Forum Topics Are Too Long and Have Extra Matters Not in Titles

Is anyone else frustrated with how long and wide-ranging the topics are on the forum? I am finding the forum unusable much of the time. Sometimes a topic is created with a very specific question that I’m interested in, but then the topic is closed and I’m redirected to a topic the title of which does not even include the specific question, and which has a hundred or more comments to wade through, most of which don’t seem to have anything to do with the question.

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You can use Ctrl F to search for the relevant comment.

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I think (either fortunately or unfortunately, depends how you look at it), that’s just the nature of “traditional” internet forums like the iNat forum. Do you have any suggestions on how this could be improved for the future?

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More topics that are more narrow in scope. I guess that could be improved by people sticking to the narrow subject in the title and otherwise starting a new topic that may be related to the first but adds a new topic not in the original question on the first one. Also, less merging of more specific but related topics into huge rambling ones.

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I don’t really have a problem with this myself, but your comment made me wonder if it would help if the format was different - with collapsible reply chains as you find in Reddit and Facebook. Reading this and this though, it seems the flat format of Discourse is actually a deliberate response to nested formats.

I can imagine from the moderators POV it’s often a difficult call whether or not to split a thread as the lines aren’t always that clear-cut. Perhaps users themselves could take more initiative with this though.

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That’s probably all that’s possible here.

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I notice in the forum guidelines it states:

"Rather than taking an existing topic in a radically different direction, use Reply as a Linked Topic.".

I’ve never used this function.
Will try and give it a go next time I find myself part of a discussion wandering off track.

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Thanks. I had forgotten about it, too. Here’s a very short related forum topic about it: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-to-reply-as-linked-topic/3131 It seems like I saw it being used in the past, but not much lately.

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I personally find it extremely annoying when topics are split or closed due to an excess of “off-topic” comments. I would prefer that they be allowed to wander more than they currently are, since you can’t have a true discussion if comments are so strongly regulated.

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I’d be happy to help work with whatever we can agree is best. Mods can separate out sub-conversations into their own topics, but the trouble is that with many hot-button topics the conversation will be diverted/distrated over and over again.
If threads are too long, nobody wants to read them. If there are too many threads, it’s impossible to find the relevant topic.

I’m not sure what a good solution would be. Maybe an additional mod who focused on cleaning up and sorting threads. cassi does some of that. If there were sufficient demand for it, maybe we can prioritize that for you guys?

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It is apparently just me, so I will adapt instead. There’s no need for anyone to take on more work, or to change things that will just annoy other people. Thanks, everyone.

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Trust me, it’s not just you. It’s just a hard balance for all of the participants here to achieve, moderators included. We try to keep topics reasonably tidy, but some subjects just don’t lend themselves to that, and participants will have diverse approaches to contributing to a discussion.

On the whole I would say that us moderators have tended to err on the side of not intervening when things get off topic, beyond pointing it out and encouraging folks to create new topics when needed, or contribute to existing more relevant topics. But I’m sure we don’t always get the balance right either. It’s when things start to get unproductive, repetitive, and/or veer toward personal attacks that we try to step in harder.

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Herding people is harder than herding cats. Easy to wish for, impossible to accomplish! Every internet forum I’ve ever seen–heck, every face-2-face conversation or committee meeting I’ve been in on–suffers from the same problem.

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Ironically the title of this post … is too long to fit on one line and displays as
… Not Evident in the Ti…
for me now.

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Amended

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If things get too much off topic, I just stop reading the thread. I see that people are still chuntering on about bison being wild or not. I stopped reading it a while ago. As @pfau_tarleton says, it is the nature of conversations to wander around.

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I think that one of the problems may be that the search function here isn’t great. Even when I can remember exactly what I’m looking for, it can take me three, four, or more iterations in search to pull up the relevant thread. People who spend less time here probably would not be able to find what they are looking for without considerable effort.

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I often use the notification menu at the bottom. When the comments have wandered away from what interested me at first I can change to Normal and unsee what I don’t want.

Hunting down, where on the forum, I saw something relevant to a new discussion - sometimes I give up in despair. I know it is / was? here somewhere. But social media IS needle in haystack territory.

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I agree it’s time-consuming to find the main info. in topics, especially when there’s many comments. Here are some suggestions to consider the feasibility of:

Add an option to mark comments as a “solution” to all forum categories. Or, add something equivalent where the most “upvoted” comment rises to top in some way.

Position replies under the comment replied to, possibly in a collapsed view.

Create a view option to collapse all comments (which could then selectively be expanded by the user), or to display newest comments first/at the top. (As an aside, I’d also prefer Observation page comments and IDs had collapsed and newest-to-oldest view options.)

Whenever a topic yields a new solution/info. not in guidelines or related docs, it would help to add it to them after. Or, to create a wikipedia-like platform with succinctly written info. learned on the forum (but not corresponding 1-to-1 with each topic), which would also link to relevant topics. The goal would be to access info. simply and quickly.

For publishing topics, I’d suggest mods consider briefly reviewing each submission for similarity to existing topics/info. (before any are published), and possibly ask/suggest users not publish in cases where the question’s already answered elsewhere. The comments for such topics often merely refer the author to existing info. anyway. This would help de-clutter.

For feature request or bug reports, it could help to categorize any which are still in discussion, incomplete, pending, or valid but not currently being acted on by staff, as “open” in some way, vs. closed or solved. The benefit is to remember ideas which could potentially be acted on later, or which make a valid point even if never acted on. Currently, closing/solving may imply an idea is no longer being considered.

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I agree with what you may imply, that sometimes a topic’s body text is too long or confusing to read (like the tl;dr meaning). That in turn leads to the comments becoming too unfocused, or people discussing slightly different interpretations of what the topic intended to say.

Although, sometimes some commenters don’t fully/accurately read even short/succinct topics. In those, comments can begin with them disagreeing with something the topic didn’t actually say (and sometimes influencing others), and the whole beginning of comments derails as a back and forth between them and the author trying to explain what they wrote. This is more common when the topic or the author’s position taken on it is complex/nuanced. So, it can help de-clutter comments (and the forum) if authors originally write clearly/succinctly, and commenters read accurately/fully.

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