IRC makes for a very good way to communicate in realtime, especially for multi-user chat with people one doesn’t necessarily know already. In my view, it is a far superior means to the modern so-called instant messaging systems such as AIM or the like. However, nothing is perfect.
IRC is at its best in interactive discussion, where people exchange arguments back and forth. It is not so good for exposition of a topic, formal debate, or arguments which require much care with sources and quoting. Out of ##marxism, the IRC channel, came Spirit of Contradiction, as a way to cover one of these holes. On the blog, channel members–and others–can develop our arguments in detail, and expose our thinking. That said, although blogs do have comment systems, they are also not ideal for complex discussions.
In the middle between a blog and an IRC channel, in terms of formality, ideal length of contribution, latency, and interactivity, would be a forum. I don’t much like much of the forum software around, for reasons I’ll go into below, and generally prefer mailing lists, but in the end I was convinced to try out and install a forum for us all. It’s been quietly linked on the top of the page for a while now, as Forum of Contradiction, and now that it’s no longer empty it seems high time to announce it to society more openly.
You may be wondering why we set up our own forum instead of using something already there, like, say, RevLeft. There are some good reasons, to do with having our own infrastructure to discuss things related to the ##marxism channel, and to develop what may be an incipient tendency arising from this community. However, there is a more fundamental reason that’s of a more personal nature why I’d much rather use our own forum than Revleft.
I’m a bit weary of discussing this in public, but I’m blind. This means in order to access a computer I need to use special software. The software, generally called a screen reader,1 converts what appears on the screen into speech, or sends it to a braille display,2 and has special commands so I can review particular things, such as the next header on a webpage, and so on. It turns out that a lot of the ways RevLeft is organised–for instance, the fact that it uses captchas to fight spamm–make it either difficult or uncomfortable for me to use it.
The forum we have installed, instead, has a much neater way of organising the content: every post on a topic has a header of its own, for instance, which much simplifies navigating across them. We’re also depending on other tricks like hidden form fields and the like to fight spam, instead of captchas. It can be extremely frustrating to be denied access to something because one can’t see, forcing blind people to depend on others, on some special services (like webvisum) which aren’t always reliable, or to abstain from the activity in question.3
Because of the ergonomics involved, as well as for the reasons indicated above, we decided that it would be a good experiment to run a forum of our own and see whether it attracts enough of an audience to be worth keeping up. So far we seem to be getting a modest but worthwhile amount of users and posts, sufficient to persist. If you’re interested in Marxism, left tendencies, party organisation, or ##marxism (as in the IRC channel), you’re most welcome to register on the forum and join the discussions. We hope you find it a useful addition to what’s around.
- If you’re curious, I run several screen readers depending on the OS and tasks I’m doing. JAWS for Windows or NVDA under win32, and Orca under GNU/Linux. ▲
- A Braille display is a hardware device that plugs into a computer and shows textual information in Braille by raising and lowering dots within cells. Generally they’re based on piezoelectric principles, and are sadly very expensive. ▲
- I’ll point out audio captchas can somewhat ameliorate the problem, but they are an imperfect solution: they depend on the user being able to hear (there are deaf and blind people who use Braille displays exclusively), on being able to understand highly distorted voice in what is possibly a foreign language, and they often don’t work properly or cause problems with autofocus of the forms and so on. ▲