bbgateway: Reading web forums the 1982 way

As anybody who’s been on the internet long enough knows, online discussion was perfected in the 1980s by Usenet, and it’s all gone downhill since. Not even Google have managed to translate it into the friendly pastel shades of the Web successfully. But time marches on, and slowly but surely the conversation moves over to web forums, attracting newcomers who will never know what they’re missing – decent message threading, tracking of the posts you’ve already read – and instead have to endure topics that get locked by moderators just as they’re getting to the good bit, and (oh, the horror) graphical smileys.

And thus a great rift opened up in the ZX Spectrum fanbase. The community was divided between the ones in comp.sys.sinclair who would never touch a web forum even if their life depended on it, and the ones in the WOS forums who would never venture into the rugged wastelands of Usenet even if they were the last person alive and the second last person alive had just, in their dying gasp, posted a message to rec.survival.post-apocalyptic entitled “Survival tips for the last person alive”.

bbgateway is my solution to this sorry state of affairs. It’s a suite of Ruby applications that will scrape a web forum of your choosing for new posts, reformat them into old-school plain text (you know, angle brackets for quoting, and – yes! – ASCII smileys) and make them available in an NNTP feed that you can follow with your newsreader, or share with the world if you’re feeling generous. I’ve been running a gateway to the WOS forums at news.zxdemo.org for the last few weeks, and after a brief period of bugfixing (and persuading people that it isn’t going to go round collecting their email addresses and selling them to Google, really) it’s proven incredibly popular and useful amongst Spectrum devotees, and more than a little bit time-saving for myself.

Unfortunately it’s not quite ready for you to hook it up to other forums yet (at least, not without a lot of hand-tuning). Generic support for vBulletin-powered boards is just inches away, and support for other platforms such as phpBB should come in the not-too-distant-but-this-is-me-you’re-talking-about future – but I figured it would be nice to get the code up before I go off on holiday. Maybe someone will feel like picking it up and running with it… or not. Here’s the link.

bbgateway – Subversion repository

(Oh, and it’s currently read-only – the ability to post back to the board through your newsreader is on the radar, but don’t hold your breath.)

4 Responses to “bbgateway: Reading web forums the 1982 way”

  1. Sounds really nice. Too bad most forums don’t have real threading.

  2. matt says:

    Actually, you might be surprised… it seems that vBulletin supports real threading out of the box, and it’s enabled on about half of the sites I’ve looked at. It’s just badly implemented, hard to navigate, and hidden away in a menu that nobody notices – but it gives you just enough data to translate it to NNTP where it works brilliantly :-)

  3. Matthew says:

    Very nice. :) I realise this isn’t the same situation, but thought you might be interested in one of the nicest combined news/web interfaces I’ve seen, Lugnet’s: http://news.lugnet.com/

  4. Matthew says:

    Also, how many different varieties of our name can we have in these comments ;-)

Leave a Reply