About the Discuss section on Rhizome

Posted by Patrick May | Thu Jun 12th 2008 12:10 p.m.

Hi all,

There's been a great deal of conversation about discussion on Rhizome, and I wanted to pass along some background information about why we moved away from email. Email is an interesting technology, b/c it is as ubiquitous as HTML but there are subtle complications:

[*]The level of HTML possible in email is far behind the level available in browsers.
[*]Parsing email can become a complicated affair after accounting for the various edge cases.
[*]Integrating a perl or php script into Sendmail is more complicated with more security issues than integrating a similar script into Apache.

In the prior architecture, posts were sent to the RAW email list, then parsed and saved on the site. This system obviously worked for most of Rhizome's history. But it proved difficult to update:

[*]Adding support for images and flash movies was difficult
[*]There was also a growing spam problem with the mailing list. The volume was low, but it caused problems b/c the spam would be sent using other user's names. When a user has 20 spam posts on their profile with no option to delete it is very frustrating for that person, and we would have to clean up the mess.
[*]From an operations perspective, sendmail integration was taking up too much time.

To address these issues, we removed email as the central link in our discussion system. In the current system, email is one way of getting notified about new posts, along with RSS, or what ever new technology comes up in the future.

We wanted to remove the time-consuming aspects of the mailing list while continuing to support the unmoderated conversations that happened on RAW. Threading was implemented because it was email-like. We didn't want to change the conversation, just remove some of the difficulties in supporting that conversation.

The other thing we did was to separate announcements from discussion. We took a tally of discussion vs announcement posts and realized that discussion was not happening on a regular basis. It was very hard to find discussion on the site, b/c an interesting thread would quickly be pushed out of view by the daily stream of announcements. By separating the two, we've seen a return in person to person discussion.

We are interested as always in improving the level of discussion on Rhizome, and forward-looking suggestions are always taken seriously.


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