Tim Appnel responded at length to my post about weblogs and bulletin boards:

Rainer Brockheimer recently made a post on recent developments to utilize TrackBack and other related technologies. I’m in general agreement with Rainer and Tom Coates, whose writings he also cites in his post.

Thanks for the reply, Tim. And I’ve got one more item for my lengthy list of mispellings of “Brockerhoff” icon_biggrin.gif.

The following quote I believe requires some clarification on my part being a proponent of this cause:
Rainer Brockerhoff wrote:

…the whole trackbacks are comments movement is an attempt to make weblogs more like bulletin-boards.

I can say this is not my primary motivation nor do I believe it is for others involved in this discussion though certainly these notations descend from its lineage. Furthermore, I don’t see these efforts as a desire to claim a territory unexplored when its patently not. To me this work is only an evolution or a reformulation of past.

It’s often hard to tell about things like motivation from outside. I’m certainly happy to learn that you favor the evolutionary approach, and I agree a 100% with that.

First, I think it worth noting again and in more direct terms that the history of bulletin boards are not lost on me in the least. I have not specifically mention it and perhaps I should have. (I suppose I’m changing that right now.) The fact of the matter is that my experiences with bulletin boards drive my interest in TrackBack, weblogs and the convergence of these related technologies.

Offering a historical perspective on things is always welcome. I have many younger friends who have a weblog and are often surprised to hear about parallel developments in ancient history (meaning, for them, pre-1999). When I started an ISP back in 1993 the most important service we offered was bulletin board software (in our case, FirstClass) to use for support and community-building.

My personal opinion is that bulletin boards (as Mark Pilgrim would put it) suck. They are generally an unfocused collection of threads that, until RSS becomes commonplace, require me to come to it and use its interface to comment. The threaded display makes it even harder for me to grok particularly when it’s a highly active conversation.

I agree with you here, but this is usually just a consequence of the lack of restraint from the boards’ administrators, than simply the software’s fault. The software I use here (phpBB) has great configuration and modification capabilities, but it also has more features enabled by default than the average administrator can cope with. Avatars, ratings, on-line messaging, e-mail, indiscriminate topic starting, and so forth. Just look at the phpBB Support Forum: there are over 44000 topics! This is unbrowseable, and even searching is hard to do.

On the other hand, I found that adding weblog features to phpBB is possible and unwanted features can be turned off, while keeping the really useful stuff. So I have very few topics – which I regard analogous to Movable Type‘s categories. Only I can generate new topics, and inside a topic posts, comments and trackbacks are handled equally. I’m working on an option to display just one thread inside a topic, and with that I think my implementation will be quite useable.

Weblog comments only slightly improve on this by organizing the conversation to a single thread and quite often (and thankfully in my opinion) display them in a flat rolling manner. These discussions are also started by one or a select few individuals that typically increase their quality. While many are beginning to take advantage of the RSS generation functionality found in weblogs tools, weblog comments still require that I use their interface. Furthermore those comments are limited to that one weblog unless I cut, paste and post them elsewhere.

The standard MT implementation is, for me, quite unwieldy. From the main page, one often must click on a link to see the full post. To read and post comments, a second link must be clicked, and to read and post trackbacks, a third one. So, my point regarding your trackbacks are comments thread is that this makes weblog posts as readable as bulletin board topics: the original post and all pertaining comments are on the same page. By the way, one important note on usability (which can be applied to both weblogs and bulletin boards) is Joel Spolksy‘s article Building Communities with Software. I disagree with some of his points – for instance, I favor quoting and previewing, while he’s against it – but it’s a great article.

A key differentiator is that TrackBack-enabled comments have a standardized remote API. It’s my belief that this capability could give rise to tools that allow prolific power commentators to work from one interface. They also allow for me to comment from a post to my weblog. It’s also noteworthy that the distributed loosely coupled nature of TrackBack-enabled comments (quite a mouthful) can be organized and grouped by the individual. (This of course assumes that individual is so inclined. I would because I think some of my best thoughts are not on my weblog.) Bulletin boards and weblog comments alone are constrained to a specific site and grouped by a certain topic or theme.

This is a very important point. phpBB has a somewhat complex posting procedure, which I’ve simplified to implement trackback. But it’s reasonably RESTful, which is positive. I won’t go into the REST vs. XML-RPC discussion here, though. But posting comments to someone else’s weblog usually throws me into a different interface, as you say. Not to speak of the various ways of writing links, styling text, seeing a preview (or not).

I see some hope in the convergence of tools like, for instance, NetNewsWire and Feedster. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to post an article on a weblog/bulletin board, and the next day see aggregated responses to it in a single window, write a comment or rebuttal right there, preview how it will appear, and have it redistributed (as posts, comments, trackbacks or whatever is appropriate in each case) to the interested parties. It would effectively be a distributed bulletin board architecture, among other things. I’d be very interested in discussing how this might be done…