Difference between Reddit and Discourse

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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This isn’t an argument for threading. It’s an argument against threading. In a flat forum, I can scroll to the last post I’ve already read (or, more realistically, click a “last unread post” button) and see a list of all newer posts. In a threaded discussion, the reply is in a random spot on the page, probably surrounded by material I’ve already seen.

And this is one reason I’m interested to see if Discourse’s “Reply as New Topic” takes off; it seems to be an attempt to claim one of the upsides of threading and apply it to a flat model.

(and this thread is how I learned Discourse supports replying to multiple posts at once, though it’s not as usable as I’d like)

I think we have very different use cases for forums. 90% of my interaction with forums involves threads that I will never read in their entirety. I will, however, find something in the middle of the thread that I want to read replies to, without having to wade through a hundred unrelated comments. This is why I love threading, because I never have to look at all of those comments that I’ve already decided I’m not interested in (by hiding their parent or grandparent last time I visited the thread).

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I think if you go back and look at my first two posts you’ll find that I agree threading and vote systems are optimal for that particular use-case. Again, I am pretty anti-threading but I can’t criticize Reddit and Hacker News and even Disqus for having those things given what they’re trying to do.

The problem, and the reason I’m so belligerent about this, is that there is clearly a substantial contingent of programmers and decision makers that don’t seem to understand this. Recently there was a blog post that made the front page of HN about why Facebook needs anonymity. I think a snide but accurate summary would be “I don’t understand Facebook and I haven’t talked to anyone who likes Facebook but I think Facebook should be Reddit.”

I have yet to see anyone say, “I think threaded conversations are good for my use-case so I’m using it.” I have seen plenty of people who effectively say “I’m using threading because I like Reddit and I think every site should be Reddit.” (10 years ago, you could replace “Reddit” with “Slashdot”) I am very wary of the opinions of people who think Reddit is a social network or even a forum. It’s a content aggregator with loosely moderated comment sections. It’s also something I’m not even slightly interested in.

This is also kind of a sore spot for me right now as I’m kind of a MOOC junkie and I recently came to the realization that most of the problems with MOOC forums can be explained by the assumption that their designers are badly mimicking Stack Exchange*. I’ve actually got thousands of pent-up words on this subject that I plan to send to the relevant parties after I’ve edited it down to something reasonable.

* Udacity is actually expertly mimicking Stack Exhange, which works for their model

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Having said all that, threading fails the specific scenario you gave for your use case 1-1/N of the time, where N is the number of people the reply was directed to.

You are also notified anytime someone quotes you. If you quote 5 people in a post, they will all be notified.

Sure, which is why in Discourse you can expand Replies at the bottom, and In-Reply-To at the top. The post brings the necessary context with it, just click to expand and see it.

@sparr may also be interested in “best of” mode, or filtering the topic to just certain participants, which you can do via the topic map:

Best of only appears for larger topics, but any topic can be filtered to just certain participants by clicking there. Try it out and see what you think.


If you read further up this particular subthread (which this is a great time to point out would be a lot easier in a threaded format) you will see that we are discussing a comment that is conceptually a reply to two different comments, and @simonlmn is even suggesting not replying directly to either of them.

I actually think that will become a common and annoying trend with Discourse, because it’s what Facebook has trained people to do. Many people will never click “Reply” on a comment; they will instead start a reply at the bottom of the thread with “@username”. To @username this works almost as well, but to everyone else functionality is lost.

PS: maybe some interface could be added so that this kind of mis-reply will be recognized and linked sometimes-correctly?

It doesn’t make much sense to reply to some post in particular if you want to answer two or more posts and thus merging the two separate discussion ‘threads’. In those cases it is really better to make a topic reply and mention the people involved and/or (even better) put a quote of each post you are replying to in your post, just as @codinghorror did.

You can then click on that little arrow in the upper right corder of the quote (you have to hover over it) to get to the quoted post and the quoted post will have a “x Replies” button at the bottom which will show all posts which either “directly” replied to it or quoted some part of it. So if you want to read all replies to a post, just click that “x Replies” button.

But again, in my experience with online communities, the vast majority of discussions do not follow the strict threaded, tree-like model (or any particular model), so I think trying to fully model those kind of links between posts (who is replying to whom) isn’t that helpful.


Making an @mention autoreply to the last post by that user might make keeping track of subthreads easier. It also might make sense to make it so that clicking a mentioned username jumps to the most recent post by that user instead of their profile (if I wanted their profile, I’ve now jumped to one of their posts so I can click on their username from there)