Difference between Reddit and Discourse

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.

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.

And if you apply @TheChadMiller’s succinct argument to that:

  • In a Threaded Conversation party, you’d have to walk up to every single group of people and start listening in on their conversation for a while before you could figure out if it’s a discussion you wanted to participate in.
  • In a Forum party, every group of people would have a nice “Topic title” floating above their heads, giving you an immediate idea of what they’re talking about, enabling you to easily steer away from the discussions that don’t interest you.

(something weird is going on with markdown lists)


FWIW if that Brilliant thread were a Discourse subforum I would have read every single post. That’s like 100 posts/week, hardly a massive load unless you’re actively held back by the deficiencies of threading.

I mean I am not asking for the moon when I ask for a better UI for persistent conversation than threads give me; I’m just asking for stuff I’ve had since 2000 or so.

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The biggest flaw of the threaded model is that it doesn’t actually model typical discussions/conversations that well. Every time when I have to use a threaded system, I am forced to reply to one post/person in particular and simply cannot reply to several people or the “general” discussion. For example, when two people reply to me, and basically say/ask the same thing, I cannot answer them both, I just have to reply to each of them individually (or reply to only one and hope the other one sees that or make some “redirect” post).

This is not a UI problem, the threaded model just assumes a strict tree-like structure and does not allow conversations to merge again (which happens fairly often in my experience). This feels totally unnatural and makes following and participating in a discussion really hard, especially when I post a new topic, where I probably want to reply to every/most posts.


if two people in a discourse thread ask you the same question, which one will you reply to?

Both! You just @mention each user and answer the topic at hand, because the topic has priority over the people.

If two people in a Reddit thread ask you the same question, would you reply to both? And would it be one generic answer or two personalized ones?


You can /u/mention people on reddit, too. The question is not who you mention, but who you Reply to. That is, who will your comment be “in reply to”?

This question is only really relevant in a threaded model, as it determines where your post will show up. In a flat model like Discourse has it, it becomes a rather minor issue… it doesn’t matter if I reply to you or the general topic, my post will show up at the bottom of the discussion and, if I mention you and/or you are following this discussion, you will notice it. So it’s more a question of whom do I primarily want to read that post. If uncertain, I’d just make it a topic reply, but I can’t really make the wrong choice here.

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On Discourse it determines where it shows up, too, when using the “N Replies” dropdown on one of the two previous posts. Remember, Discourse IS threaded, it just displays flat (which is an option on Slashdot and VBulletin, as well).

Like @simonlmn said, it doesn’t really matter. It’s easy enough to reply to the general topic and mention people. Something like this is really trivial.

And when I, a third party, read either of the previous posts and want to know if anyone replied (or answered the question, or whatever), I’ll be left wondering, because your post at the bottom of the flat thread in reply to neither of them will not be notable to me.

You are notified of @mentions and direct replies in a topic unless you have it muted, so yes it will be notable to you.

Edit: I see what you mean, a third party would have to go through the topic.

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Well, if someone directly replies to you or one of your posts, he/she will either use the reply button on that post or will mention your name, so you won’t miss it. The nice thing about a flat model (with optional/mostly invisible reply threads, as Discourse uses) is that even if no one mentions you or replies to you, you will be able to follow the discussion as it moves along, as everything will be chronologically appended (and if you are “tracking/watching” the topic, Discourse will notify you of every new post).

Of course a flat model can have its downsides, especially if the style of “discussion” is meant to quickly diverge into many different sub-discussions (like Reddit). But my impression is that most discussions are not of that kind and rather benefit from the “forced” linearity in a flat model.

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