Apply "mailing list mode" per category


(Matt Taylor) #1

I have multiple users who want to treat some categories within Discourse as “mailing lists” meaning they want emails for ALL activity within these categories. But they only want emails outside these categories under certain conditions (“Send me an email when someone quotes me, replies to my post, mentions my @username, or invites me to a topic”).

Our forums have user sections and developer sections. We would use this so developers can always get emails notifications for “developer” categories, but are only bothered with “user” emails if they are specifically called out.

This is similar to a previous feature request I made, but coming at it from a different angle.

EDIT: I also want to note that I migrated several mailing lists from Mailman into one Discourse instance. I think this could be a common migration, so having this feature might bring new users, especially from OS communities who tend to have a handful of mailing lists they want to simplify.


Discourse vs Email & Mailing lists
Webhook to forward posts to a mailinglist: best practice?
Please restore email digests
Mailing list features
(Jeff Atwood) #2

Ok, then simply set the category to “watching”; that will notify you on every post to every topic in that category. You may also want to check “mail me even if I am active on the site” in your user preferences as well.


(Matt Taylor) #3

Do I need to have “mailing list mode” checked to get this behavior as well?


(Jeff Atwood) #4

No – mailing list mode forces an email on every single post, forever. It’s “nightmare difficulty”, or “the nuclear option”.

I don’t think you can even mute a topic or category (to suppress emails from them) when you are in mailing list mode, is that correct @sam?


(Sam Saffron) #5

Muting is respected for mailing list mode afaik and least topic muting


(Dave McClure) #7

We are seeing users that want this and/or expected mailing list mode to behave this way somehow.

I suggested watching particular categories, but have gotten feedback that they don’t want to clutter their in-app notification stream.

Similarly, while mute works to fine tune the mailing list behavior, they don’t necessarily want those categories to stop showing up on latest.

In effect, it seems that some people want to de-couple the controls for email subscriptions to tags and categories from the controls they have for the topic list and notifications.

Has anyone else gotten similar feedback from users?


(Jeff Atwood) #8

I do not think those differences will be reconcilable. Wanting one view of the world via email and a completely different view of the world via browser – should probably be handled via their email client.


(Dave McClure) #9

I think this deserves a little more thought and consideration.

With some hand holding, I’ve been able to convert forum skeptics to switch to using the UI rather than treating Discourse as an awkward mailing list server. But it’s taken time and explanation. Here are a few of the places I’ve seen confusion with these users:

  1. mailing list mode is now too noisy for most users
    when we first launched, the core participants shared a lot of their interests in common. As we’ve grown, most users care more about different subsections of the forum than others. Mailing list mode used to work fine for them, but now they have to mute categories in combination with it, or turn it off and watch categories instead.
  2. “watching” and “tracking” do not apply when in mailing list mode, but “mute” does
    It’s not obvious which of these noise-level settings interact with mailing list mode and which don’t.
  3. when you watch or mute categories, then the forum becomes less usable for these users
    many of these users passively consume the forum via email, but then interact through the UI when they see something interesting or want to respond. email was effective at keeping them engaged and drawing them back to the site while at the same time keeping them generally informed about topics they care about.
    now, they can mute other categories, but they would prefer to not have these completely hidden from latest when they are drawn to the UI.
    or, they can instead turn off mailing list mode and only watch the categories they want to watch. but then when they visit the site, they have piles of notifications for things they’ve already been emailed about.

I’m also very sympathetic to the fact that the notifications are already complex and the suggestion in this topic could make that problem worse (which is a similar criticism to this other idea).

I also appreciate that some other thought is going into the layout of the preferences page.

I’ll think about this more and see whether I come up with any thoughts about what might be done to improve things so users are are not only able to choose preferences that make sense for them, but are likely to do so without hand-holding.


(Sam Saffron) #10

I am very sympathetic to this problem but worry about complicating the UI here.

Perhaps we add an option for Mailing list mode:

Send me an email for every new post except my own in the following categories…

Once selected we add an extra category selector (like watching/muting etc)

Time-wise I think this would take 1-2 days to build, its not too complicated and does not introduce more mess. Do you folks want to fund it :slight_smile:


Of course there is an “education” aspect here, we would not really want to add site default here as this would be different for many users.


(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #11

@LeoMcA is also grappling with this issue on behalf of Mozilla. Would appreciate it if you could chime in with your perspective on this Leo.

I think the best solution to this is a combination of a better Watch workflow, and the addition of email tracking so that a post opened by email = a read post.

Mailing list mode isn’t feasible on a large forum. That’s why you move to Discourse when your mailing list grows unsustainably large!

Past that tipping point, the superior workflow is to Watch the categories that you want to follow. In mailing list land (see Mozilla’s lists for example) the comparable workflow would be opt in to however many mailing lists you want/need to follow.

Strictly hypothetically speaking, maybe we’d be better off doing away with “mailing list mode” as this special different-from-the-rest mode, and replacing it with an easy way to “Watch all categories”, which can be granularly changed from there. This is probably in line with what @mcwumbly has in mind for “user saved filters”.


Tracking user activity via email
(Tobias Eigen) #12

I :heart_eyes_cat: this idea in a big way. One of our biggest challenges is empowering people in the community to know when other people have read their post. They also get massively overwhelmed arriving in the forum after a few month or years of mailing list mode to discover hundreds of notifications and don’t know where to start reading.

I :heart_eyes_cat: this idea too. It would work well in my community, methinks. People who like email can turn it on via their preferences, and then over time whittle it down by unsubscribing to topics and categories. As they move along, they’d then be able to tune it further via their preferences.

Taken together, these two ideas could go a long way to solving this problem.


Tracking user activity via email
(Sam Saffron) #13

I am not against experimenting with “gifs” for tracking read state, but support is often super uneven and it will sometimes result in “false” positives which can really annoy people. (how do we account for “google cache” pre-fetch and so on?). What about mail clients that download messages and allow you to look at them offline, they have to “pre-download” images. This is worm-can 101, which is a reason we stayed away from it in the past.

I am also unsure that under ideal circumstances this goes anywhere to solve this particular problem which is:

  • I have a stream of emails from #xyz category that land in my inbox
  • I ship said stream to a folder somewhere in my outlook
  • I read all the titles for the topics, I occasionally dip in to the topics but do not read everything, I use said folder as an offline archive and search.

When you watch a category you are making a strong commitment to read every single topic in the category.

When you want a live archive that you occasionally dip in to you don’t want to “watch” the category. Unless you use “mailing list mode” your notifications are all trashed and unusable, forcing you away from ever changing workflows and using the website.

I think “watching” a category and “mailing list mode” are 2 orthogonal, unrelated features. I don’t think it is correct to try and merge them.

@mcwumbly have you considered writing a KB on your Discourse about how to write outlook/gmail rules, then they can create outlook rules to delete/keep particular categories based on title, which leaves your users with a functional mailing list mode today.


(Mittineague) #14

Just a stray thought. Might these members be better served by subscribing to RSS feeds instead of a mailing list?


(Dave McClure) #15

I agree with this, which is in line with your suggestion above:

Ultimately, I question the utility at all of being able to “watch” a category. To simplify things, maybe this option should eventually replace category watching?

This is something I should definitely try to do. I think this is what @codinghorror was getting at in his initial reply and it definitely makes sense to start here. I’ll see how it goes!


(Leo McArdle) #16

Sure, and I apologise for the length of this post - this is an issue (or, as I see it, issues) which I’ve been grappling with for quite a while. I’ve tried to split the post up into sections to make it a bit more readable:


There are a number of problems and solutions raised in this thread, but as I see it the primary problem (at least from the original post) is that, for communities coming from a Mailman background (like Mozilla, and @rhyolight’s) “mailing list mode” doesn’t make sense as a name for the feature which exists in Discourse, and is very confusing.

For those users, I could see them thinking that you need to enable that option to enable all the mailing-list-parity goodness which is in Discourse by default. We know that you don’t, but how should a user?

It would make sense as a name if a Mailman list were analogous to an entire Discourse instance, but I see Mailman lists being analogous to Discourse categories. And there’s no feature in Mailman (or any other mailing list software that I know of) which allows you to subscribe to an entire Mailman instance worth of lists, you can only subscribe to individual lists.

As @erlend_sh says, the comparible flow in Discourse is watching categories:

So, as I see it, the true mailing list mode is this:

Because it turns delivery of emails from a mere notification method (which doesn’t need to be used when you’re active on the site, because you’ll receive notifications through you browser) into a ‘true’ mailing list where the web interface becomes more of an interactive archive.


The second main problem I see in this thread is a disconnect between posts you open in your email client, and the read status of posts (and their notificaitons) in the web interface.

However, I’m not sure this is a problem which can really be solved. I’m not sure if there’s any other software out there which has solved it. As @sam has said, email tracking is a pretty messy area to get into.

Might just adding a “clear unread notifications” button go some way to solve the problem of users being overwhelmed by a huge number of notifications if they watch categories to receive emails for them?


The rest of the problems and solutions, including users being overwhelmed by notifications, seem to me to stem from an inherent problem in Discourse: it doesn’t actually support categories being akin to Mailman lists, at least not everywhere.

On Mozilla’s Discourse instance, which is where this analogy definitely is true, a number of Discourse’s features are entirely useless to me:

  • The new tab: useless
  • because I don’t care about most of the categories on it.
  • The unread tab: pretty useless
  • because watched/tracked topics will only appear in it if clicked on
  • Muting categories: useless
  • because as an admin and developer of the instance I’m scared of preventing users from pinging me wherever
  • because we’re constantly adding new categories, and muting would require user intervention every time we did this
  • Tracking categories: useless
    • because topics within still appear nowhere other than the new tab, despite me having specified that I’m especially interested in them compared to everything else

On Mozilla’s instance I shouldn’t be assumed to be interested in every topic by default, but Discourse is designed in a way that assumes I am.

The only feature useful to me, on a category level, is watching and my notifications. Everything else is filled with things I have no interest in.

Now I realise that a lot of this section is irrelevant to mailing list mode itself, but I think the problems discussed in this thread stem from the same root. I would however be very happy for the @team to rip out this section of my post, put it in a new topic and continue the conversation there, because I think it’s a very important one to have.

Bringing things back to the direct problem at hand, I think a solution might be to add a user preference to send emails for tracked categories, also fixing the bug (as I see it) of topics within tracked categories not being added to unread unless clicked on. This way the user can receive emails either for their notifications, or for their notifications and unread tab, depending on what flow suits them best.


To summarise slightly:

  • “Mailing list mode” is a bad name and causes confusion, on Discourse instances like Mozilla’s
  • The true mailing list mode on those is “mail me even if I am active on the site”
  • Might a “clear unread notifications” button solve the problem of overwhelmed users?
  • And allowing users to receive emails for tracked categories (while fixing category tracking) also solve that problem?

More granular settings for email notifications
(Tobias Eigen) #17

Ok i get that the hidden gif is not reliable and opens a can of worms unnecessarily.

Probably not, but Is it possible the answer to my question is to disable on screen notifications for anything that gets mailed out to the user with mailing list mode turned on? That way they’d only see the backlog of notifications like likes, badges etc etc when they log in. Perhaps they could also see some sort of message on screen reminding them that they have mailing list mode turned on and so are not going to get the full discourse experience.


(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #18

I agree, we should strongly consider changing this. “Mailing list” in general has become a confusing word. To many, it’s totally interchangeable with “newsletter”. In fact, the Wikipedia page on Mailing list sounds a whole lot more like a newsletter than a “mailing list [for discussion]”

One off-the-cuff suggestion: email_all_posts

Yep. It should be possible to set that as a default.

Possibly. The trick is to only show this to the users who need it. We all have our OCD traits, and a pretty common one is “clear unread”. I’m certainly prone to unnecessarily click that type of button just for an “easy fix”, but I’d much rather be forced to realise that I don’t have to. Maybe yet another power user setting is the solution? I’m not sure yet.

As long as we allow clearing of notifications, wouldn’t Watching suffice?


(Dave McClure) #19

I wonder if we just got it wrong to begin with assuming that the notification settings per-category would map cleanly to the notification settings per topic at all.

Consider, for example the “watching first post” setting.

My hypothesis is that a lot of the category-level settings are really there because it’s for users who don’t visit the site often, but do want to hear about some particular subsection of the forum.

In which case, I’d be willing to bet we could just eliminate the existing Tracking and Watching options for categories, whilst adding the “mailing list” mode per category. (regardless of what the name is).

So you’d end up still with 4 settings instead of the current 5:

  • mailing list mode / “email me every post but don’t notify me”
  • email me about the first post
  • normal
  • do not show this category in New or Latest

In addition, or perhaps as an alternative, I could see a preference (default on?) that says:

[x] clear notifications that I’ve already been emailed about

This avoids the email tracking complexity while setting clear expectations.


Tracking user activity via email
(Christoph) #20

A thought in relation to the existing notification settings (not sure if this should be a new topic…): The “muted” setting currently says: “You will never be notified of anything about this topic, and it will not appear in latest.” Since the other settings explicitly mention that “you will be notified if someone mentions your @name”, does this mean that users can turn off @mentions per topic (by muting it)? I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I’d like to be able to assume that a mention of a username will always result in the user being notified. As for indirect mentions (via mentioning a group of which the user is a member) I can see the point of turning that off but again not on a per topic basis but on a per group basis.


(Dave McClure) #21

Yeah, I think that is related to my post. Mute doesn’t really make sense for categories the same way it does for topics, IMHO. For categories, the thing I think people really want is just “do not show this category in New and Latest”

Edited my post above to reflect that…