Discourse for me... 6 weeks in


#1

I thought about whether this should go in the Praise category but it’s not all praise so I guess it doesn’t belong there.

I migrated my forum from XenForo 6 weeks ago. The migration itself was done by the Discourse team and was done superbly. They couldn’t have been more helpful in organising it and in re-running some parts of it because of unexpected issues.

Anyway, I just thought it would be useful to post up some of the feedback I’ve had so far from the switch.

I won’t be able to say this often enough without boring everyone so I’ll just say it once at the start: this might all read like criticism. It’s not intended that way. I wouldn’t have switched if I didn’t hugely prefer Discourse. I don’t regret switching, I’m getting very positive engagement and I’m still new enough on Discourse that there is still plenty of learning for me and our members to go through. I’m conscious of the expected migration experience. I just think it’s more useful for me to mention a few of the more “controversial” experiences post-migration as feedback. I’m conscious that most of these things will have been heard before, and much can be disregarded but in my mind it’s useful to share it anyway.

Overall Reactions

I think it’s fair to say that overall reactions have been mixed. Most people are either positive about the move or largely indifferent to it. Nearly everyone has had an opinion. I expected a bit of reaction alright because it’s a reasonably radical change but I didn’t think as many members would want to articulate their views, whether positive or negative.

There are a few members who absolutely hate it. Some/most of them are what might be termed “troublesome” members. I have plenty of those, in fact that’s a large part of my site for historic reasons.

Of more concern might be the small number of less troublesome members who haven’t been as vociferous in their objections but have drifted away. I’ll try and explain why below.

Pagination

After the switch this was the focus of most reactions. There were those who had objections to the lack of pages - we have some really really long topics that probably exaggerates the impact of this change.

After a couple of weeks most/all of the negative reactions to pagination have disappeared. I think nearly everyone now sees the lack of pages as either a positive or a neutral change. The one remaining issue is that some users used to like to randomly click on Page 417 or whatever in the list of topics and start reading there for some reason. That’s not as easy to do now but I can’t figure out why anyone would really want to do that.

Quoting

This was the second big “controversy” and has remained a bit more controversial. There is a lower acceptance for the default behaviour that we don’t include quotes automatically when you’re replying to a post.

The quote button in the editor has helped with this problem in desktop but the alternative of highlighting and quoting on mobile hasn’t been popular due to various browser glitches, the effort involved etc.

The nesting of quotes is also something that became quite garish. On migrating from XF we still have behaviour that involves a lot of quoting - more than you might see on here for example. That leads to a lot of nested quotes. On XF we only saw the last quote and if that was longer than a certain number of lines it gets hidden with a Click to expand link. I tried some really ugly CSS to suppress everything other than the last quote which unfortunately breaks quotes when there are multiple paragraphs. I still prefer that to the alternative of seeing 3 tiers of nested quotes in one response which really distracts from the new content.

I understand all the logic for not quoting automatically to let the reading flow etc but I think the XF behaviour of showing the quote but clipping it to a max length is a nice alternative and might be a nice option to have.

Anyway, again the initial heated reaction to this has died down a bit but it’s probably lingering as a bit of a gripe for some members, unlike pagination which is widely accepted as better now.

Mobile

I think this is the biggest issue. It probably materialised third in terms of complaints after the migration but it’s staying around the longest. There are plenty of issues of posters not being able to cancel draft posts, not being able to quote posts, having cursor jumping issues, having the background reloading when they’re trying to write a response etc.

I’m not saying these are all flaws - some of them are caused by user behaviour, some by older browsers etc etc. But there are enough of these issues occurring to be frustrating. And my own mobile experience (on a Windows Phone) is less than perfect. This isn’t unique to Discourse of course, but to me anyway, it’s the biggest deficiency/gap to Discourse looking like the future.

I should point out that we used Tapatalk and had our own branded Tapaptalk app on our old software so the change isn’t just from one platform to another but from a combination of an app and a responsive website to just a responsive website.

Smaller points

There are obviously plenty of little things that members have issues with which I may as well mention here too.

  1. Post ratings: we used to have a plugin on XF to rate posts across 10 criteria (Like/Agree/Dislike/Old/ etc). The change to just Like was unpopular. Again, I think most people have adapted easily to the new system and actually post a response, instead of just marking a post as Disagree.

  2. Suggested topics: For reasons I can’t fathom, nearly everybody hated the Suggested Topics box. It was simple to switch off of course. No lesson to be learned here - just don’t understand why it met with such universal hatred.

  3. Tracking topics/notifications etc: Lots of little comments around unread behaviour, the blue numbers etc that were all over the place after the migration but now that everyone has learned how to use it, those complaints have all gone away.

And, just for balance, here are the things that have been most positively received:

  1. The live updates of the topic list and of topics themselves. We get a high number of posts during football matches taking place. Staying on the one page and never having to navigate to a new page number or refresh the page to stay in a 90 minute conversation is frankly nearly worth the move alone.

  2. The latest view. We only ever had one “forum” with all our content because I hated segregating content. We used to try and use prefixes and other hack type things to get that one forum to make sense to different people but the structure of Latest posts with New/Unread/Categories makes so much sense.

  3. The editor and live preview. I thought this would be something I liked and others hated, coming from BBCode. It’s not the case at all. Not a single complaint about it. Only issue is mobile where we don’t have the toolbar. A full-screen mobile editor that has been mentioned a few times might solve that.

  4. Just the general slickness: the user mentions, the seamless navigation to last post, the clean look: they all point to a modern looking forum. It just makes people quickly realise that they’re on something modern and shiny and with a different but new thought process behind it.


(Jeff Atwood) #2

Excellent feedback!

Do you still keep most discussion in a few mega-topics with 20k or 40k+ posts? That was one thing we noticed about your site.

I wanted to mention that allowing a lot of mega-chat topics is not a great idea as we currently (unfortunately) send down a list of all post IDs which will eventually become crippling particularly on mobile. It is something we hope to improve soon maybe in 1.4 or 1.5, but in the meantime I would shut down mega-chat-topics at 10k posts as a safety measure.

To me this kind of stuff highlights the need for explicit chat support.

I should also mention @sam wants to move to a full screen editor on mobile which will fix a few pernicious issues with posting from mobile, which are currently unfixable without crazy hacks due to quirks of Mobile Safari in iOS 8. That should happen in 1.4.

As for change causing some users to drift away, that does happen. The thing to look at is whether you also start gaining new members, a site without an influx of new users is effectively dead. In our experience Discourse does tend to attract new users because it is easier to use and understand, has modern amenities, etc.


(Dave McClure) #3

The best work-around for this is to use the progress bar:

But also, once you hit 5 digits of posts, that feature is a little crippled because it doesn’t show the total number of posts

So, what @codinghorror said about closing topics at 10,000 posts makes sense for mitigating that too.


#4

[quote=“codinghorror, post:2, topic:31900, full:true”]
Excellent feedback!

Do you still keep most discussion in a few mega-topics with 20k or 40k+ posts? That was one thing we noticed about your site.

I wanted to mention that allowing a lot of mega-chat topics is not a great idea as we currently (unfortunately) send down a list of all post IDs which will eventually become crippling particularly on mobile. It is something we hope to improve soon maybe in 1.4 or 1.5, but in the meantime I would shut down mega-chat-topics at 10k posts as a safety measure.[/quote]

Yeah, we still have those really long topics. I’ve been reluctant or lazy to change it just after the move because I didn’t want to confuse changes in posting styles with software features/limitations. So I do want to change to creating more topics and splitting posts off to new topics but I’ve been letting people get to grips with the other changes first.

I have been meaning to at least start changing the behaviour myself first by using more Reply As Linked Topic responses but I haven’t been disciplined about doing that yet. I think before I start changing behaviour I can at least just split topics after 10k posts if it improves performance.

[quote=“codinghorror, post:2, topic:31900, full:true”]
I should also mention @sam wants to move to a full screen editor on mobile which will fix a few pernicious issues with posting from mobile, which are currently unfixable without crazy hacks due to quirks of Mobile Safari in iOS 8. That should happen in 1.4.[/quote]

I saw a few references to that alright. That would certainly solve plenty of problems.

Absolutely. I don’t think we’ve seen an alarming number of people drifting away. A lot of our members actually came over from another site that has since closed which had over-zealous and had inconsistent and poor moderating. That brought with it a few odd characters. Some of those have left and there’s no harm in that.

There are a handful of more “homegrown” members who have been more reluctant to post on the new software. None of them have thrown their toys out of the pram or anything and I imagine some might come back, some might be leaving for reasons completely independent of the move, and some will naturally drift away. For a forum that has over 1 million posts we used to average about 1 new member a month for the last year or so. That’s a rather strange and unsustainable situation. It’s hard to gauge how that has changed since the migration. I certainly have more new members, though I suspect some are people who re-registered with new usernames because of expired email addresses etc.


#5

The specific problem is for users who want to do it on the main Latest page, not in a topic itself. So they don’t have a progress bar there. It’s a curious use case though, I can’t see much logic in it.


(Geoff Forster) #6

You don’t mention trust levels.
Was there less fighting?
More pleasant discourse than before?
Moderation? How did you find using Discourse from a forum admin’s point of view?

Thanks if you have time.


#7

Not much impact from trust levels to be fair.

We’re getting flagged posts - more than on our old instance where nobody really bothered reporting anything. But everyone started off at TL1 (apart from a handful of members) after the migration so we don’t have much of a trust level hierarchy yet but that’s beginning to change. So there is the same amount of fighting before but a bit more flagging and consequently a bit more moderation in response.

I can’t say there’s been much of a behaviour difference. As I sort of mentioned earlier, I’ve been reluctant (probably wrongly) to change too much about behaviour because I didn’t want to cause too much confusion between new/different features and new/different rules and behaviour. So I think I need to start enforcing that a bit more now and having more active moderation. We’ve always had a very light-touch moderation and that’s not going to drastically change but would be very good to get some help from TL4 users and also to at least tidy up posting styles such as going off-topic etc as opposed to flaming which is really a fairly integral part of my community at this stage.

On XenForo the permissions are very complex. There are different types of rules (Yes/No/Not Set (i.e inherited), lots of groups and permissions for nearly everything I could think of. And I thought that the more simplistic looking permissions matrix here would be a limitation but it’s not at all. It’s just easier to understand and easier to implement which ultimately makes it more effective.

I’d be reluctant to place too much trust in my experience with moderation and trust levels because of all the hostility and flaming on my forum but I think I have scope to improve things now, and that wasn’t really possible before now.


(Jongnam Lee) #8

I am building a k-pop fan page using Discourse, and this is what fanatics likes; going back to previous 150 pages and start reading over. Just curious; does Discourse has a plan to introduce the progress bar feature to the main topics page?


(Kane York) #9

I think I would be more interested in a feature that showed us “This is what your community looked like last year”.


(Markus) #10

Definitely much better than before :wink:

You guys did a great job with Discoure. The whole concept and user base support is excellent. :heart:


(Alessio Fattorini) #11

Great post, really interesting for me. Thanks for sharing!!


#12

Thank you for sharing your feedback. It was beneficial for me.