There are four worlds of many-to-many discussion:

  • NNTP (Internet News-based) discussion,
  • HTML (Web-based) discussion,
  • Mailing Lists (Email-based), and
  • Chat.

More forums lists and comments

Web Accounting Discussion

First, enter the superior world of News-based forums:

The best messaging format outside of proprietary Lotus Notes, is the standard internet news protocol, NNTP. You can download various free server software, or buy it on Linux CDs. A Linux box with INND is just as good as Windows NT with commercial NNTP software, and can be fully interoperable with Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange Server environment, and NT networking components (DHCP, WINS, DNS, etc.).  Commercial news servers are better, and more usable, obviously.

The key thing that is available under NNTP newsgroups is threading.  This is absolutely priceless, in keeping the messages organized by topic, in the proper order.  Here are some definitions of threading: def  def    Mailing lists such as eGroups illustrate what happens when lots of people jump into a discussion: the software can only display the messages by subject by date, so they all appear out of order.  And the participant dares not to change the Subject line. That would wreck the organization copletely. So, you lose the ability to put a correct Subject on your message!!  Very terrible price --if it's impossible to put a summary title on your messages, the result is that the message listing doesn't show the true content of the messages.  

The global internet has approximately 50,000 newsgroups.  Almost any ISP carries newsgroups.  They require a News Reader. Both Explorer and Netscape include reasonably decent News Readers. There are many excellent news readers on the market. My favorite is Forte Agent.   You simply have to try the software to appreciate how quickly and deeply the user can surf large bodies of messages.  It's WAYYY better than mailing lists or web boards.  Trust me.

Administrators of existing NT networks will usually choose NT packages for ease of security, backup, and other admin. There are dozens of NNTP News Servers that run on NT Server, for example,

There are also a few NNTP News Clients for Visual Basic e.g. the 32-bit OCX component from Mabry Software

Hybrid NNTP and Web-based forums:

Byte Magazine has a "dual mode" conferencing environment with threaded content, which can be read and posted either as a newsgroup or as a "web forum". The web version works immediately with any standard browser. The news version works  with your news reader. Kudos to Jon Udell and watch for his new book from O'Reilly.  Hunt for it on the Byte main page, you will find it.

Now enter the rather inferior world of Web-based forums:

Nevertheless, many users never get any farther than Web-based forum software. So, here is everything you will need to understand them: David Woolley's award-winning site about Web-based conferencing. YOU WILL NEVER BEAT this amazing reference:  but check this out!  GOOD reference: DMOZ and here is another: ForumHosts.

Go there. Highly recommended.

I was collecting a few references myself until I found Woolley's site. Here they are.....

Search Engines:

Now go and create your own Web-based forums, and link them onto your home page!

Mailing lists

A "mailing list" is any internet host having a collection of members or participants, which re-broadcasts to all members any Email message received by that host. There are hundreds of software products capable of this function and another, parallel universe of content for you to read and participate in.

Deep context and specialized content

Many professionals and specialists prefer mailing lists because they offer better privacy and shorter lives than webforums or newsgroups. Once you've been indexed in Altavista or DejaNews, your words can be found by clients, employers, hostile attorneys, etc. for long periods. A powerful and influential politician or business leader, by their very nature, changes shape like a chameleon in order to communicate within various contexts. So long as as diverse contexts exist, messages within those contexts will of necessity, be diverse. Taken out of context, fragments of such messages will appear inconsistent or worse, viewed from within other contexts.

YAHOO! has a good list of list server software.