Blogs vs Forums

Sean Dotson has raised an interesting question, even if he picked the wrong CAD product to write about (not really kidding, Sean ;o). Some of us have been all torqued up about Bloggers vs “The Press”, and that’s a valid discussion too, but now looking at it, I’m finding the Blogs vs Forums even more pertinent.

First, “the disclaimer”. In light of recent discussions on this and other blogs, somebody’s gonna run my shorts up the flagpole if I don’t say this, so lets just get it out of the way. Sean uses advertising on his site, but I’m providing a link to it anyway. I do not have any financial or other ties with Sean or his mCADForums site. Nor do I have any link to any of the companies that advertise on Sean’s site. Sean had nice things to say about this blog, but I didn’t pay him to do that.

Go ahead, read the “CAD Bloggers and what’s wrong with them” post, the rest of what I have to say won’t make much sense unless you do. It looks to me that Sean is reacting against the fad aspect of blogging, and bloggers who post a short blurb with a couple of links, or cut and paste a press release and call it a contribution to the community. I try not to do that, but I’m sure I have when pressed for time. I think Sean is making the argument for blogs without noticing. Here’s how I see it.

Forums put the Wild Wild West in the www. They can range from completely unmoderated food fights like the usenet newsgroup comp.cad.solidworks (better when viewed through the chicken wire filters of a real news reader and a real news server, but the Google Groups link serves to see the whole train wreck). This is completely unmoderated. I’m usually in favor of unmoderated stuff, when people can behave like adults, but one particular psychopath has taken this particular forum on as a pet project, and pretty much ruins it as a source of reliable information.

And then on the other end of the spectrum you have eng-tips, with its in-your-face sign in pop-up, and if-you-look-at-me-funny-I’ll-yank-your-post mentality toward moderation. I had posts yanked for participating in a discussion on how to become an independent consultant. They felt I was advertising for my company. Eng-tips is most famous for its Prozac induced happy people competing for stars. So you tend to find mainly upbeat and optimistic responses, which I find incredibly depressing. Real answers are only half the time good news, the other half its bad news. Eng-tips people are afraid of bad news.

Fortunately, there are alternatives between these extremes. The SolidWorks Forums randomly remove posts… you know, I think I’ll leave that one alone. If you’ve been through the last couple of months with me, you know what I’m talking about. In all fairness, the SW Forums are pretty good. Sometimes I feel like the SW Forums are like a maze for rats. They put users in the maze just to see what we do, and kind of do research on us. The forums sometimes seem more for SW Corporate sake than for users, just because they collect information on us, but don’t share much in trade. Mark Biasotti and Jim Wilkinson and some others are very welcome breaths of fresh air because they often offer truly expert and definitive answers to actual users questions. This is very valuable.

Then there are other forums like Sean Dotson’s mCADForums, Ben Eadie’s SolidMentor, 3DCAD Tips, Product Design Forums and many others that I’m familiar with, but don’t spend much time there. I assume these all have some form of moderation.

What’s the difference between a Forum and a Blog? Sean says that its easier to follow the discussion on a forum, and I agree, it is. I think Sean is assuming that on a forum, every voice is equally valid. Part of the reason I stopped participating at comp.cad.solidworks was that some individuals there promote what I think are less than valid ideas. I didn’t quit in indignation or protest, but rather because I don’t want to be surrounded by that, and constantly have to defend myself against what I consider idiocy.

While a forum is a group effort, a blog is an individual effort. I write, and if you want to, you can read it. Its really just a venue to allow someone to perform mental masturbation while on a soapbox. You have to be a little exhibitionist to write a blog. That’s how I see it, or maybe I should say that’s what this blog is. I have always been interested in writing, and self expression. CAD isn’t the greatest topic to build compelling essays around, but its the material I have to work with. Maybe one day I can break out of CAD writing.

So I guess I see things a little differently from Sean, but I also agree with some of his points. Forums are definitely better for having a discussion between several people, but blogs are better for one person to express his/her opinions. I don’t really believe in democracy. I don’t think “the masses” are wise enough to rule themselves. I don’t have any sort of alternative to suggest, it might be that democracy is simply the “least bad” of a bunch of really bad options. Forums are very democratic, because everyone has an equal voice. Spend much time in comp.cad.solidworks and you’ll find out quickly why this is a flawed idea. On the other side, eng-tips demonstrates that a dictatorship (moderated by one person) produces something bland and insipid. Maybe I’m a Ron Paul libertarian/individualist, keep the government out of my way, and let individuals become what they can become.

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