I recently attended a recent Microsoft Research talk on the subject of the Microsoft public newsgroups. This was put on by the people behind Netscan.  I must admit I’ve never liked NNTP newsgroups.  I don’t like the anonymity, posting rich content to them is a chore with most applications including Outlook Express, I don’t like the spam, and until groups.google.com came along, I disliked having to search them for anything.  However, according to the statistics, there are at least 11 million people in the Microsoft.public groups alone that disagree with me and have not found a better place to vent their frustrations and ask the same questions over and over again. 

Maybe I can be a “glass half empty” type of person but I can’t entirely suggest the world should just move to Web Forums either.  Sure, I can have cleaner concepts of identity, moderation, bubbling, searching, and content attribution, but on the other hand… There is no offline story, most forum sites can be slow, and there is no standard post editor (or any interface) that one can get used to, and because of their disperse nature there may be 100 different web forums dedicated to the same topics leading to rifts in the community. 

A recent ray of hope, IMO, is the mixing of RSS and web forum technology.  In an early form you can see this by subscribing to feeds (Web Forms, Announcements, etc) provided by the asp.net forums and start reading the content in your favorite aggregator.  Now I can read the content offline, but I still can’t respond, and the feeds currently only provide you with some of the first post in each thread, not the comments that follow.  Room for improvement for sure, but an interesting proof of concept.

What technologies solve your venting, questioning, and answering needs best?  How could someone do better?