To broaden and facilitate discussion, this project would like to integrate our existing list server with a discussion forum. There are numerous issues involved, which are detailed here.
Forum software requirements
Ideally, forum software will have all of these features:
- Free and open source software
- Capability to conform to other requirements (in sections below).
- Easy administration (may exclude phpBB)
- Login integration with OpenID (or perhaps with MediaWiki), so that users can have a unified login across Metagovernment applications.
List server integration
List servers have the advantage of being "push" technology, which delivers messages to participants without their having to take action. Forums have the advantage of organizing discussions in a more convenient format and making them more accessible to newcomers.
The ideal scenario is a unification between list server and forum. This poses logistical and technical issues.
Logistically, the best scenario is probably to have one forum and two list servers. One list server ("start") would mirror all posts to the forum. The second ("announce") would only mirror newly-created topics on the forum. Announce would not allow bidirectional feed: it would strictly show when new topics are created.
We would still have to resolve the logistical issue of which forum categories mirror to the list server. That is, if there is more than one category in the list server, and someone posts a new message from the list server, what category in the forum does that post go into? This may depend on the technical limitations of the integration solution.
There simply are not many options for achieving real bidirectional integration between a list server and a forum.
The most promising solution appears to be M2F. M2F 1.2.6 only works with phpBB 2. phpBB is somewhat limited and more importantly the current build is version 3. M2F 2.0 works not only with phpBB 3 but also with other forum packages. However, it is in Alpha. Its development stalled between 2009 and 2011, though it may have rejuvenated in February of 2011. We will need to evaluate the ability of M2F to work for us. For reference, see the M2F 2.0 use cases.
Other suggested solutions include:
- Oregon forum project, still under development
- CityCamp Exchange, not sure if applicable
- Post from Email - Allows posting from e-mail into an SMF forum. Not bidirectional though.
- phorum plugin which transcribes forum posts to a mailing list. Not bidirectional, though.
The last two solutions above might work if used in tandem, but they are solutions for different forum packages. Perhaps more research could turn up similar packages which both work on the same forum (most likely phpBB, since it has such a huge development community). However, M2F should be researched first, as it is an integrated solution and thus the most likely to serve.
Forum topic areas
Most forums have more than one category of discussion. A suggested structure might be something like:
- Democracy and Governance (philosophy)
- Active Projects (introductions and discussions of particular projects)
- Technical Discussions (e.g., of crossforum)
- Metagovernment Administration
- New user introductions and general chat