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Reading kuro5hin.org with ForumZilla

By mykmelez in Meta
Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 09:56:13 AM EST
Tags: Kuro5hin.org (all tags)

Web discussion forums are hard to use. You have to click from page to page or scroll up and down to follow the thread of a conversation. Resorting comments means reloading the page from scratch. ForumZilla makes reading discussion forums much easier.

Web discussion forums have become popular over the last couple years. They are easy to access and provide services--like polls and moderation systems--that are not available in Usenet newsgroups. On the other hand, it is much harder to read web forums than it is to read newsgroups. Newsreaders have multi-paned interfaces and threaded comment trees to make article browsing as easy as possible.

ForumZilla enables you to read web discussion forums in a Usenet newsreader-like interface. It displays forums in a three-pane window in which the first pane lists forums and stories, the second pane contains a threaded comment tree (with sortable subject, author, date, and score columns), and the third pane displays the currently selected story or comment.

Kuro5hin.org now supports ForumZilla, and support has been added to Scoop 0.6, which means that any forum using that software has ForumZilla support built in. MozillaZine, LiveJournal, and other sites also support ForumZilla.

Take a look at ForumZilla in action, then install it. If you don't have Mozilla, you have to install that first. ForumZilla works with the latest Mozilla milestone release as well as the recent nightly builds for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows. It probably works on other platforms that run Mozilla.

ForumZilla is open-source and distributed under the terms of the Mozilla Public License (MPL). The code is available, and we welcome contributions. The application is written in JavaScript, eXtensible User-interface Language (XUL), and Resource Description Framework (RDF), and it runs on top of Mozilla.

JavaScript is the popular programming language for client-side programming on the web.

XUL is an XML language for describing user interfaces. It was originally designed to be used to generate the Mozilla web browser user interface, but it is now possible to use it for other applications. It has tags for buttons, trees, menus, and many other GUI widgets. XUL makes it almost as easy to design applications as it is to design web pages, and it makes it possible for interface designers to build application interfaces without knowing how to program. Mozilla's entire interface is defined in XUL, and so is ForumZilla's.

RDF is an XML language for publishing meta-data. Meta-data is information about other information. In a filesystem, for example, the name of a file is meta-data, while the contents of the file is the data itself. Meta-data in a web discussion forum includes the titles of stories and the subjects, authors, and scores of comments. ForumZilla-compatible discussion forums use RDF to publish meta-data about their stories and comments in a format ForumZilla knows how to parse and display.

Mozilla is the cross-platform open-source web browser on top of which ForumZilla runs. Mozilla has built-in support for rendering XUL interfaces, sports an RDF parser and a utility called XUL Templates for displaying RDF, contains a JavaScript engine for interpreting scripts, and exposes an extensive API for networking, filesystem manipulation, and other common programming tasks. It is an excellent platform for application development.

We invite you to try ForumZilla out, abuse it, hack on it, and then tell us about it!


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Reading kuro5hin.org with ForumZilla | 37 comments (37 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting as an exercise in XUL (4.40 / 5) (#1)
by ZanThrax on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 01:42:57 AM EST

and a good demonstration of what a well-designed site, with properly seperated content and form can allow for. What I don't see is why I'd want to use it. I like the look of K5, I like the layout and interface of weblogs, and I never liked reading large amounts of usenet, mainly because I could only look at one message at a time. Of course, I'm sure a great many people (especially the type that remember the internet of a decade ago with nostalgia) will disagree with me.

Time for a new .sig

One word (3.00 / 1) (#6)
by QuoteMstr on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 06:42:13 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Killfiles were the precursor to moderation (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by ZanThrax on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 03:38:48 PM EST

Why go back?

Time for a new .sig

[ Parent ]
Killfiles orgagonal to moderation (3.50 / 2) (#26)
by QuoteMstr on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 07:33:03 PM EST

Moderation is the opinion of the community, killfiles are my own personal opinion, which should take precedence. If I don't want to see any posts by Foo, regardless of whether everyone else thinks Foo is great, that's my business and my business alone.

[ Parent ]
What is the RDF url for k5? (3.33 / 3) (#2)
by eLuddite on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 01:58:30 AM EST

Also, on W2K at least, using build 2001041212, non of the preset subscriptions worked.

God hates human rights.

http://www.kuro5hin.org/?op=fz (4.00 / 3) (#3)
by mykmelez on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 02:23:36 AM EST

The RDF URL for Kuro5hin is:


This URL should be appearing in the drop-down menu shortly if it hasn't already. (Mine didn't appear until I deleted the RDF file that generates that menu and the XUL files for ForumZilla from Mozilla's file cache.)

I'm not sure why the pre-set subscriptions don't work for you. Try running ForumZilla from the command-line with the command:

mozilla -console -chrome chrome://forumzilla/content/

Then let me know if you get any error messages in the console window.


[ Parent ]

I'd love to try it.... (3.00 / 2) (#4)
by Mabb on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 02:49:41 AM EST

But the links on the web page (to the install) do not work.

QuiltBlog: WIP, SEX, WOW, MQ, LQS, HST...

more info? (3.00 / 2) (#5)
by mykmelez on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 03:05:10 AM EST

Hmmm, it seems to work for me. What version of Mozilla are you using? What happens when you click the install link?

[ Parent ]
more in links (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by Mabb on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 06:47:18 AM EST

I tried using IE 5.5 and Navigator 4.75.

QuiltBlog: WIP, SEX, WOW, MQ, LQS, HST...

[ Parent ]
LOL (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by regeya on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 10:11:56 AM EST

Ayep...that'll be the main sticking point on this app. Geeze, the program (Mozilla) goes Open Source, and it's the same old "we'll just pretend we'll always be the only browser in town" attitude. Hehehehehehe

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]
[ Parent ]

You need Mozilla (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by mykmelez on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 11:08:07 AM EST

Aha, that's the problem then. You need Mozilla to install and run this application. Install Mozilla and then try ForumZilla again.

[ Parent ]
You have to have Mozilla to download??? (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by Mabb on Tue Apr 24, 2001 at 01:26:10 PM EST

This sucks, and needs to be made explicit on the home page. Nowhere does the page mention the fact that you have to use it to download/install for goodness' sake!

Why can' they just package Moz in a distribution and allow people to download it like normal web sites? Sheesh!

As an aside, if the latest Mozilla=Netscape 6.0, I'm goooooooooooone baby anyway. NS 6.0 sucks big sour persimmons. I reluctantly conceded to IE a year ago even tho I still use NS 4.75 for mail and despite the favourites (yuk!) will not go back to NS as my primary browser.

QuiltBlog: WIP, SEX, WOW, MQ, LQS, HST...

[ Parent ]
Wow (4.00 / 3) (#8)
by QuoteMstr on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 06:49:53 AM EST

I don't particuarly like the forumzilla interface. In fact, I hate it. It's slow, it's ugly, and it's incomplete. It doesn't have killfiles. However, what I *do* like about this story is the availibity of a website content without the website overhead. This allows all client-side program to read forums, not just protozilla! One could add protozilla (with a special case for k5) to slrn, for example, using the information provided, or any other user-agent. Mozilla just happens to speak RDF as a first language (even making it part of its UI with templates), making it easier to implement there.

I look forward to seeing what other programs make use of protozilla information.

Why not trusty old NNTP? (3.33 / 3) (#9)
by evvk on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 09:38:14 AM EST

Why not just normal NNTP gateway? That way I could use SLRN and not some crappy web interface or even worse bloatzilla interface. If it is not wanted to spread the newsgroup all over the world or special features are wanted, put a private NNTP server at kuro5hin.org. (Perhaps separate newsgroups for each section plus a submission queue newsgroup.) Of course, NNTP is lacking moderation and such, but with a modified private NNTP server, messages with special content could be used for this. Just hit [f]ollow-up and type 'Moderate: 3' or such. This functionality could perhaps even be added to some better, scriptable, newsreaders. In section newsgroups, posting would only be allowed as a follow-up to a story that has ended up there. The moderation queue would, of course, allow all postings. Of course, HTML would have to stripped off but with the limited set of tags, that can be quite easily done. Again, with the modified NNTP server, things such as moderation scores could be put in the header and newsreaders perhaps configured to take this info into account if wanted.

Banner ads (3.00 / 2) (#18)
by KnightStalker on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 12:54:06 PM EST

I hate to sound paranoid, but I think banner ads are the "killer app" aspect of applications like ForumZilla, at least from the server-side POV. There's only one way I can think of to server banner ads from an NNTP gateway, and that's to append them to the end of messages (or worse, to the top), which will make no one happy. But FZ is happily displaying ThinkGeek ads in a comparatively unobtrusive way, and that's why a system like this is picked instead of NNTP.
"If you push something hard enough, it *will* fall over." -- Fudd's First Law of Opposition

[ Parent ]
One more reason... (3.00 / 2) (#19)
by evvk on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 01:03:35 PM EST

... to not use MarketZilla. I currently filter out the ads with junkbuster anyway. I hate thos flashy colours and animations that are trying to sell me some crap that I don't care of and even if I did, I couldn't buy anyway. (No credit card, don't live in the US.) Web page ads aren't as bad as the program wasting screen space for them. I haven't used the Opera Linux Beta since they decided to put ads in it just when it started getting better. I was going to buy/register it, if it ever became finished and usable (that is, dump that awful MDI) but now I won't because I will not be able to properly try it. I will not stare and tolerate the ad wasting a HUGE percentage of my screen space.

[ Parent ]
Wouldn't need banner ads (none / 0) (#37)
by vastor on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 06:40:07 PM EST


The muchly reduced load of NNTP usage relative to WWW with lots of dynamic page generation would probably make banner ads un-needed.

NNTP would also be extremely easily distributable, probably via volunteers so the whole setup could be run at v.low cost.

Besides, we're talking about a hybrid system here, so NNTP would provide an insignificant load easily scalable while the web access which is much more load intensive would retain the web ads for its funding.

Another option would be to make NNTP subscription based since its main benefits would be realised by heavier rather than lighter users and thus there wouldn't be any revenue loss by the transition and the ability to password protect the NNTP servers to those that have paid would offer some protection against spam/abuse and the like.

[ Parent ]
rating and displaying scores. (none / 0) (#34)
by Rainy on Thu Apr 26, 2001 at 08:31:37 PM EST

That's why we read k5 instead of alt.tech.news or something like that, right? Why else?
Rainy "Collect all zero" Day
[ Parent ]
Interesting software. (3.00 / 3) (#10)
by darthaya on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 09:42:07 AM EST

But it definitely needs more work. I am using Chinese windows 2000, and i can't see any menu texts. I suppose it is a serious bug. :)

Where can I submit bug reports anyway?

you might just need to upgrade (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by mykmelez on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 11:41:16 AM EST

The problem you describe with menu text could be a bug in ForumZilla or Mozilla, or it could be that you are using a recent version of Mozilla with the old version of ForumZilla.

There were some XUL syntax changes that happened about a month back that created problems like this. If this describes your situation, go back to the ForumZilla web site and install version 0.3.1.

Otherwise, the place to report bugs in ForumZilla is by email to forumzilla@mozdev.org.

[ Parent ]
Not convinced enough, sorry (3.50 / 4) (#11)
by regeya on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 09:59:14 AM EST

From your description, I don't see anything that would make it worth my while to install Yet Another Mozilla Component(TM) and fire up big ol' Moz just for a new interface to sites like kuro5hin.org.

Why not, as some have suggested, provide a web-to-nntp gateway? What's the extreme advantage of this Mozilla-only tool? "Just try it" really doesn't cut it with me. I may be a raving Linux lunatic but I got started using Linux because of a pressing need and stuck with it from there. Tell me, what's the huge advantage to this that I should chuck viewing kuro5hin.org with Konqueror and fire up Mozilla for a new interface that sounds remarkably like a newsreader?

[ yokelpunk | kuro5hin diary ]

The primary advantage of FZ over NNTP... (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by mykmelez on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 11:32:10 AM EST

... is that ForumZilla can display the content from every forum that supports it, including all those forums that install Scoop 0.6, whether or not those forum providers have the skill or ability to install an NNTP gateway.

That means that not only can you read Kuro5hin with ForumZilla, you can read other Scoop sites, with it, and you can read MozillaZine, and you can read at least the headlines of any site that supports the emerging RSS 1.0 standard for publishing news headlines (and other kinds of information).

ForumZilla sounds remarkably like a newsreader because it is. It is a newsreader for news that can't be read with a traditional news reading application. I don't read Usenet with the former Deja News because an application designed for the task is more functional and easier to navigate. The point of ForumZilla is to do the same thing for web discussion forums.

[ Parent ]
And the difference to NNTP is? (4.33 / 3) (#16)
by evvk on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 11:41:44 AM EST

Scoop supports fz -> all such sites support it if enabled. Scoop supports NNTP -> all scoop sites support NNTP if enabled. Using NNTP does not have to mean the newsgroups reside in usenet. Scoop or whatever code runs the site could just have an NNTP server of its own.

[ Parent ]
for the love of kibo (1.50 / 2) (#21)
by eLuddite on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 03:14:37 PM EST

Why not, as some have suggested, provide a web-to-nntp gateway?

Please, info architects, do not gateway anything to nntp. Everything ever posted on USENET is replicated on every damn USENET server in the world, unnecessarily churning disk and bandwidth. Nntp should not survive its scalability problems; kill it as softly as you can but do kill it.

God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

NNTP!=Usenet (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by evvk on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 04:02:21 PM EST

NNTP is just a protocol and not the same thing as Usenet. You can have private NNTP-based news servers that can be accessed with any news reader. There's for example news.opera.no that has opera-related newsgroups. Similarly there could be news.kuro5hin.org that just carried e.g. a newsgroup for each section (as I've proposed in an earlier posting), that would not be spread anywhere else, and nothing else. And to not lose all the moderation and stuff, a specialized NNTP server would be required anyway. I think such is a very viable solution if some problems (passwords?) are solved. We have plenty of news readers -- one for everyone. Why should we forget them in favour of a forced web-based user interface or have to rewrite them all to use some new hyped (Whoa! It uses XML, it must be the best thing since sliced bread!) protocol?

[ Parent ]
true, true (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by eLuddite on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 04:10:35 PM EST

Yep. I should have sat on my hands instead of immediately assuming a USENET gateway was implied.

God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

I think it's neat... (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by Nafai on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 03:16:03 PM EST

But if you don't run Mozilla as your default browser (which I do) I guess ForumZilla isn't very useful.

I installed ForumZilla. It was SUPER easy. I clicked on the install link then an install window popped up. I clicked OK, then -- bam -- less than 10 seconds to download/install. Quick restart of Mozilla, it's installed and working.

In fact, I am using it now to post this. It's actually a useful (and very usable) interface.

[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by KnightStalker on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 12:31:24 PM EST

Looks like very alpha code though. Among my complaints (I'm running Mozilla 2001032705 on Linux, and ForumZilla 0.3.1):
  • You may or may not be able to log in. If you're already logged in, it does send your session cookie. If you can log in, it's done with the standard front-page HTML form.
  • The story is displayed with the standard HTML, just no surrounding frame.
  • Meta-information about the story and each comment is displayed in the content page just as it would be in a standard browser, not with anything like the header information used by an NNTP app.
  • Responding to other comments is done with the standard HTML form, not a message-compose XUL window.
  • You can't seem to post root-level comments.
  • The message listbox and maybe the story listbox don't seem to display anything but plain ASCII. Extended characters show up as ?.
  • The lower right pane is split in two but the left sub-pane is totally collapsed. There doesn't seem to be anything in it.
  • Sections are not displayed in the story listbox.
  • You can't sort by subject, author, date, or score.
  • It would be *really* nice to have this integrated with Mail & News. Killfiles, message filters, the ability to forward messages, the ability to cc messages to K5, other web logs, local mailboxes, and email addresses, would all be really neat features.

Basically, there should be no HTML artifacts remaining when I view K5 this way. FZ doesn't hurt anything, but I agree with several other people here that an NNTP gateway would be a far better solution. It would solve all these problems and make it available to non-Mozilla users. And no, I don't have code to do any of this. :-) Here's a screenshot.
"If you push something hard enough, it *will* fall over." -- Fudd's First Law of Opposition

Integrating w/Messenger & General Feature Suckage (none / 0) (#29)
by mykmelez on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 02:24:10 AM EST

Early in the development of ForumZilla we thought of integrating it with Mozilla Messenger, but it looked like a nightmarish task so we put it off.

ForumZilla looks like pre-alpha code because it is. It hasn't even been completely rewritten once, not to mention the two or three times required for it to be truly useful and usable, not to mention the state Mozilla was in when we started and when most of the code in ForumZilla was written.

I'd agree with just about everything you complained about. I want all that stuff fixed in ForumZilla too. The only exceptions are:

1. Sorting is already implemented (modulo bugs on "re:" and some date/time difficulties). Click on a column header to see it in action.

2. The left sub-pane is totally collapsed because the programmers didn't put anything in there in the Scoop code that implements ForumZilla support. That space is there for the navigation bar that normally appears down the left- or right-hand side of the page in Kuro5hin's HTML view. In line with your comments, however, I'd like to see this navigation be a menu in the menu bar rather than an HTML pane.

[ Parent ]
Mail & News integration (none / 0) (#33)
by KnightStalker on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 03:09:27 PM EST

Yeah, I agree, that would be a nightmare. That's why an NNTP solution would be better. While it is an inelegant hack, it avoids duplicating client-side functionality. What would be best is a plug-in sort of feature to an mail/news app, which would allow you to participate in polls, rate comments, post stories, etc. This could perhaps be done with an FZ-like protocol, but with FZ you have the problem of these HTML artifacts. Meta-information should be sent with the message and displayed by the client app, not as part of the message. This is just wrong.

I tried it again, but column sorting still doesn't work. Do I need a newer build of Mozilla (2001032705)? Columns are also slightly misaligned.

[ Parent ]

damn, you are right about sorting (none / 0) (#36)
by mykmelez on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 03:37:16 AM EST

Sorting is indeed broken. I hate regressions. :-< Ok, it's on the list of things to fix.

[ Parent ]
ForumZilla in other browsers (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by Nurgled on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 01:53:45 PM EST

I did start writing a little thing in PHP that would render forumzilla content in an HTML frameset using the xml module, but I got bored of it and went back to reading things the 'normal' way before I got around to implementing threading. It doesn't offer that much of an advantage over just using sites in a web browser to make me continue and finish the job.

Why not NNTP? (2.00 / 1) (#28)
by mykmelez on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 02:14:03 AM EST

First of all, most forums don't have an NNTP server. The same is true about ForumZilla, but ForumZilla support is easier to install than NNTP support (especially for forum providers on hosted servers). Anyone who can run CGI scripts can support ForumZilla, which includes all Scoop 0.6 installations.

Second of all, NNTP doesn't have community features like polls and moderation. ForumZilla doesn't either, but only because no one has written the code to do it yet. It isn't hard to add these features to ForumZilla because the client-server data exchange format is flexible and fluid (i.e. we can change it), unlike NNTP which is a well established standard with excellent functionality in a specific field.

Third of all, hacking on ForumZilla is fun.

*sigh* (none / 0) (#30)
by evvk on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 09:00:04 AM EST

You haven't read my posts well enough.

> Anyone who can run CGI scripts can support ForumZilla, which includes all Scoop 0.6 installations.

Anyone who would run NNTP-enabled version of scoop would be able support NNTP.

> Second of all, NNTP doesn't have community features like polls and moderation. ForumZilla doesn't either, but only because no one has written the code to do it yet.

Didn't I propose that such features can be done as posts with special content (so no support from the newsreader is required.)

> unlike NNTP which is a well established standard with excellent functionality in a specific field.

And the standard can be enhanced: the newsgroups do not have to reside in Usenet but on a specific server.

> Third of all, hacking on ForumZilla is fun.

I don't believe that. I rather hack on simple things and stay away from mozilla and other bloated crap and hype standards.

[ Parent ]
well enough (none / 0) (#31)
by mykmelez on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 11:14:35 AM EST

> You haven't read my posts well enough.

I read your posts very carefully, evvk, and I understand what you are saying about anyone running an NNTP-enabled version of Scoop being able to support NNTP, but my point is different. My point is that most people who run an NNTP-enabled Scoop, even if their Scoop installation is technically capable of supporting NNTP, will still not support it.

> Didn't I propose that such features can be done as posts with special content (so no support from the newsreader is required.)

Requiring users to participate in the community and communicate with its server by sending specially formatted email messages is much too cumbersome. Even HTML forms, as limited as they are, are much more user-friendly.

It's true that ForumZilla is a more complicated solution for developers and forum providers, but it has the potential to be a much simpler solution for end-users.

And, whether you believe it or not, hacking on ForumZilla is still fun. :-)


[ Parent ]
Why can't this thing default to Re: well enough (none / 0) (#32)
by evvk on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 02:45:57 PM EST

> even if their Scoop installation is technically capable of supporting NNTP, will still not support it.

Why? Because they're, like quite a lot of people it seems, brainwashed to not use anything that is almost as old as the internet but instead support the latest bloated software, hype-standards and reimplementations of the wheel? "Let's just reimplement everything in XML because it is pop now. Who cares if it is not performancewise a good solution or necessary at all."

> Requiring users to participate in the community and communicate with its server by sending specially formatted email messages

No one would _require_ anyone to use it. Just stick with the web page. However, this would be an alternative to people like me, who rather use a nice terminal-based, keyboard-friendly news reader instead of a sucky WIMP program. Of course something will be lost, but it can't be too hard to e.g. moderate a post by replying with a single line. ForumZilla could as well have extended NNTP but who wants to support quality pieces of older software when we can do everything in XML and get rid of those *yuck* text based interfaces! Horay!

[ Parent ]
A Great Idea... K5 (none / 0) (#35)
by jonnyfantastik on Fri Apr 27, 2001 at 03:29:43 PM EST

Quite frankly I'm very leery of anything involving Mozilla. After bad experience after bad experience, and simply knowing the bloated design which transforms the browser into an Internet Suite into a freaking application framework, I can't bring myself to, in good conscience, subject my box to Mozilla again. That having been said, I still think this is a great idea. Something like Kuro5hin and Slashdot really exist above the web - the WWW is really only one of many possible interfaces to the concept of a weblog or a form with user polls and all that other jazzy stuff. To separate the service from the interface all you really need is a protocol that acts between. Some sort of weblog protocol would allow anybody using any kind of device with any interface to use a weblog. The question is, where does this protocol come from? Do you use NNTP or extend NNTP or just start from scratch with some kind of XML protocol? Who controls and defines the standard of this protocol? Most importantly, what do you call this protocol? For that last question there's an easy answer K5P

Reading kuro5hin.org with ForumZilla | 37 comments (37 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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