Tag Archives: reddit

Internet Forums, Discussions, Comments and Chat Tools for On-line Communities

How do people meet today and discuss around a topic? In this article I am going to review the different types of platforms and applications and how they differentiate each other and evolve along time.

The concept that inspired BBS. Image via Wikipedia

The concept that inspired BBS. Image via Wikipedia

It all started at the beginning of the Internet when Community Managers did not exist… with the BBS (Bulletin Board Subscription). People would download the topics and be able to comment on it. Then there was the newsgroups and Usenet, the place where you could find the newsgroups. Probably all of this sounds like archaic Internet history to you. See this old discussion for evidence: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/learn-net/conversations/topics/227. But I am coming back to these roots because they were the first solutions aimed at providing discussion forums for groups of interest and communities in the early days. And those needs have not changed that much as we will see.

First basic monochrome BBS via Wikipedia

First basic monochrome BBS via Wikipedia

Then Blogging was born, and some discussions started to arise as comments to the posts. If you look at it in functional terms, a discussion in the comment section of a blog is not that different from the discussion in a forum. The main difference is that only the blog editor has control over the publication of new posts or, as you would call them in a forum, topics. Because most blogging platforms allow to have members in a blog, then you can achieve a similar feeling of community as the one achieved by the forum. Some plugins for WordPress (https://www.wordpress.org) help you to achieve a full forum functionality, check out this post about it http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/best-5-wordpress-forum-plugins-and-themes/.

Comments to blog posts and articles have become such a big thing that third party commmenting platforms such as Disqus, IntenseDebate and Livefyre are now powering the comments section of many large sites.

Anatomy of a forum

A forum normally starts with a topic. There are various categories so that topics can be properly organised. And each topic holds messages. A topic acts as a thread, and all the messages hang from it.

Example of a traditional forum software

Example of a traditional forum software

Forums need moderators, because otherwise they will be quickly overtaken by trolls and spammers. Many forums find the moderators among the most avid members of the forum, and they are somehow upgraded to be able to edit and control the activity of other members.

Some software platforms were created such as phpbbSMF and the most recent ones Vanilla Forums and Discourse. By the way, have you noticed that the bb is a reliquia of the Bulletin Board days? in the end, as I said, we are always trying to satisfy the same need.

StackOverflow, Reddit, Hackernews and other evolutions of the traditional forum

Each one of these three, in it’s own way, take into account the users voice when prioritising the articles in the forum. So, they take some ideas from services like digg where votes from the readers change the position of the topics. Additionally, in StackOverflow there is a way of rewarding the authors of questions and answers that fosters their engagement to the community.

Forums and Chats

When we think about chat, we think about real-time. At the early days of the Internet, it was not possible to chat inside a browser. You had to use IRC (Internet Relay Chat) technology, which had it’s own protocol outside of the stateless HTTP and had to be run in a different application.

Today, you can achieve a chat-like effect inside a browser with many technologies (ajax, websockets, node.js). Twitter and Facebook use push technologies inside their webs. The main benefit is that you achieve instant refresh of the information within the browser. So you get the updates and messages directly and you are also able to send them without the page load delay. This converts regular communication into a potential chat. You post a comment, others see it instantly. You post a tweet, or you favourite something and it gets immediately widespread. This is the new era of notifications, updates and all types of push information.

But chat should be real-time, shouldn’t it?

Yes, it should, but because many chat platforms have evolved from messaging platforms that did not have real-time updates, the message persists, so the recipient does not see herself in an obligation to respond in real-time and so, the idea of a synchronous chat is broken. Let me explain it in a simpler way, taking WhatsApp as an example. WhatsApp was a disruptive response to SMS. SMS was annoying to mobile phone users because they had to pay for sending a tiny amount of information, and it was seen as unfair because, when compared to the cost of transmission of data through the Internet, the mobile operators were abusive, taking advantage of their oligopolistic environment. So WhatsApp came to offer free messaging and got a connection to your address book, so you could easily replace SMS with WhatsApp messaging. But SMS was not being used as a real-time chat, because every message cost 10 cents (average). And so WhatsApp was perceived as a similar thing. People send more messages, way more messages, but they do not see it as a chat like IRC used to be. The messages remain there, so you can respond anytime.

The only way to make real-time compulsory is by erasing the messages after a few seconds/minutes from the moment when they are sent. And I am not talking about Snapchat here, since the message sent with Snapchat remains in your phone until you open it, moment at which it is effectively destroyed (so they say…). Just recently WhatsApp has implemented a way of knowing if your counterpart in a chat has read your message.

A key difference between WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and why Facebook creates Rooms

A bit more about WhatsApp, because I think it looks and it is simple, but it is a big revolution. Many users have been migrating from Facebook to WhatsApp in order to hold conversations privately with their friends. The “private” part is something that Facebook was not able to provide to users. Or, better said, they did not want to do so. It was more in their interest to start posting everything in public spaces (such as the wall) or just making your timeline public by default. Why? this would clearly encourage gossip and stickiness.

So, we have on one side the SMS disenchantment, on the other the mistrust towards Facebook. WhatsApp not only offers one-to-one chat capabilities, but they give the opportunity to invite up to 30 users in their chat room. Then, because the email is becoming a cumbersome and cluttered tool to send brief messages (see why everyone is trying to replace email with a new tool), WhatsApp reinforces its position and starts replacing email for many activities that the users normally did via email.

Obviously, WhatsApp is not very good for organising and searching the past information, so some of the good things of email get lost when it is replaced with email.

With the group functionality, you could think that WhatsApp has become a bit like a forum, but it hasn’t really. This is where Rooms, the new Facebook standalone app, takes a stance. Rooms wants to be an open space for people to discuss on a topic that brings them together. And it does that by giving users the chance to use an alias and avoid their true identity (Facebook’s) to be seen, since they plan to use the FB login.

We still have to see if Rooms, the new Facebook independent app venture, will be able to handle complex forums with different threads, long answers and so on. Will there be a way to see all this in a web browser? because the typing experience in a mobile device is very poor as we know it…

Did Skype miss the chance to become the WhatsApp?

Another player providing chat services is Skype. Skype started with voice, that was their killing proposition (like chat was for WhatsApp). Now Skype has a rather good chat client, and WhatsApp seems to have plans to launch a voice service. It seems Skype is taking a different path with other cooldevelopments such as real-time translation http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/03/skype-translator-preview/

Forums and Social Networks

The rise and success of Facebook and Twitter changed the Internet ecosystem of communities, that were mainly expressed through forums and blogs. Social networks have thoroughly developed the concept of real-time feed, as opposed to static categories and updates on topics. So what you see when you enter in a social network is a timeline of news. If you don’t check it often, it will be a loooong list of items. But there is no taxonomy or categorization of topics, there are no threads or anything similar that really helps keeping things tidy and searchable like in forums.

So, no, social networks are no replacement to forums at all. But they do offer a sense of community, and they keep users busy browsing the timelines. Besides, posts can be commented with comments and nested comments, so they can host interesting discussions like in forums. But they are quickly sank in the timeline, and difficult to bring back. Whereas forums emphasize the idea of a keeping alive old threads and making past info easy to fetch, the social networks put their emphasis on the fact of being fast-info (like fast-food) that needs to be consumed quickly or it will vanish and get lost. Social networks in a way foster a stressful way of consuming information.

Another solution to control the noise and concerns about privacy in Facebook has been the idea of creating vertical networks, i.e. social networks devoted to one community or one topic. Platforms such as Ning, or the social network plugin for WordPress BudyPress.

But not everything has been negative for the forums. The highest value that these social media have given to forums are the login plugins. In a crowded Internet, where everyone is competing for your attention, and users are tired of creating a new user for every service, the possibility to get new users that can log in with their existing Facebook/Twitter/Google+/LinkedIn credentials is a game changers. Many times they will not need even to enter the username password if they are already logged in the social networks in the same computer.


So what is our conclusion? we wanted to review different solutions and trends that have been happening in the Internet since it’s inception, in order to give an idea of how the usability and available technologies at each moment try to solve the need for group organised communication. Here at Dilmot, as you probably know, we develop a live Q&A platform that resembles a bit of all of the above solutions. Today Dilmot is aimed at solving the need for one-to-many communication, with moderated questions. And we focus on the functionality of having a remote guest answering in real-time. But there are “feature hacks” that allow our users to make many different uses of the tool.  We will continue editing this document and improving it’s vision and conclusions. Thanks for reading.


How can I publish a live Q&A session on the Internet?

This short guide will try to help you out if you are looking for a solution to publish live chat sessions of questions and answers

In the web you can also open the floor for questions!

In the web you can also open the floor for questions!

Thanks for reaching out our blog. Let’s see if we can give you some good piece of advice…

Who are you? why do you organise a Q&A?

The starting point that we assume is that you are a digital publisher or related to one as a consultant/advisor/contributor, and you are either active in your website, blog or have a Facebook page. You probably use Twitter as well.

What are you looking for?

The need you have to address is to organise, manage, and publish a session of questions and answers (commonly shortened as Q&A). Why do you need to organise a Q&A on-line? well, it may be that you are a journalist that would like to interview someone, or you are a community manager that is planning to invite someone to answer to your reader’s questions. It could also be the case that you work for a marketing department of a publishing house or a music producer and you are in charge of promoting the author, writer or singer who is making a new launch of a book or record.

There are many other situations that we have seen in our clients, where they have raised the need of publishing a digital Q&A:
– Promoting university courses: the directors of the postgraduate courses had to respond to the questions of the potential candidates
– An e-commerce portal, that wants to promote the writer or music band when launching the book or record
– An organiser of conferences that wants to warm-up the events publishing live chats with the guest speakers
– A pharmaceutical lab that invites experts on various matters to chat with the readers and sort out their questions publicly
– You have seen an AMA in Reddit and want to do a similar thing

Questions and Answers are managed through an intuitive panel in Dilmot.com

Questions and Answers are managed through an intuitive panel in Dilmot.com

How were you doing it so far?

You may have tried various methods such as:

Asking the readers to send their questions
– as comments in a post of your web or blog
– in Twitter, either addressing them to a @user or through a #hashtag
– via email
– as comments in a Facebook page

And then, asking the guest to answer:
– through a regular chat platform
– by email
– or dictate the answers to someone who will type them for her

And the live event will be either not possible or cumbersome. I.e. those systems does not connect questions and answers automatically, manual copy and paste is needed. Or if it works as a chat it will not remain published at the end of the Q&A session.

All of these alternatives can do the job somehow, but have one major problem: they are not integrated with the system that you will use to answer the questions. These solutions require you to copy and paste the questions into the platform that you will use to answer them. If you have a platform at all!! in many cases, people will just send the questions to the guest via e-mail or read them loud and type them as the guest gives an answer.

Why not use a Q&A sessions platform that simplifies your publishing workflow?

Yes, that’s right, we mean to use a custom software that has been designed specifically to do the job:
Receive all the questions in one place, no matter where they come from
Allow easy moderation
Allow to manage the guest participation within the same platform, so the guest will see the questions and will be able to respond seamlessly, in an easy interface
Integrate with social networks

Well, the news are that such software exists already and it is a web application called dilmot.com.

Use Dilmot to promote a music group or singer

Use Dilmot to make live chat Q&A’s

Dilmot is a web publishing software. You can open an account for free and give it a try! Create a stream (this is how Dilmot refers to the flow of questions and answers). It is similar to liveblogging or a chat. But it is designed to do one thing well: set up a web page, invite a guest, receive questions, and let the guest answer these questions, while they can be previously moderated. That simple.

Besides, you can leverage on the viral power of Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter: Readers will be able to send their questions by using a hashtag that you decide as the administrator of the Q&A stream.
Facebook: Publish the Q&A session inside your Facebook page, using a simple iframe
Facebook & Twitter: Readers will be able to use their credentials in order to identify themselves when they send their question.

A guide to Dilmot for experienced bloggers

Dilmot works in a similar way to a blogging platform like wordpress.com or blogger.com in the sense that when you create your account there will be a home page created for you, and it will be a subdomain of dilmot.com, just like WordPress or Blogger do it.

Again, like in a blogging platform, you can create posts in your account. But in Dilmot they are not called posts, they are called streams. Stream is the name chosen because it is a sequence of questions and answers. And this sequence of questions and answers are shown like a real-time chat. There is no need to refresh the browser page, because the new questions and the new answers will be shown as they are published by the guest.

In the admin page, the account owner can create or delete streams, and for each stream define the title, the guest and generate a secret token access url to send to the guest. This makes organising the event a breeze, since the guest need not any sign-up or special requirement. Once she has the access url, then the guest can see the stream panel with the questions expected for her to answer. The procedure at this point is very simple: Click “answer” within the question that she is going to answer and save, so it gets published.

A single webpage and the possibility to embed it inside your own web

Why not make a video Q&A?

We have also launched a new web app to publish live video questions and answers using Google Hangouts and other platforms such as Livestream or Ustream. The reality is that organising a live webcam broadcast is more complex than a live chat Q&A, the main reason being that video requires higher bandwidth and skills to make a good recording. Anyway if you have the right support for the guest, the bandwidth and the time required to set all up, we invite you to open an account at Qstion, the web application to make live Q&A’s.

Is that all?

Yes, this is already a long story to convey the message: live Q&A sessions are easy to publish with Dilmot. Go ahead, it is free, and you will only need 2 minutes to see and learn how it works. Good luck!

As always, let us know your feedback via comments or contact us directly. We are more than happy to help you out with your project!