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Ask Slashdot: Best Solution For an Email Discussion Forum? 131

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the tool-talk dept.
John3 writes "For the past 15+ years I've maintained The Hardlines Digest (URL omitted to reduce the /. effect), an email discussion list for members of the retail hardware and lumber business. Since the beginning I've run the list on a Windows box running Lyris Listmanager, and it's worked admirably over the years. However, the list now has over 2,600 members and Listmanager doesn't have a nice web interface for users that like to read via their browser. Listmanager also doesn't handle attachments and HTML formatting well for the daily 'digest' version of the discussions. Finally, I'd really like to move hosting off-site so I don't need to maintain the server. The list members are hardware store owners and many are technically challenged, so I need to keep change to a minimum and make it easy for them to migrate. I've considered Google Groups and that seems to have most of the features I need. Are there any other low cost solutions for hosting a large discussion list?"
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Ask Slashdot: Best Solution For an Email Discussion Forum?

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  • I used yahoogroups (Score:5, Informative)

    by cpu6502 (1960974) on Monday June 18, 2012 @07:37PM (#40365371)

    (Formerly egroups.com and onelist.com.) Members can continue receiving emails if they prefer that method of delivery, as I do, or they can read directly on the web. It also allows for the storage of files and photos in the group

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      I agree. I had another group on Google and the features from the yahoo groups have always been above. Of course the threading from Google is really neat, but yahoo offers even polls, makes photo albums easier among others.
    • by ibennetch (521581) <bennetch@@@gmail...com> on Monday June 18, 2012 @11:23PM (#40366541) Journal

      I ran a couple of groups on Yahoogroups a few years ago and it was nothing but a hassle. Sure, the feature list sounds great, but in implementation things needed constant attention. End users would report not receiving any mail for days or weeks at a time (no, it wasn't even in their spam folders; they just disappeared) and logging in/creating accounts was sometimes problematic. At least at the time, there were three ways to add a user: I could add their email address, they could send an email to group+subscribe@yahoogroups.com, or they could create a yahoo account and join through the web interface. Choosing either of the first two options left their account in some sort of half-created limbo where they got the group email but weren't able to sign in to the web interface (to change settings, view photos, etc). There were other minor issues, but those were the two I constantly fought against.

      All that being said, it wasn't the worst service I've ever used and it was free, but I was always waiting for the next breakage or issue that would require my manual intervention. They could have greatly improved the service since then; it's been about two years since I migrated away, but I wouldn't personally recommend it. We miss some of the features (the two you mention, file storage and photo sharing), but I'm glad to be rid of the administrative workload.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        FYI .. Yahoo Groups servers are at times blacklisted on SpamCop. Also many mail admins like myself will add a spam point or 2 in SpamAssassin, because Yahoo isn't policing their server that well. Sad, but true.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I am on a couple Yahoo Groups for "old friends" and know the list managers well. The startup hassles while real are minimal and it is compatible with unsophisticated folks. You can post to/from phones, computers, pads, with email or web. It supports both attachments and centrally stored stuff. I opt to get the emails daily so I can do the stuff I do with email like reply to sets of folks (my friends) and search messages and sort by subject and such. The web version is crippled in that regard.

        The proble

      • by troutner (1949104)
        I've used Yahoo Groups for the Free Charge Controller open source project for the last two years, and I've had nothing but good experiences with it. Granted, my user base is much smaller and 'active' is a strong word to use for the group.
  • Try Dlang's forum (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Twinbee (767046) on Monday June 18, 2012 @07:42PM (#40365395) Homepage
    The D programming language people have successfully combined a mailing list and tradition web forum into one. What's more, the web forum is lightning fast to boot (fastest ever forum I've ever used - why can't phpBB etc. be that fast?).

    The exact specifics are unknown to me, but from what I've heard, they've done a terrific job:
    http://forum.dlang.org/ [dlang.org]
    • Re:Try Dlang's forum (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bill Dimm (463823) on Monday June 18, 2012 @07:52PM (#40365467) Homepage

      The actual forum software is apparently here [github.com], and is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License.

    • Re:Try Dlang's forum (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 18, 2012 @08:50PM (#40365809)

      Sweet Jesus Fuck that is fast.

      • Re:Try Dlang's forum (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 18, 2012 @09:37PM (#40366031)
        I thought you were just being a jerk, but hot damn that's incredible, even opening the forum with 16,000+ topics and a topic with 60 replies is lightning fast.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, I think that site alone is going to make me take another look at D. When did we stop expecting even dynamic web pages to load in less than five seconds, not counting network latency?

      • Re:Try Dlang's forum (Score:5, Informative)

        by Twinbee (767046) on Monday June 18, 2012 @10:02PM (#40366157) Homepage
        Vladimir Panteleev (aka CyberShadow) has mentioned some of the reasons why it's so fast at ycombinator [ycombinator.com]:

        * Optimized and deflated static resources
        * Deflated HTML output
        * SQLite prepared statements
        * Integrated HTTP server (although it's currently in front of an Apache proxy)
        * An optimized string builder (https://github.com/CyberShadow/DAppenderResearch)
        * RAM cache of frequent DB queries

        A Reddit story exists too where he speaks more about it:
        http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/ppre5/the_new_d_online_forum_software_written_in_d/#c3rhk2i [reddit.com]

      • I had to try it with a response like that. It started out very responsive but hung after I clicked on Discussion Index and tried the link for Google Summer of Code link. Tried backing out to a couple of pages but links hang.

        It's the way a good technical discussion forum should be but if used by typical users with all the image overhead they bring with them and the hangups of typical links to ad sites it would be slowed down like the rest of them.

        • by Chrisq (894406)

          I had to try it with a response like that. It started out very responsive but hung after I clicked on Discussion Index and tried the link for Google Summer of Code link. Tried backing out to a couple of pages but links hang.

          It's the way a good technical discussion forum should be but if used by typical users with all the image overhead they bring with them and the hangups of typical links to ad sites it would be slowed down like the rest of them.

          I tried the same thing, its lightning fast.

          • Yes, I expect I encountered an unusual glitch to hang responses to links (X lit and no response on any link after clicking Stop and trying some additional links). Hopefully I or no one else will encounter it again.

            Like I said though, it's good, responsive, the way a technical forum should be, but doesn't carry a crapload of images that typical users burden forums with (from multiple sites) and the typical ad links which paralyze web pages. I'm all for high quality programming like these guys use though.

    • by gnapster (1401889)

      (fastest ever forum I've ever used - why can't phpBB etc. be that fast?).

      Indeed. More to the point, why can't slashdot be that fast?

    • by rgbrenner (317308)

      D is based on C...

      I develop web apps in C (and postgresql on freebsd), including a forum for a site called tuxforums (shutdown a couple of years ago)... and they are just as fast as that forum... you hardly even have to try. GCC takes care of most of the optimizations.. you just have to avoid doing anything really stupid (as far as resources go)

      http://www.osdisc.com/cgi-bin/view.cgi/index.html [osdisc.com]

      Average page generation time for that page: 17ms
      Average page gen time for the entire site: 58ms

      The downsides of usin

  • MarkMail archives a bunch of OSS mailing lists with a nice web interface to the archives. Senders to the list still need to use SMTP though. http://markmail.org/ [markmail.org]

    If your list is private, it appears MarkMail may still work, but you'll need to contact them for pricing. I'm sure other comments will contain better options for private email list management via web interface.

    The one nice thing about regular old email is the low tech knowledge required to contribute to the discussion. From the summary, it appea

    • by yakatz (1176317)

      Why would top posting be a problem?

      On Monday June 18, 2012 at 08:44PM, nullchar [slashdot.org] said:
      From the summary, it appears all the current members know how to email already (though I'm sure top-posting is a problem).

      • by serbanp (139486)

        were you trying for the Funny mod?

        • by yakatz (1176317)
          Indeed. You will usually (for example [markmail.org]) find my replies to messages on mailing lists either inline or at the bottom (unless I am replying from iOS, which can make it difficult to post anywhere but the top).
  • Aside from having a somewhat dated web interface, GNU mailman is pretty easy to use. If I remember correctly, you can have people send an email to subscribe, which might be easier for some of your subscribers (depending on how old their computers / software are, which may be an issue judging by your description of the subscribers). You could also just do what all the cool kids do and use Yahoo or Google.
    • The guy talks about how his current solution doesn't "handle attachments and HTML formatting well for the daily 'digest' version", and you're going to recommend mailman? Really?

      Mailman is a terrible, terrible list manager for any list where the main participants aren't Unix geeks (meaning people who aren't using something like mutt as their mail agent).

    • Usenet is still alive and still a popular place for technical and political discussions. There are several free Usenet servers out there.

      One nice thing about Usenet is that there is no single point of failure.
      • by the_B0fh (208483)

        If you are creating a new group. Is he looking to go through the voting process?

        • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Monday June 18, 2012 @08:43PM (#40365769) Journal

          If they're wanting to get their porn at the same time as talk about their business, then it might be a good idea. Valid point though. Mine. No yours I mean. ;) Too bad experience has had to make the process so onerous.

          Aside from that, it isn't really a good idea in this case. The OP mentioned that the users are somewhat technically challenged. Most people are unaware of usenet. Most wouldn't know how to go about connecting to an account. Yes it is no more difficult than setting up an email account but most people can't set up an email client if it isn't automated for them. As well, most home and/or business internet accounts these days have stopped including usenet access. So the OP's users would have to spend more money to subscribe to a usenet service when there are free alternatives. As much as I like to hear about someone wanting to add to what I consider the legitimate side of usenet, this is a case where it isn't a good solution.

          I still consider usenet to be the home of the true programming geek. :D. But even this is slowly dying. The funny thing is that over the years, it is the one forum that hasn't really ever disappeared. Unlike so many of the popular internet forums of the day which come and go over the years (usually as the site owners try to commercialize them). You'd think that usenet would be a favoured forum if only because of its stability. But then again, the lack of access from home and business internet accounts is partly to blame. The perception that I joked about that it is only a place for porn or pirated films and music is another. Ah well.

          • by wwbbs (60205)
            Four words USENET "NOT SAFE FOR WORK" have you ever tried to blinding navigate the Usenet. I know that the amount of illicit and illegal stuff would make most prostitutes blush, let alone your manager or worse yet HR reviewing access logs. (generally most nntp clients download all the message headers)
        • by DERoss (1919496)

          Voting by the general using public is no longer required. The Big8 Management Board makes the decision, Go to http://www.big-8.org/wiki/Main_Page [big-8.org] and read the links under "Core Information about the Newsgroup Creation Process".

          The benefit of a Big8 (comp.*, news.*, sci.*, humanities.*, rec.*, soc.*, talk.*, and misc.*) newsgroup or even an alt.* newsgroup outside of the Big8 is that you are not tied to any one specific service or to any one specific application on your computer. (If you choose the Big8,

      • by westlake (615356)

        Usenet is still alive and still a popular place for technical and political discussions. There are several free Usenet servers out there.

        The problem here is that the target audience is the owner of a small hardware store --- who will almost certainly find a Usenet client unfamiliar, awkward and intimidating.

        • Yes I know, and Google Groups hardly counts as a useful or decent Usenet client. My point was just that Usenet is not "20 years ago," although perhaps the discussions and general atmosphere of Usenet has declined since the early 90s...
          • Google groups is what you get when you let UX wonks design something; looks OK, doesn't fucking work.

            • by Rysc (136391) *

              You could say the same thing about GNOME3. UX wonks should be kept out of the final UI decision, period. They know how to be wonky but are too narrowly focused to be trusted.

    • by thogard (43403)

      You can create your own forums on your own Usenet servers and not propagate them anywhere you don't want them to go.

      There are lots of usenet-->web forum packages as well as email gateways so you can give everyone what you have now, plus all the new good stuff.

      A pair of usenet servers on different clouds with a backup feed someplace will can cope with far more messages per day than even the hardest hit web forum software and has massive redundancy and scaleability.

      The best bit is you can try a bunch of di

  • by Arrogant-Bastard (141720) on Monday June 18, 2012 @08:03PM (#40365545)
    Mailman is not without its faults (which is why 3.X is under development and shows considerable promise) but 2.X is stable, scalable, portable, easy to use from both the web-based GUI and the command line (my preference), complies with relevant standards (such as RFCs 2142, 2369 and 2919), behaves sensibly under duress, integrates well with multiple MTAs, and makes it easy to handle migrations such as yours (by doing a mass invite followed by confirmed opt-in). This is why it's largely supplanted its competitors, particularly majordomo, which was the tool of choice for many years for a LOT of mailing lists. I suspect that it will further eat into the mindshare of similar packages once 3.X is out.

    Yahoogroups is a poor choice: it's notoriously unstable, completely insecure, and relies on Yahoo's horribly-maintained email infrastructure, which has been completely overrun by abusers for a decade. Googlegroups is marginally better, although it is also a massive source of spam (best practice on Usenet is to drop all Google-originated articles), it does not comply with standards, and attempts to contact a competent, responsive postmaster yield nothing.

    Your best course of action is likely to lease the cheapest (reputable) host that you can find and install Mailman on it. This not only keeps control firmly in yours hands (thus insulating you from the vagaries of third parties) but it also keeps your options open for the future.
    • I use MailMan with Phorum. I wrote a custom plugin to read a POP3 account and post those messages to a web forum. Registered users can reply and it'll send it out to the mailing list.

    • by subreality (157447) on Tuesday June 19, 2012 @01:43AM (#40367011)

      +1 Mailman, but with reservations. I run a large Mailman list and everything you said is true: it can handle large lists gracefully. That doesn't just mean performance. That means handling bounces properly, regex filters to catch things that need to go to the moderation queue, and all the other advanced stuff required for a large list.

      However, it's very much a traditional mailing list setup, and that's not what the OP was asking for. It has web-based archives, but they're read-only - you can't do things like click "reply to this" on the web and follow up like you do in a web forum. My userbase is technical, but even still I have a minority that hates having to use an email client, and they do have some good points: in a mail client, you can only see what's in your inbox, not the whole thread. This results in excessive quoting, which just makes things ugly. So you either have to switch back and forth to the archives, or leave stuff in your inbox that you don't intend to reply to, or sort it into folders (automated filtering is really beyond most people). That's extra load for them, and they just want to go to the thread on their web browser. That's where Google and Yahoo excel. Unfortunately they come with all the downsides you mention.

      • If your users can't see the whole thread, or if they're engaging in excessive quoting, the problem isn't Mailman nor is it the use of a traditional mailing list: the problem is their choice of client and their inability to use it propertly. Solid email clients combined with best practices facilitate both these tasks, as we see everyday on many mailing lists.

        To put it another way: mailing lists (and Usenet) are still, far and away, the very best discussion vehicles we have. They work beauitfully, whic
        • the problem is their choice of client and their inability to use it propertly. Solid email clients combined with best practices facilitate both these tasks

          No argument there! I use a solid email client and I know how to use it well, but the fact is that a large number of people don't. In my case enough of my users are technically proficient, and I've just made it clear that the rest can either learn or simply have to cope; fortunately I can in my case, but for what the OP is looking for, well, let's just say he's going to have a lot of Yahoo users. He can say "deal with it", but he's going to lose a significant number of users.

          For example: how shall I CC myself a copy of my own comments here today so that I can reference it in the future

          That's just one of many ways t

      • by John3 (85454)

        I had forgotten about Yahoo Groups, so just went to explore them. And thanks for the feedback about Mailman. It sounds like it's not much of a change from Listmanager in terms of functionality. My users are really looking for the threaded web discussion interface and both Yahoo and Google seem to have that in a reasonable format.

    • by berbo (671598)
      Mailman is widely supported at many hosting services. It comes already set up on my mine.

      Because its ubiquitous, you'll find it easier to find people to help you manage your list .

  • I use it myself with a social group of 40 or so. I occasionally worry if they'll decide to add it to their growing list of abandoned offerings, which is probably a consideration for you too. More annoyingly, like most Google offerings, the interface is pretty crap so I can't imagine it would be enjoyable managing a list your size ;-)
  • I don't know if MHonArc is still being actively developed, but ListServ (my fav) has a decent web managment interface and MHonArc does a nice job of archiving posts in any number of methods. We implemented this in the day at Bell Labs for any number of internal mail lists (Bell Labs 'had' a lot of internal mail list activity).

    http://www.mhonarc.org/ [mhonarc.org]

    This also works really well for server processes that send automated email notifications with exit statuses, results, etc.

    • by Dreben (220413)

      Written in perl, MHonArc has some pretty nifty features I forgot to mention including support for MIME (smtp attachments) that you want to include in your archives allowing you to include images, audio, video, etc., that can be accessed via a browser. In our case, sendmail was typically the stmp server and if I recall correctly it can be configured relatively easily to archive with MHonArc right from within the sendmail.cfg.

  • by jtara (133429) on Monday June 18, 2012 @08:24PM (#40365675)

    Don't foist Google Groups on your users.

    Unfortuantely, it seems to be the default choice for tech-support forums. And it seems particularly poorly-suited for that task.

    The bigget problem is not that it is way behind other forum software (it is) but the "cowboy" mentality of whoever pushes out a new version seemingly daily. It works one day, then it doesn't the next. Fortunately, with the daily release schedule, then it works again a few days later, but then it's different, and you have to figure out how to use it again.

    • Agree totally, it's amazing how inconsistent its interface is...middle click (open in new tab) works one day, doesn't the next. How you view your groups changes regularly. Admin settings change at random. It's abysmal.

      Worst of all is that they've removed the 'add user' feature. So now people have to be 'invited'. For someone with non-profits like me, i collect emails at a table at an event, and it's a nightmare trying to get them into the group. Now there appears (on some pages, depending on if it's the
  • The list members are hardware store owners and many are technically challenged...

    That's really sad. Maybe I mean YOU for assuming such a low threshold...

    • You are also assuming that the GP has not had any first hand experience in assisting his users on how to use the site or other technical issues.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    CItadel (citadel.org) - it is a mailing list with a web front end!

  • by Shaman (1148) <shaman@ k o s . net> on Monday June 18, 2012 @09:07PM (#40365883) Homepage

    Just a quick and dirty plug for FUDForum. Real forum, with NNTP and mailing list integration tools. Very fast, flexible attachment abilities and can convert any thread to PDF.

  • by andyring (100627) on Monday June 18, 2012 @09:56PM (#40366129) Homepage

    'nuf said.

    Mailman is about as simple as they come. I maintain several mailman lists, a bunch of which were for my church. As I was wanting to get away from being the sole volunteer tech guy for a 1,500-member church, I showed a couple secretaries how to manage the lists. That was 2 years ago and I haven't looked back.

  • onlinegroups.net used to be free, but they have become paid hosting recently. I liked their software, Group Server. It has very nice archives and web interface. You can install it on a server too. It is Free/Libre Software. Other two options are freelists.org and librelist.com.
  • Lots of talk of forum software and usenet and the like, but the OP said he wants an e-mail list. That is Yahoo Groups, not web-based solutions.

    Yahoogroups has a web interface for each mailing list, but you don't have to use it, not even to join the list. It is ultra-simple to use. If you want to join a yahoogroup mailing list at XXX@yahoogroups.com, you'd send an e-mail message to XXX-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. To unsubscribe, XXX-unsubscribe.com. People joining this way can't use the web page until th

  • I loathe web forums, very much preferring email lists. Based on sites I have seen though, it really seems like mailing lists are going the way of the dodo bird, being replaced by web forums.

    • Not really, they're still there, they just moved a little bit into the background...you know, more for technical people and stuff.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sympa is by far the most advanced, open source licensed mailing list manager I've found so far. It is written in Perl, well maintained, stable and used to power lists with over 700.000 recipients.

    Featuers include:

    Original features :
    scalable for big mailings lists ( > 700.000 list members)
    list member provisioning using LDAP, SQL or other data sources
    various authentication method (SSO, LDAP, X509)
    S/MIME and DKIM
    web archive with access control, message removal etc
    virtual hosting for service providers.
    automa

    • Twitter?

      This being Slashdot... I would've recommended posting that anonymously.

    • Or, gasp, Facebook groups (provides email notifications and a decent web interlace). Both work well with a non-tech audience.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Or, gasp, Facebook groups (provides email notifications and a decent web interlace). Both work well with a non-tech audience.

        I think that sound I can hear is a thousand slashdotters sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches.

  • I prefer the Yahoo groups email service over the Google version. I have started several email groups and the Yahoo version is better because of little administrative advantages and easier subscription management.

    The whole world of email groups, blogs and web forums most emphatically does not work in the long run for organizing crowd learning. (I recently waded through hours worth of Ubuntu Forums looking for a wireless connection bug fix. Twenty posts by twenty relative newcomers is not as good as two posts

  • Set up a mailing list with a list manager such as GNU mailman, and then add it to Gmane [gmane.org] to provide a web interface, and searching. (Gmane is also a mail-to-nntp gateway, but you don't have to use that part.)
  • If you want it hosted off site, ask your ISP. A business grade ISP should have a mail list system that they run and all you need to do is transfer your mailing list over to it. The advantage is you're not running the list and people who know what they're doing should be running it. Additionally, you'll be working with people you already have a business relationship with running it, however, check the price first. Sometimes list services have wonky pricing.

    Of course, if you don't like your ISP, you may n

    • Of course, if you don't like your ISP, you may not want to do that. However, why are you dealing with them at all in that case?

      IME large ISPs give by far the best bang for your buck on connectivity BUT the competent people are burried behind a wall of support drones. If I was going to get a mailing list hosted commercially (personally i'd rather do it myself on a rented vm or dedicated server) I would want it to be done by a smaller company where competant people are more likely to be accessible.

  • I'm in a similar situation and am evaluating Sympa with a low cost VPS http://www.sympa.org/ [sympa.org] It looks to have a good web interface, customizable, and scalable to a decent size. I'm surprised no one has mentioned it. Mailman is pretty standard but is dated and not very user friendly. Customization seems difficult.
  • by wwbbs (60205)
    Well if the Google Group thing does not meet your use case and neither does the standard mailman perhaps you want to look at something called Citadel the product is quite stable and very usable. www.citadel.org best of all open source "Citadel is easy, versatile, and powerful, thanks to its exclusive "rooms" based architecture. No other platform seamlessly combines so many different features using this familiar and consistent metaphor. Packed with features email calendar/scheduling address books bulleti
    • by Sigg3.net (886486)

      FLOSS Weekly over at twit.tv just featured Citadel.Gives a nice presentation of its (too many?) features.

  • I've on a bunch of lists that run this way, some fairly large, though not in the thousands.

    Or you *could* start a moderated newsgroup - I mean, usenet hasn't gone away....

                  mark

  • http://forum.opalang.org/ [opalang.org] It looks pretty cool, and it is based on MongoDB so it is scalable as you asked for. You can download your own instance and host it offsite. Since it is still a pilot program, a preview is available for free if you want

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