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What would it take to get trn on the web? - Input Junkie
April 30th, 2010
12:31 am

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What would it take to get trn on the web?
It seems to be technically possible now that Javascript is in common use. It would make long discussions easier to read and navigate. I believe that making long discussions more feasible would make the web a better place, and killfiles might be a noticeable win too.

I've mentioned this, and been told that it wouldn't be that hard to write, but it's too boring.

The question has been raised of whether money would make it interesting, and if so, how much. Any opinions?

(I put this in terms of trn because that's what I was happy with. I don't know whether slrn has a huge advantage, or if it would be much more trouble to write.)

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[User Picture]
From:autopope
Date:April 30th, 2010 07:35 am (UTC)
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slrn has a huge advantage over trn.

First there was rn; with no threading, but killfiles.

Then there was trn, with threading -- and it was basically fit for purpose.

Then there was strn, with threading and scoring, so that rather than using an all-or-nothing killfile to block unwanted content you could use a nuanced score file to raise or lower the interestingness of a given post.

slrn is a from-scratch rewrite with the functionality of strn but a CURSES interface reminiscent of tin (but vastly more powerful). Interestingly, it uses a macro language and graphics library, S-LANG, mostly as an abstraction layer between the newsreader and the terminal.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 30th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC)
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Supposing that someone wanted to write a web version, how much harder or more time-consuming would it be than trn?
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From:autopope
Date:April 30th, 2010 12:03 pm (UTC)
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Either way, you're proposing rewriting a large chunk of software -- several thousand or tens of thousands of lines of C -- in JavaScript, a radically different language. There's also the question of JavaScript's suitability for low-level TCP/IP communication as opposed to high-level HTTP-mediated message passing, and the question of what kind of server to run at the other end.

Certainly web forum designers ought to be beaten with a dead haddock until they study NNTP and NNTP newsreaders exhaustively before they reinvent the wheel. But the real solution ought to be something NNTP-sever-like (but more spam-resistant) running on the server, and talking to a browser-hosted JavaScript app via AJAX; an app using HTML 5's local file storage/database extensions to store killfile/scorefile information locally, and so on.

But that's an enormous job.

In fact, if I was looking for a business start-up, I'd be drawing schemas on the back of a napkin and looking for angel investors. Because you're looking at more than one programmer-year of work to do it right.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 30th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. That was an important piece that I just didn't have a feeling for. I could tell there were a lot of details which would need to be right, but not how hard the underlying task was.

I was imagining it as shareware, but I suppose companies which have commercial forum software would pay for it.

I bet that if there was a commercial version, a shareware version would materialize soon enough.

Edited at 2010-04-30 06:07 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
From:henrytroup
Date:April 30th, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
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By the time I left/abandoned Usenet, the single-forum paradigm was breaking down. The busy groups were just too busy. Not just the noise level of spam/irrelevant but the continual flood of new people re-asking old questions, re-opening topics that had been done to death, and being on-topic but boring or lame.

The moderated groups were much better, but the moderation workload was huge. The last one there I participated in was soc.religion.christian, with one overworked moderator. Instead I moved to Ship of Fools, which on the post-moderated model has a few dozen moderators, several per broad topic discussion board of which there are ten, and thousands of active threads. They're running UBB Classic. They have 15500 members at present. The big commercial systems like LinkedIn and Facebook support forums and questions, but in the fragmented model.

I remember the Usenet years fondly, but I think trn is as obsolete as bang path addressing - and for the same reasons. My email address was once uunet!bnrgate!hwt%bwdlh490 - and I can find older ones in the archive decvax!utzoo!utcsrgv!hwtroup. I don't think that the whole world can have a meaningful discussion. Once we had that illusion, though.
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From:nancylebov
Date:April 30th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
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The web has smaller discussion groups, but I still like to be able to have the equivalent of a .newsrc and the ability to navigate comment trees, and I think I'm not the only one. Have you seen anything on the web which supports long discussions as well as trn or slrn did?

Some of the high-comment blogs *do* have energetic hands-on moderation. Sometimes it's paid (Boing-boing, I think, and definitely Ta Nehisi Coates), sometimes it's done as a labor of love (Making Light, Kate Harding's Shapely Prose).

You're backing my theory that the reason *rn hasn't been adapted for the web is that usenet has acquired such a bad reputation that people don't want to do something associated with it.
From:henrytroup
Date:April 30th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
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Slashdot probably comes closest - although I find the "new" Slashdot navigation less useful than the previous generation. There is definite threading support with scoring there. No killfiles, though - and plenty of the people I want a killfile for.

One of the Ship of Fools discussions in "Dead Horses" runs to 85 pages with about 50 posts per page - the discussion started in November 2001 and new posts today! But it's mono-threaded, so it's hard to find and follow sub-discussions. It's run so long that some people actually have changed their opinions (and are still participating.)

Edited at 2010-04-30 05:28 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:captain_button
Date:April 30th, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Back in my Usenet days there were numerous people who felt that keeping everything in one huge sprawling mega-thread with no changes in the subject line was a feature, not a bug.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:April 30th, 2010 06:04 pm (UTC)
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That last is the most important to me. The lack of it makes tracking the new material in a long lj thread time-consuming and inefficient. I could settle for just that feature (lj could do a faded line for comments I've read, while leaving unread comments at full contrast) with none of the others.

I never actually used a killfile-- I killfiled by eye on the subject page-- but a lot of people seemed to like them.

Muting of threads was handy.
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From:kgbooklog
Date:April 30th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
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What I want is a RSS -> NNTP bridge. Then people can use whatever newsreader they want to read any blogs they want.
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:April 30th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
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Are blogs and their comments formatted in a way which would make that reasonably easy?
[User Picture]
From:kgbooklog
Date:April 30th, 2010 11:55 pm (UTC)
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Are blogs and their comments formatted in a way which would make that reasonably easy?

No and yes; the whole point of this is to override the web formatting. Many blogs (but not LJ) offer a feed for comments, which is enough to keep track of what you have and have not read (and it's usually trivial to figure out which blog entry each comment belongs to; more accurate threading than that is a much harder problem).
[User Picture]
From:captain_button
Date:April 30th, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
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Is there some underlying standard format for comments on the web? Otherwise Javascript-trn would have the problem that you can build it but they won't come. My uninformed impression is that there are scads of different web forum/comment software packages out there, and that they probably aren't very compatible. So j-trn would need some customization for each different web forum/comment package.

There is one web forum I am on where I am told there is a Firefox add-on that will let you killfile things on that forum software only, but I've never gotten motivated enough to find it and install it.

(Note: I probably have no idea what I am talking about here.)
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From:mneme
Date:April 30th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
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What would you want trn doing? Netnews reader? rss reader?
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:May 1st, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
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Livejournal and Less Wrong, mostly. And I don't just want it for me-- there've been complaints at LW which suggest people would like it there, and I think it would support long discussions at LJ better than the current system.

Edited at 2010-05-01 12:30 am (UTC)
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