Why forums will always be the future of open source
I don't know about you, but I started computing at a time when the only way to learn or share information on the subject was in Microtel computer clubs or in books, magazines available in a few stores, if you were lucky enough to live in a good size city.
When I discovered computers, with a ZX-81, I discovered since then that, Philippe Ulrich was learning to code his first video games on it which led him to make some of the most beautiful games of the end of the 80's with L'arche du Captain Blood or Lost Eden (a crazy soundtrack for that time). This unknown world was crazy with inventions every month and technological evolutions unimaginable now where, even if the rules of computer science are still respected, do not really represent a revolution anymore, just evolutions.
All this was possible because brilliant loners got together to create economic structures or exchange clubs, because, no, computer scientists are not lonely people locked in a room drinking Soda and eating Pizzas.
This culture, with the advent of the Internet in the mid 90's, has produced very quickly tools to communicate, messaging, instant messaging, chat and especially forums.
Because, yes, all computer scientists love to discuss with others because several brains are always better than one to answer and solve problems.
Because, yes, the computer scientist's job is based only on solving more or less complex problems, it may seem boring but in the end, each request and a new problem to solve, which makes it exciting and ecstatic when then arrives at the solution.
So, to expose his problems, the computer scientist quickly turned to technical forums specialized on the subjects he needed, as, one of the references of this type of forum is a place where specialists came to help beginners, making them specialists in time, to themselves answer the following beginners.
These were fairly small communities where there were rules known to all about what to do, including Netiquette. Thus, these technical forums were uncompromising on politeness and the quality of the French used to post or answer requests. It was not uncommon to see people being excluded just because they had posted in text language, which was very fashionable at the time. One of the references in the world of development is of course the site Developpez.com.
This intransigence of the community of moderators, making them respected and especially that the quality of these forums was indisputable.
With the arrival of search engines, access to an answer for one's problem became easier and easier and knowledge spread even faster, so a young person arriving in the middle of the 2000's could train himself at home without any problem.
At that time, we are still in the prehistory of computing and especially of the Internet, because it is still not a mass tool.
We will really have to wait for the advent of the smartphone and its ecosystem with the launch of the iPhone in 2007 so that the notions of messaging, HTML, site, url ... start to spread in the population of non-initiates.
And there it is the drama!
Like any rapid explosion of a technology, it is often accompanied by unscrupulous people and a population that does not have "the codes".
The forums then become a butchery of egos and the arrival of social networks has exacerbated a mode of communication more and more violent.
From then on, the moderators are no longer masters in their own kingdom, but turn into sulphur pains and throw in the towel more and more quickly.
Many forum owners who were still managing their forums on their own ended their adventure because it was, in the vast majority of cases, only a voluntary commitment.
I could see this decline by participating in the official PrestaShop forum since January 2008 and the nature of its audience is even more representative of the evolution of the Internet over these years.
The disenchantment of the forums was at its peak in the mid 2010s. It was at this time, that the old concept of IRC servers was transformed with the arrival of more "beautiful" solutions like Slack. Thus, the concept of community has developed on private social network groups or in closed groups on proprietary solutions.
If the club side seems attractive at first contact, one can wonder why professionals put forward this kind of closed communication method in the open source world.
Is it precisely to avoid that the concerns of their solutions are on the public place?
One can really ask the question.
In the Tech world, I'm always surprised when I hear about Discords servers, Slack channels, or even Facebook groups to discuss and share with a community.
The first criticism I would make about all these solutions is that they are not accessible to everyone, not that registering is complicated or limited, although it is, but that if you are new to a sector and you do what everyone else does, namely, do your first research on Google to answer your questions, you will never see one of the heated discussions present in these solutions, so, as open source actors, you make the choice to close the access to knowledge to the initiated only, thus, in the long run, to make the selfishness.
This explains why I militate for open solutions like forums. A place that has a memory, and therefore a stock of answers that only grows with time and therefore allows new users to learn more quickly.
Of course, not everything is perfect on a forum and it requires investment so that it remains of good quality and does not immediately drift into a general pugilism at the slightest text that is not understood correctly.
It seems to me that it is essential for big open source solutions to feed their forums with quality content and especially to invest in moderators with real power and who do not remain simple volunteers of the community, who have to bear the daily hatred of some members without any recognition from the hierarchical structure of these companies.
While writing this article, I went back to my article about my year of moderation of the PrestaShop forum and I was unpleasantly surprised to see that strictly nothing has moved on the side of PrestaShop concerning this forum and its integration into its ecosystem, it seems more that it remains a ball and chain that they drag pitifully without knowing how to get rid of it.
Is my computer world, of sharing and mutual aid, which I knew during the beginning of my career and which helped me to become the professional that I am today, definitively to be classified in the history books in the category of utopia of the 20th century?
It seems to me that all those who criticize the quality of the forums are often the same ones who explain to you that if you want the open source project on which you intervene to evolve on the level of quality if you invest yourself on it. I would make the same remark to them, if they want the forum to be of a better level they have to invest themselves in it by participating in the education of the participants if their technical level is not sufficient or by proposing technical solutions if they wish it.
It is not by criticizing without ever intervening that things will change and it is not the private groups not available on the search engines that will allow the development of an active community.