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Discussions: Flat or Threaded?


“In practice, of course message #100 doesn’t fully depend on each of the previous 99 messages, but because you can’t predict which it is in advance, it in some sense still does.”

My feeling on this is either you’re reading the comments because you want to read the comments, or you’re skimming the comments because you want to talk and/or add to the discussion. If you’re doing the latter, you should read all the comments anyway to make sure you’re contributing something new to the discussion and not just talking to hear yourself talk (or writing to see yourself write). The exception is when you’re looking for an answer and hopefully google/ctrl-f will get you to the 1 in a million post you need.


As of June 2011, this article is painfully misguided. All of Joel’s anarchic rules are nowadays ignored, given the massive increase in vandalism and spam. (Right now, the two comments above mine are spam).

I’m a member on both flat forums (xda-developers, notebookreview) and threaded ones (reddit, slashdot). For the same number of posts in a thread, say 200, I rarely manage to read an entire thread on the flat forums, because the posts are so disjointed.

With threads, if a thread goes in a direction you’re not interested, you can ignore that, and go to another branch. With a flat forum, you have to read or skim until the conversation goes back to what interests you. I’m not saying it goes off-topic, and that a new thread was started; no, it’s just that you are not interested in that direction.

Finally, it should be pointed out that more and more commenting systems (Disqus being a large example) are threaded.

In my opinion, flat forums had a headstart, but it’s an implementation that lacks vision.