Difference between Reddit and Discourse

This is a question that has popped up in recent conversation between myself and a friend of mine.

Personally, I am a big forum user. I love forums, and its easy to see the difference between the quality of discussion in a forum and the quality of discussion in reddit and similar sites (google plue posts, facebook comments, disqus).

However, for people who don’t use forums often, it’s very hard to convince them why a forum is different.

My question, to some of the smartest guys in the biz, is, what is the point of a message board in the day and age of reddit. Why would people want to use a forum when they can get ‘similar’ (albeit weaker) functionality in comment heavy sites.

Please formulate my thoughts where I can’t. I know message boards offer more interesting discussions, a better platform, and community, but is there more? Is there something im missing? What are your views?


Better features, much better design, and no fear of being neg-raped when posting. Also, reddit’s got the whole “omg wrong subforum(subreddit)” thing going on, while Discourse forums don’t really care that much.

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Reddit isn’t really about conversational paragraphs. Reddit is a race to the shortest, funniest response or image.

There are some sub-reddits which are moderated heavily and do better in this regard, but any software can be whipped into some semblance of shape with extreme discipline.

Reddit, as it is built, is best at this:

That “conversation” was the first non-image post from the homepage as I write this:


Comments threads are dramatically more fragmented and ephemeral.

I recently had the “pleasure” in participating in a comment thread that had over 400 comments and lasted over the course of a month. I wish I could put everyone who likes threaded conversation through that experience.

Comments threads are meant to be read exactly one time, probably right around the time of creation, and probably not in their entirety. A good forum thread is meant to be read start to finish, in order, taking in everything.


Oh, nice. A threaded discussion that doesn’t allow collapsing…

Threading is kind of a disaster anyway, but threading without collapsing, as in the example you just provided, is just plain cruel.


What I don’t understand is why ‘flat with replies’ comment systems don’t have collapsing either. I mean, I can expand a post here on discourse and see its replies, only to see the same things again 2 seconds later when I scroll to its position in the main feed.

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True, and we are looking at that, but simply scrolling down is a hell of a lot easier than asking someone to click on a tiny collapsing click target every 30 seconds.

Particularly when the logic is:

  • This thread of the conversation sucks
  • I want to hide it so I can see others
  • I must now click it

Think about what that teaches the community – every time you see something you dislike, you must click on it. Incredibly negative.

Here’s a crazy idea: how about we design a system that teaches people to click on stuff they like, instead?

Scrolling down is easy and extremely natural bordering on effortless, particularly on touchscreen devices. Demanding that everyone tap on tiny targets to tell us they dislike something is a grating negative design and a giant, neverending set of busywork for the community.


I agree completely: the question is one of readability and frustration. Despite the negative response twitter got from the blue lines it’s purpose is noble: make reading twitter conversations less repetitive. Time and time again I’ve read and reread twitter posts because the format spews context all over the page, and it makes me mad and not want to do it. I learned not to click on the things I liked because I didn’t want to wade through a sea of repeating context again and again.

I think the answer is very simple and very classic mac finder-esque: comments only ever exist on one place on the page, period. When I click the ‘view conversation’ thing in twitter or the ‘see replies’ in discourse, all posts that would also appear later in the feed are now hidden in the feed and displayed in the context of the conversation. That way when I scroll down, I don’t have to see them again. The ‘undo expand’ button would of course reverse this.

I want to make clear that in no way am I defending threaded conversations. Far from it: I think that they are terrible. What I am saying is that the classic weakness of forums is the ungodly amount of context they spew all over the page that makes reading them laborious and repetitive. A first rate forum of the future needs to address this problem head on, without compromising what makes flat forums great.

The only thing I like very much about reddit is the ability to create subreddits(even if you are a newcomer) and the mechanism that prevents front page to be flooded with the topics from one very active subreddit. Other than this, Discourse owns/will own reddit in every possible way.

I don’t view Discourse as competing with Reddit in any way. They are very different things.


I think the current way things work is still pretty damn good. I personally don’t mind seeing the post again because you get a sense of when it was said that way and as mentioned, its pretty easy to just keep scrolling…

But this is an interesting idea. Solving this problem well is easier said than done though.

At least the ‘undo expand’ button would have to also live in the place where those posts would appear chronologically. I think losing that information would be a mistake and replies immediately below them may reference them.

The brilliant.org nesting has UI problems. Some “hide” or “collapse” buttons would work wonders. As would some nice subtle tree-diagram lines on the left. Don’t blame their thread problems on commenting.

The reason why I like forums a lot more than reddit (and why I don’t think they really compete) is that upvoting is actually an extremely flawed mechanic for fostering discussion. Not just that it breaks chronology, but because the easiest thing to consume is also the easiest thing to up vote. That reason among many is why reddit ‘conversations’ devolve into the crap that Jeff posted earlier.

Positive feedback is important, but not if it destroys the incentives for making in-depth conversation.


I agree that Brilliant’s threading is an imperfect implementation; however, I think it’s interesting because I think the worst problems with their UI are just exaggerated versions of inherent problems with threading.

Take my remark that threads are meant to be read exactly once and not to conduct a month-long discussion. For some background, the top-voted comment is by me, about a github repo I started relevant to the subject of the thread. The thread itself was also about a competition which I participated in. As a result I had a particular interest in at least scanning all new replies. Have you ever tried reading a threaded discussion and then coming back to it? (reading only direct replies to you does not count) It’s awful. You basically have to look at every single post to find the new ones. It’s actually impossible to come up with something worse. I guess you could maybe argue for a software that auto-collapses all threads that contain no new replies so you can just read the expanded threads on new visits, but I’ve never seen a forum that does that because the very sites that would see the need for such a feature aren’t using threaded discussion at all. Another alternative is just including an email subscription system that includes the text of new comments with the email, but this is essentially admitting the UI is broken by allowing me to not use it.


Couldn’t agree more. ‘New stuff appears at the top|bottom’ should be the mantra for all discussion software.

The thing is Reddit and the like are meant to be read exactly once. Very few people on Reddit view the comments at all, and those who do regard them as an extension of the front page: a bunch of short, mildly amusing quips and memes to be quickly consumed and then discarded.


Right. I used to think threading and downvotes just suck, but then I realized that they are good at certain things that don’t appeal to me. Reddit is succeeding at what it set out to do. Its model is not correct for every website. I have similar sentiments about Tumblr and blogging.

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the entire idea of coming back to a threaded discussion and reading all of the new replies is inherently flawed. think of every comment as a new thread, and every reply as a new subthread. You don’t read every new thread in the forum, do you?

the entire idea of coming back to a threaded discussion and reading all of the new replies is inherently flawed

Yes, doing things in a UI that sucks at letting you do those things is inherently flawed. Glad you agree.

think of every comment as a new thread, and every reply as a new subthread

Ok, let’s do that:

  • Forums tell me which threads have replies I haven’t read. Threaded discussions are a big blob which includes read and unread threads and that I have to pore over myself.
  • Forums start with the threads auto-“collapsed” and with helpful subject lines so I can try to judge which ones I would want to read without reading them.
  • Forums include information like “last poster” and “date of last reply” in tabular form so I can scan such metadata quickly instead of having it jumbled in with the posts themselves.
  • Forums give me a hard cutoff after which I can be sure there are no posts before X date I’m missing. Threaded discussions never let you do that.

shuffles a bit, shifts eyes Uh, of course not? What kinda forum-junkie loser would do that?

I think a better analogy is trying to keep track of all conversational threads at a crowded party at once.

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