Email (& Twitter?) Integration

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Email (& Twitter?) Integration

Raymond Lutz
I want to propose a direction for development that I have been
interested in for quite a long time, and I believe it will be the
"killer app" for foswiki (although it is already the killer, as far as
I'm concerned). I first ran into this years ago (I think 1997) when I
was investigating group collaboration platforms. The key element that
foswiki is missing is robust email integration. I think this also
relates to twitter integration too, but I'm not certain because I am new
to twitter.

The reality is that conversations (like this one) are best conducted via
email, because it is pushed to the user and it is extremely convenient
to reply. ListServe facilities like this one is a great way to conduct
an ongoing discussion, send info to a (sometimes long) list of
subscribers, etc. Unfortunately, it does not lend itself to producing a
concise conclusion, and the discussions can go around and around for
years. If you try to read lists that have a lot of traffic, such as many
IETF lists, you will find yourself trying to digest months of drivel.

The problem, of course, is that there is no way to refactor the
discussion and bring it to a head. Back in the late 90s, hypernews was
one application that included reasonably robust email integration, and
provided threaded discussions, plus a "header" which was available to be
edited, normally by the moderator of the discussion. When comments were
added to the discussion, subscribers were provided with a "clean" email
which included the comment, (not a link to the page where the comment
was located or a dif of the page, etc.) so that the subscribers felt
they were on a facility like a listserve. When they replied, their
comment would be added to the threaded discussion, etc. You can operate
either as a completely email-driven subscriber, or as a web-based

Hypernews had a lot of problems, and is no longer an active application.
It was a large and somewhat monolithic perl application with it's share
of bugs, etc. However, it was quite popular in its day. See the
following link for an example of the output of that program. (I see that has been decommissioned).

At one point, there were several thousand installations of hypernews,
with some discussions having 60K+ subscribers. I was involved with the
discussions on how to effectively deal with the information generated by
such a group, so I can recall much of what was discussed about the need
to allow the sort of refactoring provided by foswiki.

The reality with tfoswiki is that the vast majority of users are not
comfortable editing a page if they are not already software engineers or
at least extremely comfortable with what they are doing. In many cases,
even getting a group to effectively use email is a challenge (esp. those
with gray hair) but it tends to be much more successful, and if these
comments can be added to a page in a way that they can be easily
refactored into a header topic, it is a great way to get the discussion
to come to a head, and allow participants to be involved both web-based
and email-based.

I think that many of the pieces are available, but not quite complete,
and they work poorly together.
 > MailInContrib is most of what is needed to allow the application to
fetch email from an incoming mail box, but does not have a means to
automatically direct a message to a thread of a discussion nor does it
currently allow the creation of new topics (even though it claims that
it can). In some applications, a submission should create a new topic
with a form attached. so it can be included in a structured search based
on that form. Hypernews used an embedded magic string to direct it to
the proper page and thread.
 > SendEmailPlugin provides the basic infrastructure for sending emails
but is far from a complete replacement for a robust list-serve facility,
including bounce processing, etc.
 > ThreadedDiscussionPlugin is a first-cut on a possible way to maintain
threaded discussions (and is not avail. on foswiki).
 > Comment plugin is a step toward allowing web-based users to add
content but needs a captcha facility to stop google spam robots from
misusing the site.

My claim is that this would provide similar infrastructure to apps like (which require a subscription fee) facebook, etc. but also
provide the ability to refactor the page. I've run collaboration groups
for years and I believe this will provide the missing piece to get
people to use it.


Raymond Lutz
Cognisys, Inc.                
1010 Old Chase Ave., Bldg B            
El Cajon (San Diego Cty), CA 92020 USA
Voice 619-447-3246

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