30 September 2005

Feature for the Future: Virtual Forums part 1

It's high time forum organisation evolved from the standard setup we're grown used to ever since bulleting boards evolved into the category>forum>subforum>thread>post model adopted by all the major board softwares.

The future lies in adopting more fluid, user-customisable setups. Microsoft recently realised that: one of the big features of the successor to XP (called Windows Vista) is Virtual Folders. They've left behind the old setup of having one folder for Pictures, one for Music, another for Videos. Instead, all documents are put into one place. This would be incredibly hard to use - all documents in a single folder - if it weren't for the Virtual Folders system.

A virtal folder is effectively a folder which when clicked on searches for all the documents that answer a specific set of criteria. Hence you can still have a My Music folder - just setup a virtual folder for any .mp3 and .wma file on your computer. The benefit of virtual folders is that you can also have a virtual folder for any documents, for example, to do with The Beatles. Any .mp3 by the Beatles, any Word document you wrote about the Beatles, any photo of a Beatles album, all end up in this virtual folder. Hence a file can be in loads of folders at the same time.

Let's do this on message boards. Have a default set of Virtual Folders set by the Admin (just like Vista will probably have a setof folders called My Documents, My Music and My Videos just so new users do't have a hard time adjusting), but allow users to setup a Virtual Forum based on a specific set of words to search for. Basically, you could do a search and then be presented with a 'Save this search as a new Forum' option. Each user can have his own set of Virtual Forums grouping together all the threads they're really interested in.

Microsoft aren't the only guys to embrace this new approach to organisation: Google did it with GMail, Flickr.com's doing it with photo albums, I'm told Apple has been doing it with its OS for a while now, and so on... this'll be commonplace in the next few years to come, it would be silly for the big guns in the Message Board industry to ignore it!

In Part 2, we'll be looking at all the advantages this presents, not just for users but for Admins too. It's a win-win situation for both, and with recent developments in AJAX and so on we can present this feature to the user in a totally intuitive way.


Anonymous Pan said...

I've seen several places eople asking for a feature much like this, that is, tagging of topics. Say you have forum on football. You tag your thread "Real Madrid" and "Manchester United" if it's about a match between Manchester United and Real Madrid. Then, people could search for these tags and possibly save them as "virtual forums". I think bbpress (bbpress.org) which I believe is integrated with the Wordpress blogging tool does this in some way. Just look at the Wordpress support forum. This would be an excellent way to organize a forum/community in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005 2:29:00 pm  

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