World Forum 1 image courtesy of Dunechaser.
This part of the Reading Capital discussion framework looks at the Reading Capital Forums (powered by bbPress) and a feature called Discourse which is the theme Prologue for WordPress blogs that offers a similar functionality as Twitter without the 140 character limitation. Despite what the title of this post might suggest, this isn’t an either/or choice, but I would like to think about how the two might offer different approaches to online conversation and discussion
The forums for the Reading Capital site are using the bbPress software which has a number of nice features. First off, it integrates cleanly with WordPress Multi-User (the application that is powering the main site) which means if you sign-up for a blog or just a user name on the Reading Capital site, you are automatically part of the forums. You just login on the main site and head over to the forums, you can customize your space on the forums, get an avatar using Gravatar, and take advantage of the rich RSS possibilities with bbPress. This forum software allows you to subscribe to a feed for all of the forums or select forums of interest to you or just specific feeds on topics within a forum. Moreover, it allows users to tag specific topics that display on the main page, and users can add forum topics to a personal favorite list.
BbPress also has some cool plugins that add some nice functionality like embedding images and embedding video by simply copying the URL into a forum post (and it works with a host of different video services). Such a feature could make for some interesting postings of homemade YouTube videos of a reading or discussion within the forums. There is also the possibility of Private Forums, spam control with an Akismet plugin, and a feature that allows users to designate potential flamers as Bozos—which bans the user surreptitiously by keeping their posts effectively hidden from the rest of the forum, although it doesn’t appear that way to them I like that feature!
Truth be told, I don’t have that much experience or success with forums, though I do think they could be useful for such an endeavor. I’m interested to see if they get picked up and used. Either way, the setup of bbPress is painless, and exploring its features has been fun.
The Discourse feature of the Reading Capital site is simply a WordPress blog that is using the Prologue theme, which makes it akin to an interface like Twitter. Anyone who gets a blog on the Reading Capital site can easily create a similar space for conversation and discussion by selecting this theme (you can also do it just as easily with WordPress.com). The format of Discourse seems well suited for a distributed conversational space wherein people can quickly post replies and thoughts right from the front page of the blog without going back and forth into the admin section. It also has one feed for all the posts and another for comments.
As you can see above, it is a clean, straightforward interface that allows you to post quickly from the front page of the blog. You can also tag your posts. What’s more, the avatars give the space a very personable feel, and each user’s name is linked so you can see all their posts. On top of that, you can comment on someone’s post which can be threaded much like a forum with a reply to a reply.
The other thing I like about this approach is that it allows people who already have a user name or blog within the Reading capital environment to sign themselves up for this space by adding their email to the sidebar, using Andre Malan’s Add User widget. In this way, it would be quite simple for someone who is running a reading group to quickly create an on-the-fly conversational space with no overhead. I have been thinking about this format for courses, and blogged about it here. And while I am not sure such a space is conducive for discussion of a tome like Capital, I remain of the mindset to just throw it all out there and see what sticks, if anything.
So, now we have two more options for continuing the discussion through this distributed framework. Keep in mind, however, none of these tools need be thought of as exclusive to another or mandatory, rather they all represent just different approaches to communally thinking through and sharing ideas about a given text.