Some people start a thread and want to talk about something specific and keep on-topic. Others value a rambling chat which could go anywhere. Both are fine ways to communicate, although the forum rules express a preference for staying on topic.
I am wondering if it might be helpful for the original poster to be able to lay down ground rules at the start of a thread. For example, expectations around going off topic. This might provide some greater flexibility.
Ground rules would need to not be in conflict with the core rules, and would need to be clearly visible when you post.
Personally I love it when a thread meanders off onto side tracks. I really enjoy good conversation like that, but at the same time I try to respect that other people may have a clear sense that they want the thread to stick pretty much to the original topic.
Both styles of conversation are useful and valid.
I agree with Matt; it's the privilege of the poster starting the thread to indicate which style they prefer and how rigidly they want to enforce it.
Other sites with more traffic may feature a daily 'Open Mike' thread that's open slather for anyone to post on any topic they like. We could probably run something similar on a monthly basis.
I like the rambling chats. But they can get in the way when you ask a specific question and need specific advice.
A check box on the new topic form for 'Replies to posted question only' or somesuch. Then a banner on the top of the thread (each page) saying 'the poster has requested that replies are restricted to the original question asked'.
Sre you can come up with better wording than that tho!
Im probably one of the most guilty. I make the mistake of only reading a post or 2 above the last and if I reply its based on that. If there has been a hint of a topic change and I pick up on it then I end up taking it all the way to wherever. I wouldnt see a tick box saying on topic only please.
Maybe the OP could just post a please stay on topic or similar when it happens. I dont know which is best but it is another option
I don't things are broken enough to need fixing. As with all conversations, there will be a tension between those wanting to take it in a particular direction and those wanting to wander in a different direction. There's the ability to branch if wanted, or add a comment to gently try and bring the conservation back on topic if that's what someone wants.
Not a matter of broken, I think, but a modest improvement along madpom's line - should suit both the purist wanting single topic threads and the conversationalist looking for a rambling discussion.
Maybe just a couple of radio buttons for the OP to select - which are then displayed at the top of each page and in the grey below the tabs of the reply box.
I'd suggest radio buttons to allow for multiple selection. I can envisage a thread that looked for solutions as well as wanting a conservation.
What other categories might be desirable?
a poster should have the right to request a thread stay on topic and we should respect that wish. so some sort of mechanism to show the poster wants the thread to stay on topic along the lines of what madpom has suggested is a valid idea
I go along with the view that some posts are meant to wander and where this happens we are quite relaxed about where it may lead.
But then another part of me says I wish people could stay on track a bit more where a specific question has been asked because I have an intense interest in the answers being provided.
Thus I am of the opinion that @bernieq has a fairly good suggestion on the subject.