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While I personally prefer HN to many similar forum software, I actually think it's not the best example for "plain web site". Partly because of the very real (sometimes intentional) UX issues, like no native collapsing of threads, and the silly voting-arrows that almost impossible to use on any device -- and partly because HN sits (IMNHO) a bit between the simple/old and the new. A better example of "plain web forum" might be the D-lang forums: http://forum.dlang.org

That said, I never liked web forums in general - I prefer mailing lists (and the D-lang forum, as far as I can figure out, support usenet access (is a web usenet front-end) - so it should be possible use a native client rather than a web gateway -- which might be better.

But as the web has shown again and again, colourful backgrounds, smilies and avatars wrapped up in sloppy html and css wins every time - multimedia wins every time. Eg: slack.

I think it should be perfectly viable, and desirable, to meet both: an open (preferably federated/self-hostable) (set of) protocol(s) - a web client - and native clients. For me, the fact that I don't really thing gmail is any good, is kind of the only nail the "web app" coffin needs -- if Google can't make something half-way ok to work with in terms of UX -- for something that's arguably simple -- what hope does anyone else have?

As for your real question: I think wikipedia is a great example of both "it can be simple" and "complex provides value". Reading wikipedia works fine from lynx or w3m - but editing, viewing revisions, etc - benefits a lot from a richer "web app" client. (I would still prefer to edit in vim, use "real" version control and push changes - and I'm not sure what options are there for wikipedia, the project, or mediawiki, the software, to do that via apis etc -- but I'm sure it'd be possible to hook something up if it's not already there - I haven't really looked).

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