Reason for bumping this thread
I manage a community of about 800 members which recently migrated to Discourse from a platform which has this feature. Not having it anymore has lowered the perceived quality of discussions. I have noticed it myself and several users have mentioned that unlike on the former platform – inferior as it was in almost every other way – posts by the most interesting participants tend to get lost in a flood of posts from “random” people.
For various reasons, people are simply more interested in some people than in others. Sure, good discussion is good discussion, but sometimes a discussion is interesting simply because a particular person is participating. For example, a discussion about computer programming automatically becomes interesting if John Carmack participates – due to him being a known genius in the field and due to the low probability that such a discerning person would choose to spend time on a low-quality discussion.
Sometimes the presence of a handful of special people make up a large part of the value of being part of the community. In our case members pay a monthly fee for access and I know (because they have told me) that dozens of them pay just for the privilege of following non-public discussions among a very small set of particularly interesting people. In some cases, our forum is more or less the only way of following these people outside of reading their blogs and listening to their podcasts, and an excellent way of approaching and engaging with them.
The immediate reason for me to write this post is 10+ users recently expressing a wish to get notifications about a particular user of ours out of worry that they might miss a single one of them. This might perhaps seem unusual but I think that it is actually a normal feature of how people work, i.e. some people are more interesting than others and others want to follow these people closely.
Suggestions for implementation
My knowledge of Discourse is not yet deep enough to say how this should be implemented. One way would be to make it exactly parallel to how categories and tags can presently be followed, i.e. Watch/Track topics based on certain users posting in them. Basing it on who started the topic would not be nearly as useful in our situation since very long and interesting comments are often posted in threads with humble beginnings.
I suppose another option would be to enable notifications about all activity from particular users but I think this would mesh less nicely with the current model. One benefit of watching/tracking on the topic level would be easily unwatching/untracking topics with the familiar controls, e.g. if a person I am interested in posts in a discussion about a topic which I am not interested in (e.g. Carmack unexpectedly posting about cooking rather than programming).
In any case, some version of this feature would be very useful for increasing the signal-to-noise ratio from the perspective of individual users in our community and probably many others. So here’s another community manager, on behalf of many community members, hoping that this gets bumped to the roadmap!