is a bit more intutive (people are more used to fill a form than to create a page, add a link to an image etc..), easier to quickly add a response easier to browse the threads, things that are not relevant anymore or incorrect are automatically buried as newer posts are made (while they tend to stay on a wiki page) and I feel that editing a wiki page is more frightening (especially when wikis specifically asks to be carefull and to write correctly, which is difficult for someone writing in a foreign language) etc…

On the other hand forums have problems too, people keeps asking the same question, so forum developers have introduce sticky threads where people organize pointer to other threads or even to specific post transforming the BBS into a wiki. This sticky subject are edited by the initial contributor.

But a wiki is still superior for this has anyone can rework a page, linking to other article is easier etc…

The obvious consequence is to view the two as complementary, though I never met a community were both (or all when they are combined with articles and the like) were equally successfull. (and I feel that the wiki often looses the battle, I don’t have time to give my interpretation of this right now).

Also I am wondering if someone as allready to make a forum a bit more like a wiki, ie a forum where everybody would be able to edit posts made by others (with version control for each post) and where you could link to other thread just by using the initial title.

Pierre, I think differently. Of course it’s not about wiki or forum being superior - it all depends. But … forum and wiki create different experiences and products. If you like debates and socializing, use a forum. If you want to produce a content value or community relationships, use a wiki. A forum enforces a structure on human interactions and therefore on communication results, a wiki does not - it offers more freedom at the cost of being more complicated, technically and socially. For some users this is a burden, while wiki becomes even more interesting for others.

Forum systems are at the end of their social development - we exactly know what they can do and what they can’t, there is nothing new to expect. On the other hand, we do not know where wiki will lead us, we have just started to explore its potential.

I participate on the LinuxQuestions? wiki.

I got in a big conversation with some of the folk about this.

They require that all questions are asked in the forums. And then they are shocked (shocked! I tell you) that the answers to questions aren’t put into the wiki. I felt that the problem is that there’s hardly any connection between the forum and the wiki.

I imagined the following system:

  • In the wiki, you can refer to threads in the forums.
  • In the forums, you can refer to wiki page names. (This ability is presently in their software.)
  • Forum posts are attached to wiki pages.
  • Wiki pages keep track of all forum posts that are attached to them.

So, if you wanted to ask questions about Inkscape, you’d first make an Inkscape page in the wiki, and then attach your thread to that. If there was already an Inkscape page, you’d use that one. After checking that the page doesn’t already answer your question, that is.

When someone looks at the Inkscape page, they could say, “Hm,,…. What forum conversations are attached to this page?” They would get a list of all the conversations that came before, for that topic.

In a sense, we’re reusing the wiki’s structure as the structure for the forums.

Very much (in words: very much) do we need a connection between forums and wikis. Stick to it, Lion, would be a great success. I failed on trying to get the Venice university informatics forum connected to the WiCaFo?-wiki. On the forum they aren’t but mostly bullshitting without ever condensing things into anything and the wiki suffers from too few participants. Having had the technical means I would have succeeded.

Yes, I quite agree that that would be a good idea. It is WorseIsBetter (it would be best if all content was refactored into the wiki, but it’s better than nothing to have a cheap way to keep track of which threads answer which questions), and also SideSystemsFirst (people would prefer to use the BBS they have rather than the new wiki? Let them).

The easiest way to do this would be to just copy and paste a link to the threads into the wiki pages, I guess.

Mixed systems never work. ZwikiWiki?TikiWiki … terrible wikis … Parsimony had forum+wiki for 25000+ forums for years, it has not grown a single wiki worth mentioning. Forum and wiki have different cultures. It is imho better to put forum and wiki as competing systems side by side and let people chose with their feet.

Don’t buy a phone that is also a PDM. Don’t buy a car that can swim. Mozilla almost stumbled because of trying to be everything. C++ with its many paradigms became a nightmare.

Mixed systems never work. I don’t know. Sometimes they do.

Sometimes some new mixed system comes along that can completely replace 2 kinds of older, now-obsolete system. Electronic calculators have completely replaced mechanical calculators and paper books of logarithm tables. Cars that mixed gasoline engines plus electric starter motors have completely replaced (hand-cranked) cars that did not have starter motors. “Universal” URLs have completely replaced a variety of more limited and more difficult-to-use hyperlinks.

Other times they don’t. All-in-one folding knife-fork-spoon combos (resembling to “swiss army knives”) seem misguided, since they don’t allow you to hold your food down with the fork while simultaneously cutting it with the knife. Henry Ford tried to combine the automobile with the airplane. For years there were companies selling “videophone” systems; I don’t know any home that has one.

I agree with SaschaCarlin that “One should use the tool that does the job best”, and today, sometimes the best tool is a discussion board.

However, wiki is still rapidly improving. It certainly seems that, from a technical point of view, a wiki allows a person to do (with much more effort) all of the things that a discussion board allows a person to do, plus a few more things a discussion board cannot do.

It is not at all obvious to me whether

  • (a) perhaps making wiki more like discussion boards is good – perhaps in a few years some wiki/discussion board hybrid will have improved so much, that there are no jobs left that a plain discussion board or plain wiki can do better than this hybrid; or
  • (b) perhaps making wiki more like discussion boards is misguided – perhaps attempts to improve usability of the discussion-board features inevitably make the wiki features more difficult to use, leading to a complicated mess.

We just don’t know yet.

Ever since the first time that I refactored a ThreadMode conversation into DocumentMode wiki page, I’ve thought that it would be great if I could just highlight chunks of text, and drag them into my new “page”. Or, if I could use some form of very simple markup to import just the sentences or paragraphs (or content) that I want.

The other thing that I think is that a new way of using wiki can emerge that creates pages in different types of templates. When I am using wiki, I am trying to merge ideas from many different places, groups, points of view. So, I would benefit from a “synthesizing” template that helps me and others quickly and easily create a page from many different types of sources.

An example of a tool could even be a browser based bookmarklet tool, that imports text from many different types of web pages, and allows me to arrange them in a page. This is similar to the way that the WordPress “Press it” bookmarklet function works (although this requires JavaScript be turned on in your web browser).

I see no reason why a wiki cannot look like, feel like and work like a forum. We know that wiki blogs are amazing, then why not a forum?

Surely it will require some appropriate css, slight modification to RecentChanges and maybe some other changes to make it work like a forum. In the end, however, you can turn it into something where most people wont even notice that it is a wiki, but those who want wiki functionality will get it. It just needs some developers to implement it in a clever way.



1. Also, for a particular application, one might find incidental features that current DiscussionBoard? software happens to be better at than current Wiki software; for instance, a certain look and feel, the quality of email notification, “Post” and “Reply” interface. But this is an implementation issue that does not affect the feature-wise superiority of the ideal Wiki to the ideal DiscussionBoard?.
2. unless you implement MergingAutomatically?

Define external redirect: MergingAutomatically DiscussionBoard EivindEklund ZwikiWiki LinuxQuestions WiCaFo

EditNearLinks: WordPress WorseIsBetter TikiWiki JavaScript MediaWiki EditConflict DocumentMode AnonymousDonor PicoSpan


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