In my experience, *very* few forums do a good job of gatewaying email to
a forum, on the forum side nobody quotes properly (and definitely never
trims), threading rarely works even for reading, and it eventually
becomes unpleasant to even attempt to help users. From fields are almost
universally lost, you usually just get a dream of "Fancypants forum
message!" from fields.

(Who cares about a From field? If I see another experienced helper
assisting, I won't bother to see if an issue was resolved unless the
topic interests me. If I only see "Me too!" posts, it's a topic that
needs attention.)

More importantly, nearly every case I've seen where an active community
of technically inclined helpers assist novice users moves from a mailing
list to a forum, many/most of the helpers don't go with it, leaving the
forums a barren wasteland of users begging for help and receiving
nothing, while the technical users often follow dozens of lists and
can't be bothered with terrible, slow and different forum interfaces.

For those who don't understand the difference in interface, and the
importance of consistency, sit down with a maillist power user, you'll
find a lot of us can flip through dozens of messages at nearly the speed
we read, moving to the next message or skipping to another thread with a
literal touch of a button. Forums? You scroll, wait for your focus to
find the top of the next message (no, it's not going to be at the top of
your screen in a forum, yes it is in my own client of choice). Moving
between messages sometimes requires clicks (which requires reaching a
mouse, targeting a button, clicking, waiting, waiting, waiting), moving
between threads always does. All minor things, but they add up to a
cognitive load and time-suck, neither of which are pluses. 

Or maybe that's just me. At my peak I was actively reading over 200
mailing lists and newsgroups, actively participating in and contributing
to at least 100 on a weekly basis and virtually all on a semi-regular
(monthly) basis. Some I just read for information. Sometimes I'd follow
the -dev list so that I could be up to date and help users on the
-support list. Although I've actively curtailed my mailing list habits
due to other time commitments, I still try to help users when my skills
would be useful. I follow exactly two forums, and contribute less than
monthly because the time and pain factor just isn't worth it. 

Users might prefer forums, but the folks who volunteer their time to
help, especially on lower profile open-source products, seem to prefer
the efficiency of controlling their own interfaces and email (and
newsgroups) are beautiful for that. Personally, I'd rather focus on ease
of use and efficiency for those answering questions rather than those
asking as there are nearly always more users asking than answering, and
if those answering go away, so ends it all.


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