Online discussion is broken. Here's the fix
“Don’t read the comments section!” goes the old adage, traditionally hard to argue against. But people aren’t bad; the software should be blamed. Read how better software will encourage good people to behave well on forums and commenting sections.
The current state of online discussion must change.
In the early days of Internet the bulletin boards were rife with debate and conversation. Interactions were meaningful and the discussions had validity.
Along with the latest trend of social websites and with the decline the old communities these kinds of discussions have all but vanished. Today the conversations are littered with memes, funny pictures, viral videos, and trolling responses.
We’re here to change this.
Muut is a radically different discussion platform that can be embedded on any website. It is unencumbered by the weight of unnecessary features and distractions, and places the conversation back to the forefront.
A clean user interface, persistent content and a deep integration to the site will allow a more natural and meaningful discussion to take place, and enable people to focus on topics they care about. It’s a lightweight, super fast, and responsive platform that places minimal strain on data bandwidth.
We’re on an important mission. A proper forums and commenting system will increase traffic on any given website, and the audience will stay longer. There is no sane reason not to have forums or commenting on a website.
This manifesto is a public declaration of our intentions, views and motives that shape the development of Muut now and in the future. It defines the way we intend to improve the state of online discussion.
The discussion must be easy to follow.
On many forums each post and reply can be replied to. The discussion can diverge in many different directions creating a complex, hierarchical tree structure. This makes it substantially more difficult to join the conversation later, and follow its diverging directions.
On flat conversations forking is not possible. There are no irrelevant forks where every idea is explored. Only the most interesting and pertinent parts of the conversation survive. Not every fork should exist. The end result is a more compelling, interesting, on-topic discussion that not only has better content, but easier to follow content. It’s quality over quantity.
When replies appear in a strictly chronological order, you know which comment follows which, since the first is always the oldest and the last one is the latest. You can instantly follow the train of thought and discussion without effort. In a tree structure there are recent comments on every branch. It becomes incredibly hard to follow the flow of the conversation. The bigger the discussion the worse it gets. In the worst case scenario, likes (upvotes, digs etc.) affect how the posts are ordered, which leads to a random, impossible-to-follow tree of replies.
Muut is flat and chronological.
Discussion must have credibility.
In real conversation, you can‘t take back what you said. You can elaborate, or correct yourself later. Similarly, Muut preserves the state of a conversation – with all it‘s warts – so people that come late have the same experience as those who were there when it happened.
Seeing someone’s evolving argument and changed positions helps outsiders to become integrated into a community, thereby raising the overall truthfulness and credibility of that community, regardless of all the grammatical errors and redundancies.
The more honest bloggers do exactly the same. They take care to make corrections on the bottom of their blog, leaving the original post with all its errors in place.
For the sake of integrity of the users' posts, anything attributed to them should have come from them. An administrator editing their posts would change their words. With Muut, users can trust that anything attributed to them was truly said by them. Users don’t have to evaluate how evil a given moderator is on any forum powered by Muut; they can trust that we take care to protect users from bad moderators as much as we do the other way around.
Not being able to edit your post will also make you think harder about what you write, which increases the quality of the content. We firmly believe that this is crucial for compelling communities. There must be integrity and accountability in order to build a successful community.
It’s also impossible to follow a discussion if users have deleted or edited parts of it afterwards, respectively crippling the entire thread. It’s also completely unfair to those who have since replied to that post, perhaps debunking many of its points. The idea that a user you’ve corrected can go back to edit his post to make you look ridiculous can be a deterrent to putting any major effort into participating a discussion.
Muut posts are permanent. Once they are more than 2.7 minutes old, have any replies, or have any likes, they may not be edited nor removed by users. The owner and the moderators of a forum, nevertheless, can always delete (but not edit) posts by anyone anytime within the forum, as is necessary for spam control.
Since posts are permanent accounts cannot be deleted. Users can abandon Muut and possibly change the display name to something unrecognizable but you can always trust that Muut discussions never changes.
The focus should be on the discussion itself.
Today forums are littered with memes, funny pictures, viral videos, and trolls. The actual conversation is hidden behind these distractions. The manic users crave for attention by posting big, irrelevant images and videos that the internet is now quickly filling with, turning discussion into an arms race of biggest distraction.
Images, even small clickable thumbnails, go against our philosophy. They draw the attention from the actual written message. People will just skim the thumbnails and skip over the “boring” ones. Posts should get attention for the ideas contained within them, not some media appealing to our visual nature.
This is another area where Muut changes the current state of online conversations. Just like the old school BBS systems, IRC in the 90s, and newsgroups were incredibly effective, yet lacked the noise. The focus was on people’s ideas.
Muut puts emphasis on text. It’s beautifully laid out and easy to follow. People can post images and videos, but they are displayed as links. The links open a full screen view specifically designed for viewing images and videos at full size.
This brings a perfect balance: the conversation is at the centre of users' attention, and the images can be viewed in a specialized gallery view.
Additionally users can emphasize parts of the text with subtle formatting, smileys, and syntax highlighting. Just like you can lay stress on certain words in a real conversation.
Only parts relevant to the discussion should be visible.
We strive for simplicity and minimalism. The fewer elements the better. The discussion is the star of the show, not the user interface. The best features are the ones the users don’t even know are there.
Ultimately, our job is to keep you from really noticing Muut. Your attention should rather be on the content and interaction.
The current breed of forums are packed with unnecessary features and clutter. Buttons, popups, ads, and options all over. While the rest of the industry is in “feature arms race” we strive to make things simpler for the user.
Ultimately, that’s what matters to us. People often think they want every feature imagineable, but in real life they really prefer simple. The less friction, the less learning curve, the less barrier to participate, and the less to manage, the better for everyone.
It’s time to turn back the clock on the trend towards bloatware when it comes to forums.
Users should have a first hand access to the relevant posts.
Traditional forums work like this:
- Load forum
- Choose the appropriate subforum
- Find a title from a massive table of data; click one
- Nope, not the right one; click back, lose the place where you were, find it; click another title
- Click on page 4 to see where the discussion is going now
Click, click, click. After each click you’re being forced to wait, sometimes more than 5 seconds — even with a good connection.
Muut changes this completely.
First, there is a special “My Feed” view that only lists the discussion that you take part in. When you later return to the forums, you’ll see the new, relevant replies with a single glimpse. Unseen posts are marked with red.
“All posts” view shows everything happening on the forum. Surprisingly, this functionality is not a part of the feature set in traditional forums.
Most importantly, you’ll have the ability to expand posts inline on the same page without the constant back-and-forth navigation. You can easily jump between threads, skim through posts, post quick replies, and move on.
All this without a second thought, happily ignorant of the struggle you’d have to deal with on a traditional forum.
Providing a world-class search for forums.
When the forum activity increases, a powerful search becomes essential. Muut invests large engineering efforts to bring the most powerful search you’ll find on today’s forums.
Muut delivers instant results, clever sorting algorithms and intuitive presentation of the matching content: the results view only shows the posts with matching data, with the rest hidden behind a button. If a particular reply is of interest, you can load the posts in context. You can even reply directly in the results, and watch new replies appear in realtime.
There are features that you can only dream of in other forums such as correction of misspelled words (Pyton -> Python), grammar aware results (Configuration -> Configure), and even search suggestions (United State -> Did you mean “United States”?).
No more flat list of titles which you need to go through with endless amounts of clicks.
NOTE: The sorting algorithm is currently under very active development. The results are not sorted as we would like them to. Stay tuned for major improvements on this area!
Users should instantly see what others do.
The communication on the web should feel as close to real, physical communication as possible. In Muut new posts, replies, and likes are immediately displayed to others. You’ll see people entering, leaving and even typing. You are in the “same room” talking with each other, in a close relationship with the community and the website.
As a result people will get engaged and remain longer on the site.
Muut is realtime from the ground up. Our whole architecture is based on events that are quickly routed to their destination. All realtime features are natural extensions to the core. Our realtime core is even used for messaging between internal components in our infrastructure.
For us these instant notifications are not just “cool” extensions, but rather the way discussion should happen on the web as a whole. They are fundamental to how Muut operates.
A truly realtime discussion offers new ways to communicate. Think of scheduled online interviews with famous people, or remote meeting rooms where people collaborate around a topic.
There should be only one system for all website discussion.
Muut is the only product to combine forums and commenting under the same, consistent user experience. This way your site can use only one system for all the discussion. This is, quite frankly, the only way to do it:
- The users will experience the same user interface and design
- Users have to login just once for access to both
- No separate storage for users or posts
- All content is accessible via the same feed and search
Without Muut the users will need to comment using one platform, then use something completely different for forum discussions. That’s redundant complexity for everyone.
Discussion should match the design of the rest of the website.
The current embedded solutions are based on IFRAME, which means that they are hosted on a different domain. Simply put: they are not a part of your site. In the worst case the forums work under completely different 3rd party domain. This means you are prevented from really integrating these solutions into your site, since they are completely sandboxed away.
Muut is an integral part of the webpage. It’s a collection of HTML elements sitting right on your page that can be normally styled with CSS. No hacks or special skills are required. The minimalistic, uncluttered user interface blends into various sites even without additional styling. Muut becomes a seamless part of your website, brand, and overall experience.
Muut is the only embeddable forum on the market that provides true integration without IFRAMEs.
Discussion should adapt to the way a website works.
Once published, our complete API will be the first real API made for an online community. The current Muut client is built on top of the API, so every possible property or behaviour is exposed to 3rd party developers. Look for our roadmap for updates.
All actions should be exceptionally fast.
Muut is not just fast, it’s crazy fast. We’re talking 2—3 millisecond response times on the server. That’s over a 100 times faster than the blink of an eye; in a completely different class than other services.
Load time, navigation, posting, likes, and realtime events are immediate, or near-instant. People are accustomed to a certain delay on the web, but Muut is a clear exception. As a consequence, they will enjoy browsing the discussions on your site, sometimes subconsciously.
Achieving this was not trivial. A typical web service today is built by stacking a code library upon another for basic functionality. This is fine for small-scale, rarely used services, but for forums and commenting geared for mass use it is unacceptable.
We built our own tiny syntax highlighting library and our own communication libraries, as well as libraries for tooltips, overlays, validators, and custom select boxes. As a result, Muut client now weighs in at ~35kb (~84kb un-gzipped). This is over 10 times smaller than your typical forum software — with none of the realtime features of Muut.
We’re not stopping there. We’re working on the first WebSocket CDN proxy to help alleviate variable response times with the initial handshake.
We’re committed to making Muut reliable and fast — even if it means inventing new technologies and services to do this.
The discussion must work on all screen sizes.
In 2005, there were 1,04 billion Internet users in the world. In 2010, there were 2,07 billion users. In 2013, that number has climbed to an estimated 2,77 billion. The ratio of users in the developing world vs. developed world is rising.
Consequently, not everyone uses your site on a smoking quad-core laptop connected to a high-speed broadband. In fact, even many of those who do, will spend a lot of their time using internet on their smartphones over cellular data connections. Internet users in many emerging markets have skipped the personal computer era entirely and are now exclusively their using mobile phones to access the internet.
By 2014, there will be more mobile than desktop users globally, with mobile data transfer growing over 4 times faster than desktop traffic. Besides offering an acceptable experience even with slow cellular connections, there is no question whether your website, including discussions, should work on smaller screens: of course it should — even at widths below 400 pixels.
The traditional, multi-column tables are thus not an option, nor are threaded discussions with infinite indentations. Both are wasting precious horizontal space and shifting the focus on secondary information.
A bad mobile experience will harm your site and your brand, and you will be missing out on an ever growing number of opportunities to connect with the quickly growing userbase.
Muut has been designed for mobile screens since day one. We change the layout completely based on the screen size to accomplish this.
Expect a constant stream of improvements on the user experience at all screen sizes. Responsive design matters to us.
The discussion must be crawlable by search engines.
Muut is installed on a website with a HTML link. This anchor (A) tag points to a static version of the discussion. It’s an hourly HTML dump specifically designed for search engines. They will rank the discussions high because:
- The HTML is specifically formatted for search engines using simple syntax and micro formats
- This is a simple, low tech solution with no tricks — just the raw content
- The content is updated hourly
- There is no duplicate content; the discussion on the static dump is not present on any other page as far as search engines are concerned
Muut will increase your traffic just by being embedded on your site.
The discussion should not cause any extra work for the maintainers.
Muut is a distributed cloud service. Our goal is to unburden individuals from network, installation, maintenance, and update tasks, while providing a full access to the data.
No installation worries.
No Linux setups, database configurations, dependency hell, or network struggle. Muut is installed with a single copy/paste operation, after which you can start focusing on the end user experience, the design and looks.
All of our servers are constantly monitored and any unusual event is detected. A problem is quickly solved, and every forum gets the fix at the same time. We’ve already shielded against the heaviest DDoS attacks and various unusual situations.
Each local endpoint is split into multiple availability zones so that we can handle even the most catastrophic failures.
A team of engineers is constantly working to build a robust and stable infrastructure. For you, that’s all for free.
Muut has an aggressive release schedule. New features, fixes, and security patches are released weekly. Muut can be setup so that you’ll always have the latest version. Both server and client are silently updated and without your participation.
If you have multiple forum and commenting instances on different projects, customer sites and personal blogs, the automatic update is a true time-saver.
Muut has no traffic limits. If your site gets really popular or there are temporary spikes, you won’t need to worry about bandwidth caps or extra hardware investments. Muut is built to scale from the ground up. We spent years building the infrastructure and the application to avoid scaling issues later.
All this not only saves crazy amounts of time and money, but switches the focus from your troubles to the end users' needs. If your site gets successful, you can just sit back and enjoy instead of worrying about the monthly bill.
Full data access.
In Muut, the data is yours. You’ll get an hourly HTML snapshot for search engines, and you can manually export all the data in JSON format. With JSON you can, for example, load the data to a database so you can query the data any way you like, or build custom applications.
You can keep full control of your users using our Single Sign-On (SSO) solution. The user information is completely stored your database and the users will only need to enter their login information once using your existing authentication system.
Moderators must be unburdened from the spam work.
There is an inherent problem with user based spam flagging. If you look at what users flag, and what is spam, there is often little correlation. Some users do legitimately flag items as spam, others flag whatever they don’t like, disagree with, or simply flag stuff for the heck of it. When you treat all flagging equally you end up with a new problem – a spam problem, and a community flagging problem.
When a system has little intelligence behind the spam handling it will put that load on you, the site owner. You will not only have much more spam to deal with to begin with, but also the noise of community flagging which will often only create more trouble than it’s worth.
We took a different approach to find our way through the noise. We look at the community behavior as a whole as well as individual users. We track their flagging behavior to determine how much we trust them. Some users can flag things all day long with no impact. Some users can get a post halfway to being considered spam. Very trusted users can be the sole person flagging a post and then we consider it spam.
Our dynamic weighting has proven very effective. It’s a community flagging system that actually works and doesn’t create any more work for the moderators. Ideally we want to take care of a majority of any spam and abuse problems you have.
The online discussion service must gain the trust of the users.
Muut guarantees following:
- We will always protect your identity
- We will always keep the service ad-free
- We will never change your original content
- We will never sell or give access to your information
- We will never allow promoted posts
- We will do our best to block spam and automated content
- You will have full access to your data at all times
We may detest what you say, but we will defend to the death your right to say it — unless you violate our terms of service.
There hasn’t been much progress since forums first came about in 90s. These traditional forums have been around for a long time, and as a consequence, users feel familiar with them.
Forum users are willing to put up with infuriating garbage, they may even demand it, because they are used to it. Clicking back and forth in an endless jungle of discussion is the norm.
When asked, everyone wants a clone of the existing forums with a bunch of new features stuck on. They don’t ask for a better experience — they ask for a familiar experience, but with more bells and whistles.
This is still not the whole picture. Fewer of today’s internet users are active visitors of forums. The number of Internet users has doubled in just the last 5 years , and the growth in just these last two years is probably higher than the total number of active old school forum users. As such, there is a quickly growing majority of internet users unfamiliar with the baggage of legacy forum systems.
Muut is not aimed at the minority who willingly suffer the old style forums, receiving a new feature here and there. It is targeted at the majority hungry for an outlet and unburdened by legacy familiarity.
It‘s obvious to us that the status quo with forums and commenting platforms needs to change. We mean it when we say “re-imagined”. We completely threw out all expectations of how a forum should work and built something completely new.
We believe the scope of the demand for a compelling way to discuss the topics people talk about is massive by comparison to the current market for forums. We believe that, by building a modern platform and getting rid of the old baggage, we can reach the masses and enable building communities around your idea, brand or product, reaching a new standard of discussion.
We are committed to all the points in this Manifesto. Some of the features, like linearity, or the inability to edit a post may be out of the ordinary. Like with any change, people might feel uncomfortable with it, and resist it, but without a few disagreeable changes no one will ever shift the status quo.