Threads and topics

It is common for a listserv archive to show conversations as threads, but at we use topics. A topic is easier to read than a thread, and has some powerful features.

It much easier to catch up on what has been discussed previously if you only read posts from a single conversation. A topic and a thread are both trying to show a single conversation, but they work in two different ways.

A topic is a list of posts that have the same Subject — after things like the group-name, the Re:, and FWD: are removed. (Post are treated the same if they are made from either email or the web.) The posts are then arranged by time, from the earliest post (which started the conversation) to the most recent. People are usually more interested in conversations than single posts, so topics are the main view into the message archive of your group.

Threads show who responded to whom. It does this by creating a tree of posts, with replies to a message listed as branches of the tree. Within each branch the messages are ordered by time. Most email clients can show messages in threads, but in our observations it is very rarely used, and many people find it confusing. Because of this we decided to only support topics.

Thread hijacking

Threads also suffer an issue known as thread hijacking, where a person starts a new conversation by replying to an email and changing the Subject.

  • With threads the new message will appear as a reply to an existing thread, rather than a new thread. The thread has been hijacked with the new conversation.
  • With topics the above actions will start a new topic — or it will be added to an existing topic if there have already been posts made with that subject. All posts about a conversation are kept together in a topic, even if the group member was previously unaware of the topic.
The new topic page

The New topic page showing suggested topic titles that contain the word “topic”.

To further encourage group members to add posts to existing conversations the New topic page on the web suggests names of existing topics when the group member types into the topic title entry.

Powerful features of topics

Topics provide several powerful features.

  • The topic titles are simplified, with the likes of the Re: and FWD: removed. This makes them much easier to read.
  • Keywords are automatically added to topics, and are listed within the Topics list on the group page, at at the top of every topic page. A keyword is selected if it occurs frequently within a topic, but it is rare outside the topic.
  • A gallery of  all the images in a topic is created, making it simple to step through all the shared images.
  • A topic can be made sticky, so it always appears at the top of the Topics list on the group page. This can be used to help new members find very important topics, such as one welcoming everyone to the group. Group administrators can make any topic sticky: look for the push-pin button at the top of the topic page.
  • Anyone can share a link to a topic by clicking on the Share button. It is also possible to share link to individual posts as well, by using the share button next to each post within a topic.

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