Everybody loves forums… or do they really?

I often find web-based forums difficult to participate to. Most of the times the graphic interfaces are too rich, clogged with unnecessary information, visually tirening and distracting. Usually they have too many categories to chose from the start page, threads are difficult to follow, most of the time you can’t really tell who’s answering to what. And they force to stay online to interact with others, there is no ‘offline’ support.

Method of Ubuntu Community Support
Method of Ubuntu Community Support

Compared to a local email archive from mailing lists I think that web forums are suboptimal for collaboration. That’s one of the reasons why I like Collabnet’s discussion services (as in Funambol Forge), that integrate a mailing list with a simple web forum UI: you can have the best of the worlds.

Reading Canonical’s Survey Results I was surprised to notice that their community prefers to use web-based forums to mailing list for community support. Is that because Google indexes forum archives better than mailing list archives? The’  Ubunty forums entry page doesn’t look too inviting, so I imagine that the most common entry point is a search. From there on the user is engaged and starts posting. My feeling is that web forums have a lower barrier to entry and mailing lists have a higher retention rate of contributors. Does anybody have pointer to scientific studies about this topic?