Discord is taking aim at Discourse. How does Discourse remain unique and stand out from the crowd?

That’s a really fun idea. It’s reminiscent of textboards and imageboards where threads expire after a while. The “chat as kindling, threads as fires” thing isn’t true though; people more often splinter off into chats in order to dig deeper into a topic. Discourse admins sometimes complain about how people do the same with Facebook groups, and it’s more or less the same phenomenon. People want to filter out noise.

Thanks for the SWI-Prolog example. It looks like an ideal use of Discourse. The Discourse instance I’m currently developing is intended for both students and academics, but is primarily focused on creating a hub for researchers from various networks.

Some of us teach, and we think that using the forum as an educational tool would be a great idea, especially since Discourse permits private categories based on group membership. The group-specific moderation features seem like a perfect match for delegating control over a subcategory (namely, for the purpose of allowing a teacher to run a single, private subcategory used exclusively by one group). I’m certainly having to think hard figuring out the logistics of housing students and academics in one space.

5 Likes

The chat plugin already has settings for this. You can set a separate retention policy (in days) for messages in public channels and DM channels.

18 Likes

I have been watching for a bit and I guess I will reply now, as this is a bit interesting.

Discord is it’s own thing. I dont think they’re taking an aim at Discourse in specific, they saw that Guilded did and they want a piece of that.

Guilded is pretty much Discord but overcomplexified, and if they stayed to their core values, for gamers.


I think that Guilded actually took Discourse’s UI in a way, it looks pretty close.

Discourse is more simple, and it just kinda works. It’s easy to learn, looks good, and is open source. Discord is closed source, doesn’t look amazing without themes (which is where apps like BetterDiscord and Discord+ come in), doesn’t have plugins, and a bit complex.

Discord is also more focused on direct messaging and servers. It’s kinda similar to PMs and categories on Discoruse, although the normal user cant create categories, you can only create topics. There’s also no way to just kinda find forums, and join them. You dont see “Join my Discourse forum!!” in video descriptions, you see “Join my Discord server!!”. Discord, you have 1 account and can join 100 to 200 servers, but Discourse you need a new account for the same amount of forums.

In conclusion, Discord is where you want to go if you have 1 topic (eg a game), and want to organize it via categories and channels, with sacrificing some features.
Discourse is where you go if you have a bit of a budget for features, and you have a larger community that you want to post stuff to, and organize it under posts and replies.
Also, lately Discord has been locking features behind their Nitro. Profile banners are a fairly recent addition. Discourse lets any user add banners and user cards for free as long as it’s enabled on the site, but Discord charges you 9.99 a month for it.
Paying 9.99 a month for just this and a few other features isn’t that great…
image

Discourse is kinda better discord in my opinion. I’m still using both platforms regularly, but I much prefer Discourse over Discord any day.

12 Likes

Are there retention policies for posts and threads (cf. archive thread)? What is the reasoning behind these features?

3 Likes

You can disable the deletion of chat messages in the plugin’s settings if you wish. The reasoning is that chat is intended to be more about synchronous communication. You can use the quote feature to copy chat messages into topics for long-term storage and/or if you want to use them as a starting point for a discussion.

6 Likes

One day Discord will be forgotten like every single proprietary chat app that came before it. If you enjoy it that is fine. Discord is not driving innovation, nor does it pretend to; It is what it is.

8 Likes

That destroys the context of the chat message as well as the continuity of the reply chains between chat and forum posts. In that case, the quote feature becomes just a worse copy-and-paste.

It’s fine if it can be turned off entirely, but I think Discourse has already made the correct design choice in its current personal messaging functionality: treating messages as private threads, and treating messages as posts. Arbitrarily encouraging ephemerality alongside chat-forum cross functionalities (e.g. quoting or replying between chats and forums) is not a good idea. Expiring chats should be a highly specific feature, just like threads with post auto-deletion.

In fact, I think that Discourse chats can fill the need for user-created categories: Discourse PMs are private threads; ultimately, chat channels are no different (each Discord message is like a post, with its own URL and other post-like metadata). Discourse chats should also behave like threads and categories, with more compact UI and chat-appropriate UX. In effect, a chat should roughly be another way to compose threads and posts. How chat messages are displayed within threads might be an interesting problem to consider thereafter (perhaps they should be made more compact; perhaps a new level of message threading hierarchy should be introduced).

7 Likes

Microsoft seemed to think otherwise. They were allegedly about to offer more than $10 billion to acquire Discord, but ultimately decided against it (presumably because of the Activision Blizzard acquisition).

Investors are just as interested in Discord as Microsoft was, so it’s safe to say that Discourse should at least keep an eye on them.

5 Likes

Interesting read Are forum platforms dead?
The Hacker News comments here are worth reading as well.

13 Likes

Again — if we are talking about ordinary janes and johns, who are keeping Facebook and Instagram alive (YouTube and TikTok are for passive consuming) and don’t even own a laptop, this is the unsolved issue:

  • The eventual dominance of mobile phones makes writing and reading long-form content difficult
6 Likes

It doesn’t help that some people don’t perceive Discourse for what it is.

4 Likes

People never signed up to discord to use it as a forum, they used it to have quick chats with people, play games with each over and communicate. A vast majority of discord’s users did not sign up to have serious talks or to discuss things, discord has essentially re-branded one of their already existing features: Threads.

Discord was designed to have simple & fast discussions, this feature may just become something that is simply there and isn’t used.

For example, a discord user could type out the question: “Hey guys, bla bla?” then click "Make a thread.

However, with the discord “forums” the user has to click on create a past, click on a new text box, type in the original message, click a checkbox and click another button. This discord feature will be something that will breeze over, the discord “forums” are essentially a rebranded version of threads, simply more confusing.

3 Likes

Really a different platform all together, more like direct chat than threaded conversation in a forum/topical format. It definitely has its place today though, I think of it like IRC on steroids.

That sounds like the common Discourse / Discord mix-up.

7 Likes

We can’t underestimate such a feature though. For all we know, it could end up going the opposite of what you’ve described.

1 Like

I think perhaps a potentially misguiding factor is to take the popularity of a platform as a single measure to care about, when it doesn’t necessarily translate to quality of experience. A lot of the discussion seems to be focusing on the popularity question, but that’s not necessarily indicative of value to users. e.g. Facebook and Twitter may be popular but you would be hard-pressed to argue that they brought complete positives in terms of societal contribution.

So I guess it seems the premise is that Discourse may not be competitive in terms of popularity, with Discord taking on the forum space — which is interesting given that that Discourse has been iterating upon this field for almost the last decade anyway, and has a strong base here. Plus we haven’t gotten to try Discord’s foray into forums yet, so here it is more speculation on popularity, since it can’t yet be any substantive comparison on user experience of long-form communication between the two — what kind of features serve online communities better, and what kind of frustration points they address.

For example, Discord is a popular chat application, but I have found that the built-in features for it even as a chat platform can be pretty frustrating from a moderation end, and am surprised that more haven’t complained about it haha.

I have been admin on some Discord servers (streamer’s community, other fan communities for video game), and admin/moderator of a Discourse forum (where I was previously a user and and now am currently working). And of course participated in many other Discord servers and Discourse forums as a general user.

To me, for example, Discord’s popularity as a chat platform doesn’t translate to the best moderation / admin experience anyway. Besides some aspects mentioned with constantly having to answer questions over and over, there are also some of these that I’ve noticed that are quite specific to Discord:

  • I’ve noticed Discord servers regularly rely on third-party bots for basic moderation purposes and for other common tasks.

    • E.g. React to get roles, as a substitute for missing core functionality. One of the bot functionalities that I got asked to set up, and frequently see on a number of servers, is to use reactions (which are really designed for expressing emotions) for putting people into roles, which are used for all sorts of reasons. This is so common that many people seem to expect a default user experience of servers having third-party bots just for this, and will recommend others do the same.

      Like “react with :white_check_mark: to indicate you agreed to rules, to access the rest of the server”. Or “react with this number to get this pronoun role”. “React with this coloured circle to change the colour of your name.” “React to get notified about updates for this feature, or let people ping you for this reason”, etc. This has been going on for a very, very long while. (One lacking feature, I would say, is that there isn’t a built-in way to join roles yourself without having to have someone assign it to you.)

    • Role permissions: role permissions are too granular without helpful defaults, once you have a server set up.

      I know Discord recently added templates for starting a server. but it still stands that once you have one set up, there are still a lot of permissions you have to set manually when creating new roles. And role permissions for channels & categories can get really messy. E.g. Individual channel permissions can override permissions from their categories, or certain roles can see certain channels anyway, and so on. Then there is also how roles can manage users in roles beneath it.

Besides the fact that popularity ≠ quality of experience, Discourse being open-source does matter. In addition to aspects that people have already mentioned, like owning your community’s data, there are also a ton of more subtle aspects.

Like my cousin mentioned to me a few years back that he wished he could set custom Discord themes / colour schemes — well, you still can’t do that right now, and you certainly can’t add it yourself.

9 Likes

Sure, there are lots of issues with Discord, and Discourse is a better overall platform, better ethical foundation, etc, etc. But you can say the same about tons of failed or languishing projects, products, etc. I wish more things were truly meritocratic, but they’re not. I don’t think anyone is trying to argue that Discourse is not good, or that open source is not valuable, etc. But those things alone will not ensure long-term success, and we all want Discourse to succeed long-term!

It’s important to recognize that popularity doesn’t come from nothing, it is not for “no reason”. There are reasons, some of which may be things that CDCK/Discourse/forum admins may not want to emulate for ethical, practical (e.g. being free), or other, but some of those reasons almost certainly derive from genuine benefits the users are getting from the features, functionality, etc. of the platform. If you ignore or trivialize the legitimate reasons people use a product and the actual benefits they experience (even if you personally disagree or do not think they’re important), then you will not be able to effectively understand and succeed in a competitive market.

I think the value of this discussion, if any, is in understanding what Discord is doing right, and then considering whether any of those things can help inform the future of Discourse. I would say the integration of Chat in Discourse s one of those things that has been added, if not as a direct response to Discord, then certainly informed by its popularity and the general popularity of real time chat overall. I’d be surprised if we would have this robust chat feature in Discourse by now if Discord did not exist (and no other similarly popular platform was in its place).

So why not learn from competitors? Why focus on what’s wrong with a tool you don’t like your use, when it’s clearly well-liked by many? Everything has problems (one could point out some major issues with Discourse in a similar way, if they wanted to). There are lessons to learn there, value and insights to be gained.

8 Likes

Is Discord a competitor to Discourse? I’m not convinced that it is. I don’t say this as a slight on Discord, I use that as well.

It’s very easy to get distracted by what others are doing, so it’s important to define who is in fact a competitor and who is not.

Poor analogy time: A semi truck manufacturer is not too concerned about a new car being released. Sure, they are both modes of transport, but that’s really where the similarities end.

3 Likes

I agree that it’s still an open question, but I’ve tried to argue in this thread that Discord is, at least in part, a competitor to Discourse. I think you need to look past some of the arguably circumstantial qualities, such as that Discord is an app, or proprietary, or that it’s chat where Discourse is forum-first. And rather look at: what purposes are these tools being used for? What “Job to be done” (JTBD for short) are users and companies “hiring” these tools for?

For Discord, I would say the JTBD are more numerous, in general. It includes things like game communities, casual family chats, people who use it just for direct messaging, etc. But critically, Discord is also used for support communities in much the same way as Discourse, along with other Discourse-like special interest communities (cars, anime, whatever), etc. So they’re not the same, but there is significant overlap, and I would say that is increasingly true.

Outside of the gaming context Discord is used less by large enterprises for core community functions, and I would say that’s probably one of the largest differences, and where Discourse instead shines and has more market leadership (though Vanilla seems to be a strong competitor in that area). But that’s where we are today, and the point of this thread is that Discord seems to be taking steps toward potentially competing more directly with forum-based communities. Whether they start to provide better branding and moderation control for larger communities and enterprises is an open question, but clearly they have a lot of resources they could put toward that if they wanted to.

Meanwhile on a more anecdotal level, as a note-taking and productivity tool/personal knowledge management (PKM) enthusiast I would argue from experience that there significant overlap in these tools and potential decision or contention between them when it comes to small-medium software companies building communities for support and user interaction. Slack is in the mix there too, for some god-awful reason, but let’s set that aside for now. :smile: Many note-taking, PKM, and productivity SaaS products have Discourse forums, e.g. Obsidian, Airtable, Figma, RemNote, etc. But many of them also have very active Discords! Now imagine if Discord had been offering forum functions all along, including when each of these companies created their Discourse and Discord communities. When it came time for these companies to decide whether to implement Discourse or Discord, and why to use either or both, don’t you think Discord having built-in forum functions might influence the decision?

The original car analogy doesn’t really work well here because it’s not individual users making a decision on what “car” to buy for themselves and their personal uses. Rather it is mostly companies making a decision about what large capacity vehicle they should use to accommodate their many users. The analogy breaks down somewhat, but let’s go with it for a moment: some people want to travel quickly, i.e. airplane, others prefer slow, so they’ll take a bus. Your users might want both, so you have both in your fleet. But if there was a bus that could sprout wings and also fly when necessary, well… would you rather buy and maintain one big vehicle for your users, or multiple? :wink:

Now that Discourse has chat built-in, it’s a bus with wings! And that’s great. But Discord is also about to become one, and that’s potentially (likely) going to put pressure on Discourse…

7 Likes

Anything that’s free to host, used for online communication, and easier than starting a forum, is probably a Discourse competitor on some level. We look at competitors quite often whether they’re in an adjacent space (Slack, Discord, Facebook Groups, etc) or directly competing (Khoros, Vanilla, etc). Every competitor has some stuff we won’t do, and some things we should.

Realistically, Discord probably doesn’t care all that much about us. I’m sure they’ve seen Discourse forums and have done some research with their beta forum features… but they have nearly ten times more staff than us. We’re tiny little ants comparitively (though I think we’ve got some of that extra ant strength :ant: :muscle: ).

Big brands with community presence tend to move wherever people go. They’ve got subreddits, Discord servers, TikTok accounts, you name it. That won’t change; maybe Discord eats into traditional forums with a forum feature or erodes the forum concept by filling the world with chat, but I think there’s a space in there for Discourse either way — there’s a lot you can’t do on someone else’s software service. You couldn’t pay Discord to build new features if you wanted to, and outside of their bot integrations customization is fairly limited… I don’t think that’s changing any time soon, and that’s a big part of our business.

32 Likes

In some instances, users are more attracted to the “chat” side of things and it ends up cannibalizing the forum.

5 Likes