There are some thoughts which are repeating in my head for years, and I’ve just decided its time that I write them down.
When it comes to non-instantly many-to-many communication, there are to big systems currently in use: forums and mailing lists. What annoys me that much about those is that both systems are actually exactly the same, except for the frontend they use.
Mailing lists send the messages to all users by mail, and allow them to answer again by mail. Additionally, they have a website (archive) where all messages can be checked, but this website is usually pretty awful and doesn’t allow answering to the messages.
Comparably, forums show all messages -and allow to answer to them- in a website which is excellent for this purpose, but the mail subscription option isn’t useful at all (often requiring that you open the website to see the content) and doesn’t allow to answer to the messages directly.
But, let’s look again at what their key function actually is. Delivering messages. It’s just, one simple purpose that both systems share. So my point is, why isn’t there a single solution adjusting to both (mail and web) workflows. Why are there only two exclusive options, which only provide one good interface and a broken attempt at the other one?
I want a system where I can visit a website and see all messages (also being able to answer to them), and then after five months decide that I don’t want to visit the website any more and subscribe to it by mail, still getting to read and answer the discussions in the same way but now from my mail client? (And while we are at it, having an option to link several email addresses to the same account, so that I can answer using any of those – like with Launchpad’s mailing lists).
In all the years I’ve been using the Internet, I haven’t seen a single solution like the one I’m describing. Sure, there are third-party websites which show discussions from mailing lists in a more readable way, and some even allow answering to them, but it isn’t quite the same. There is Google Groups, which is quite close at providing both interfaces, but the website isn’t really like a forum either and it just doesn’t feel right (also, it’s proprietary/centralized and not appropriate for usage by, for example, the Debian project).
Am I really asking for that much? I’ve considered, several times, writing such a system myself, but I just can’t believe that nobody has thought of it before (or, in case it already exists, that it isn’t in much more widespread use).