Clinton and the dimensions of Forum Space

Bill Clinton should be impeached, but you won't catch me belabouring that opinion here in InfoWorld.

Unless Clinton got caught demagoguing the year-2000 problem or something, his impeachment would be "off topic" in InfoWorld. Which is why my opinion on that is not here, by golly, but on my personal Web pages at http://www.idg.net/metcalfe.

Some readers complain that just mentioning my personal Web pages, if I'm going to attack the US President there, is unprofessionally off topic. Listening to these complaints leads me to conclude that being off topic is the essence of spam.

Sorry to mess with semantics, but spam may or may not be unsolicited, whatever that means. Spam may or may not be commercial, whatever that means. Spam may or may not be bulk, whatever that means. Heck, spam may not even be e-mail. Spam is off-topic pollution in the streams of our online forums.

So I started making a list of the various kinds of online forums: e-mail, Web or otherwise. And what I found was what mathematicians might call a highly dimensional space. I call it Forum Space.

Consider some of Forum Space's dimensions. Forums can be offline, online or both. Online forums can be on e-mail or the Web. Forums can be open or closed. Forums can range from the highly moderated, like this column, to the unmoderated, like most on Usenet. Forums can be filtered by humans or with collaborative filtering software. Forums can be supported by advertising or by subscription. And so on. Forum Space is highly dimensional.

Exploring Forum Space is how, eventually, we'll discover the future of the Internet.

I've been wrong in thinking that the Internet's first major killer application was e-mail and then, 20 years later, came the Web. Actually, in the interim, beginning in 1979, came e-mail newsgroups. I now think of Usenet as a major move in Forum Space, from manually maintained mailing lists to technically supported push-pull discussion groups.

Talkway is a new "supercommunity" service on the Web at http://www.talkway.com. They say there are 20 million people posting 7 million messages per month in 25,000 Usenet newsgroups.

Talkway hopes to move Usenet along two dimensions in Forum Space. It hopes to move Usenet onto the collaboratively filtered Java-enabled Web. And it hopes, using focused advertising revenues, to move much of Usenet into Internet commerce.

My guess is that Talkway gets ugly e-mail from Usenet denizens. Spam is a big problem on Usenet, and the mere mention of advertising risks the tons of flame mail (a kind of spam?) that Usenet is known for.

Another point in Forum Space is the newly revitalised Delphi. Delphi Forums are on the Web, like Talkway's. Delphi's revenues also come from selling ads aimed at its forum participants. But Delphi is not trying to leverage Usenet.

Delphi's service is based on its own forum software, which has been improving since Delphi's inception in 1983.

Delphi is into "personal forums" that anyone can create for free. Go there right now (http://www.delphi.com) and join Delphi's 350,000 members on one or more of 35,000 forums, or start one of your own. Your forum can be open to anyone and listed on Delphi's directory, or it can be closed.

Again, Delphi is free, except that you get to see ads that Delphi sells to make ends meet. The better these ads are targeted based on your demographics and forum participations, the less you will see them as spam.

According to Delphi, its location in Forum Space is hot. Membership is growing at 35 per cent per month.

Upshot is yet another point in Forum Space (http://www.upshot.com). Upshot clients are Web browsers, but Upshot is not a service. Upshot is software you buy for your company's servers.

Upshot offers vertical forum support, for business teams. Initially, Upshot servers support Web-based sales force automation with forums for geographically dispersed sales teams. This point in Forum Space comes equipped with team-selling tools for lead, prospect, deal and support tracking.

So in summary, this column, http://www.idg.net/metcalfe, Usenet, Talkway, Delphi, and Upshot are six different points in Forum Space. There are and will be many more.

And please, unless you are interested in why Clinton's is just not a case of fibbing about consentual adult sex, do not visit my personal Web pages at http://www.idg.net/metcalfe. In the immortal words of Richard Nixon, that would be wrong.

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