Newsgroups (NNTP) vs. Blogs (RSS).

A post by Ed Bott recently reminded me of a topic that I think about from time to time, that of newsgroups (NNTP) vs. blogs (RSS).

I’ve been using newsgroups since before there was Google, before there was Yahoo!, and definitely way before blogs. Developers like myself seem to favor them because they are a great way to post a quick question, learn something new or help out a fellow nerd.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that now that blogs and RSS are here that newsgroups should be ditched and everything should be a feed. I have a few issues with that:

1. Blogs require mass. If you want to ask a question on your own blog then you are dependant on those reading your blog. Not until you have a large group of followers can you even begin to hope to get an answer.

2. Can’t have a multi-person conversation. If I post a comment to a blog then there is a good chance that the blogger will read my comment, a little less chance that they’ll actually respond and a slim chance that another commenter that I actually wanted to address will read AND respond. I know I rarely go back and re-read comment sections.

2. Comment notifications. Even if by some chance a fellow commenter does answer a question I posed in someone’s comment section there is a good chance I’ll never know unless I constantly go back to that page. Even the pages that do have comment notification feeds aren’t a good solution because often I don’t care about everyone’s comments, I just want to see if someone responds to mine.

3. Offline support. This is probably unique to developers but I often come across a great bit of code or advice in newsgroups that I want to save for later. With my newsreader I simply drag and drop that post to a folder and now I’ll always have it.

4. Speed. You are very much at the mercy of the web-site hosting a blog. I’ve seen some popular blogs just tank when they get dugg or seen poor comment systems slow down to a crawl. I’ve rarely if ever had issues with NNTP-based newsgroups in terms of speed.

5. Information density. I can take a quick glance at Outlook Express and see all the groups I’m subscribed to, which ones have new messages, whose posted, when, what watched posts have been updated, etc. Even with a desktop RSS reader I can’t get nearly the same amount of information quickly.

6. Variety. One great thing about newsgroups is that anyone can post so you get a much more varied selection of topics. While I love reading a person’s blog it’s always that person talking and it’s usually that person talking about something that is blog-worthy. I’ve often just dropped a message in a group with one or two lines, “Anyone know of a good PDF component for Delphi?” yet I’d never think of doing that here, even if I actually did have a readership.

I’ve purposely left out online forums and that’s because to me they are an unholy union of the worst bits of both newsgroups and feeds. Off the top of my head I dislike them because:

1. Slow. Anyone use The Green Button forums before they upgraded?

2. Ugly interface. ‘Nuff said.

3. Yet another login and password you have to remember.

4. Notification options almost as bad as RSS.

5. Low information density. Once you factor in site styles and overly large buttons and large headings you aren’t left with much room for actual content.

6. Avatars. Seriously, I hate them. They take up space and bandwidth and only serve to remind me that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.