I’ve continued to think about web forums, the problems with them, and how to get them to support better, more human conversations. Lately I’ve been pleased to find that some folks in one of my enthusiast-communities are thinking about it too. (Historically, the clientele at the story gaming forums I frequent have taken the attitude that, despite Clay Shirky’s oft-linked and oft-repeated insistence that “software” and “social” can’t be taken separately, forum software can’t do anything at all, not even the littlest bit, to lessen social problems on forums. Seems like an odd stance for a bunch of people who generally reject gaming’s cherished notion that all you need is a great GM, and the game system you use doesn’t even get a vote as to how your game goes.)
Specifically, a group of some gamer friends of mine wanted to try an experimental structure they called Storycaravan. In Storycaravan, blog posts made by members of the group would be echoed onto a central, forum-like site which would give each post its own, separate comment thread. Commenters would have to formally register with the site, and when someone made a new comment, the post on which the comment was made would pop to the top of the page, like on most forums.
It dawned on me that WordPress could make just about all of those things happen already. The only piece I would have to supply was the sort: the means to bring a post to the top of the page when it got a comment. (WordPress already has a Recent Comments widget, but it turned out not to be very reusable for this purpose, for a lot of wacky reasons.) So here it is: Blogcaravan, my first WP plugin.
There’s a huge amount it doesn’t do, and it may be doing even less in the near future – I may be able to do a better job of filtering the functionality to leave pages alone when appropriate. But I love the notion that by keeping functionality narrow, I can support a lot of unexpected new combinations. (For Storycaravan we’re blending it with the FeedWordPress aggregation plugin.) I hope it will be of use to people who want to do forum/blog hybrids without starting from forum software.