A thread is a series of related messages beginning with an initial message and followed by replies in chronological order.
Every conversation, whether online or in person, is made up of an initial statement and the replies others make to the initial statement. In person, conversations move along quickly, and there is no need (in most cases) to keep a record tracking the progress of the conversation.
In digital conversations, it is frequently the case that the original message and the replies that follow are separated by several minutes, hours, or even days. As a result, it is often necessary to backtrack and review previous parts of the conversation to fully understand a new reply. In order to do this, the original message must somehow be tied to the replies that follow it, preserving the entire conversation so that every person in the conversation, including anyone who joins a conversation already in progress, is able to refer back to the history of the discussion.
Threaded conversations are a way of enabling online conversations by grouping the original message with all of the replies that come after it. E-mail clients, forums, newsgroups, bulletin boards, and the comment sections of many websites and social media platforms offer threaded conversations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where did the idea of threaded conversations originate?
Threaded conversations were used in e-mail systems dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. They also appeared nearly simultaneously in the late 1970s and early 1980s in three different places: forums, bulletin board systems (BBS), and Usenet newsgroups. The massive popularity of Usenet in the late 1980s and early 1990s has much to do with the popularity of threaded digital conversations today.
How do threaded conversations work?
The way that most threaded conversations work is as follows:
- A conversation is started with an initial message. This could be a new e-mail that is not a reply to a previous e-mail, a new discussion topic on a forum, a comment on a blog post, or any other type of conversation.
- Other users review the statement and post their replies.
- The replies are posted chronologically so that the original message is followed by the replies in chronological order.
- Once one or more replies have been posted, subsequent replies may refer either to previous replies or to the original message. If the replies do not address the original message, the result can be a phenomenon known as topic drift.
- When another conversation is started, it will begin a new thread that is kept separate from the thread already in progress, and all replies to the new thread will only be shown attached to the new thread.