As maintainer of TLP this has nagged me too. I trust you saw we support excerpts and thumbnail previews?
The one major feature that is missing is presenting the post feed immediately below the topic preview without having to change route, “in context” as you say. I’ve not experimented with that idea yet because there have been so many other features to implement and improve, but it’s something I’d like to get to.
I appreciate it’s one of the reasons some people are put off when considering moving from Facebook Groups to Discourse - the immediacy of the former (the other major one being consolidated notifications from all their feeds - though this is somewhat mitigated by Discourse Hub but there isnt a Discourse site for every Facebook Group). However there are still countless reasons for doing so in any case.
I’ve noticed that people at discourse seem to take almost a moral stance against social network-like features, and I’ve been reading and researching to try to understand this better.
What’s wrong with just sharing something that you want others to celebrate and react to? Why would discourse not consider supporting such a functionality like an activity feed? The endless scroll activity feed is what leads to so much success with Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.
I guess the idea is that discourse is meant for serious discussions and answering difficult questions, and not for celebrating accomplishments. For instance, in my company’s Facebook group, the most popular post is people passing their exam and sharing the photo.
I’m really glad this topic was bumped. For a while now, I’ve wanted to create a social media platform built upon Discourse with a couple of other folks (if possible).
There simply isn’t a software platform out there as powerful and efficient as Discourse is. For example, each and every Mastadon instance is mostly just a carbon copy of each other. On the other hand, that’s the complete opposite to Discourse, which is versatile and extremely customizable.
For now, this #theme is the closest thing you’ll get to a social media environment.
It not only provides a more immediate, image-lead topic list layout with excerpts (which is responsive so can be limited to one column on mobile or if you use sidebars with e.g. the Custom Layouts Plugin) but also has a “Portfolio” feature which essentially renders a User Wall so common in social media. This is linked on each users card via a button below the Message button.
If you install the complimentary plugin (“theme sidecar”) you get functioning like and bookmark buttons on the Topic List.
@Decorbuz and @merefield thanks for extra input. It reminds me again why I chose Discourse in the first place - the flexibility, power, great UX out of the box, and open source.
This gives me some great next steps to get my community where I want it to be, especially given that location is so important in ham radio because on VHF/UHF frequencies, you can only transmit so far. So I’m thinking using some location plugins and helping ham radio operators locate other users near them would be really, really great.
Then for the more celebratory aspects / share an accomplishment aspects, I just need some reorganization with a specific topic to create a more real time feed feel.
I recently spent a couple of days digging into the currently available alternative/self-host social media platforms, Mastodon (too much like Twitter IMO), Diaspora, Friendica, and a few others. Mastodon was the most mature, but again too Twitter-like. There is nothing that is as polished and functional as Discourse is in terms of the core experience, flexibility, etc, as far as I have seen. And so to me it actually makes perfect sense to want to use Discourse for social media-esque purposes, and I too find it odd and rather frustrating that there seems to be a persistent dislike for that kind of engagement or “model” here in Meta, and among the CDCK team to some degree.
Here’s the thing: forums were never an inherently “civil” form of discussion. They are arguably more biased towards long form, but that is not inherently civil. CDCK made great effort to make them “civil”, and promote good interactions, even if they’re “just” a Like/Heart. If the view of CDCK is that social media interactions have some negative aspects, why not try to fix that with clever design, features, functionality, etc. and make the space better like was done with forums? In the end these are just different styles of interaction and potential types of “civil discourse”.
I think it’s a mistake to simply write-off an entirely, extremely popular method of interaction just because it tends to have some downsides. There are also wonderful things that happen in social media, amazing things that, in my experience, happen less in Discourse because of some of its design decisions. If expanding the model to encompass social media-like options (e.g. mainly a “feed”-style view) would fundamentally disadvantage or hurt the baseline forum model that Discourse currently uses, then OK, that should be the focus and such expansion should be avoided. But I don’t think that’s actually the case.
I definitely respect a healthy level if disagreement & discussion here, but I’m not sure you are being very fair in your assessment of Discourse’s take on integrating elements of social media into the platform.
I don’t think any of us doubt wonderful things can happen in social media, but I think this conversation would benefit from specific examples of awesome things not happening on discourse because of a design hinderance on our part.
The traditional “feed”, where the activity of random “friends” you may follow are pushed to you based on an algorithm’s decision of how “engaging” that content may be for you is not something I believe would enhance discussion on a forum.
Also, I think most of us now know that the “feed” has been purposefully designed to hijack attention, and keep users engaged on a surface level to spend more time on a platform. Is that what we want to emulate?
Some other questions in regard to a traditional feed:
Would the algorithm pick individual replies from a topic and surface them out of context to me?
Would this be beneficial to a conversation if one reply from a conversation I am not apart of is surfaced to me?
Would the algorithm suggest topics it thinks I may be interested in? (we do this with suggested topics at the bottom of a post feed.)
Sure, that’s fair. So a big one for me is something that has already been mentioned in this topic:
Essentially, the short (perhaps even text-less), but nonetheless compelling, emotional, and deserving-of-interaction type of content. Yes, that could happen in Discourse today, but there are several barriers to it happening naturally. Having an entire topic for it seems a bit overkill, for one thing (I recognize that this starts to suggest bigger changes to how Discourse works, I’m just pointing out some of the barriers that come to mind, setting aside how solvable they are as-yet). And then, what category would such content naturally go into in a typical forum? Would people be likely to browse a category that was dedicated to such topics? Even when they do, and even with a Topic Previews customization installed, they cannot view the images full-size without clicking-in, and they cannot react (like) without doing so either. This makes it more laborious for them to view and interact with these kinds of topics and thus decreases likelihood that they will do so. This higher friction essentially lowers the frequency of interaction, thus making the topics less popular, and thus likely disincentivizing people from posting them in a Discourse forum. Self-reinforcing negative feedback loop.
I would say, too, that an entire category of that kind of content is actually not of great interest to me either! This gets at a fundamental part of what is unique about social media feeds, I think. It’s less about Admin-driven categorization and structure, and more about user-oriented representation of content. And I think it’s critical to make clear that I believe that type of “shallower” content should not dominate any such theoretical feed, in general, but that intermixing it with other “deeper” content is potentially to the benefit of both types of post. Personally I am more likely to be excited about such topics if I see a couple of them interspersed with other things that I want to engage more deeply with, and conversely my brain also gets a bit tired of super in-depth discussion and/or reading consecutively, and a break of a sort with more “breezy” content would be welcome. My social media experience is sort of like that, except it’s compromised by A: the lack of control of what shows up in my feed, and B: the general orientation of social media content overall toward shallower engagement. The latter is a platform issue that I think Discourse might be able to solve while also better servicing that "shallower’ content.
Now, maybe one would argue that the “shallow” content isn’t “appropriate” for a typical Discourse forum. But hopefully you can agree that it, and many other types of related “shallow” (as-in depth of content and typical depth of interaction) content are very worthwhile, and worth promoting in the world. They make people on both sides of the interaction feel good. And the easier you make such “shallow” engagement, the more likely deeper engagement will also happen, either there, or elsewhere. If people more or less have to go elsewhere to get interaction on their small victories in life, they will do so, and be engaging on forums less. I, for example, was researching social media platforms because I wanted to set one up for my friends, since many have abandoned Facebook in recent years, and I miss the fun photo sharing and little commenting we used to do. But I didn’t find a single other platform that I thought they would actually want to use long-term, i.e. that would be “sticky”, and that includes Discourse. One of the reasons for that was indeed lack of a “feed” view and that quicker, easier type of engagement in Discourse (there are admittedly other issues for Discourse’s use in this context, but many can be gotten around).
So those are just some top-of-mind thoughts. If you want to do a deeper dive into the potential for Discourse’s use in a healthier social media-like context and the market potential for that, feel free to hire me, I’m a consultant. To be clear, I’m happy to provide a reasonable amount of feedback and ideas here (as I hopefully already do), this is more just about how much time it takes me to give thorough and thoughtful replies to deeper topics like this.
I agree, and I don’t think anyone is suggesting that (are they?), nor am I even sure how that would be possible since Discourse works fundamentally differently from most social media in that the vast majority of Discourse forums are interest-based, more equivalent to e.g. individual Facebook groups than to Facebook as a whole. And “following” is basically a plugin and not native to Discourse anyway.
The “feed” would be more like “stuff you actively subscribe to”, at least as a first pass, and maybe optionally mix-in e.g. “related topics/suggested topics” (which Discourse already has logic/features for). So it could be more like a more personally-tailored “Top/Latest” view, really. It’d be great if long-term there was some “Follow” function that could also mix-in content from people you follow, I guess, but that could probably just become an aspect of the follow plugin that I think already exists.
That’s true, but is it every aspect of the feed that creates this? I would argue absolutely not. So then it becomes a more useful question of: which elements of the “feed” are useful/positive, which are negative, which may be closer to neutral, and which might we want to adopt? If some of the ones we are interested in adopting have negative aspects, what can we do to fix them?
For me personally, there are a couple of things I like about feed views. One of the biggest is actually surfacing entire pieces of (short) content and allowing direct interaction with them from a single screen. This makes the experience feel smoother and, yes, promotes quicker (but not necessarily less valuable) interaction, to some degree. I elaborated on some aspects of this above already. Another aspect is being shown novel but also likely interesting/relevant content based on simple signals like “Someone I follow made a highly-liked post that I haven’t seen yet” or “There is a new Tag being used frequently in topics that also have one or more Tags I already follow”, that kind of thing.
Good question. I don’t think so, and in fact neither does the classic example of the social media feed on Facebook either. Twitter sorta does this, which is one thing I arguably dislike about it. But Facebook does not, and I think it’s a better, more intuitive model, and more compatible with the long-form type of content Discourse tends towards.
Yes, quite possibly! Though would I’d really love to see is customization for the feed. I think that’s something that Facebook sorely lacks, in good part because they have a financial incentive not to offer such customization. They want control of what users see. Discourse in general wants users (or at least Admins) in control, and empowering users is definitely a core principle, with Trust Levels, etc. So I think some simple but useful controls for the user, e.g. check boxes for “include suggestions for additional topics I’m not following”, and “Include topics that people I am following have interacted with”, etc. would be great.
The more I think about this, the more it sounds like this could just be another type of “View”, like New, Unread, Top, etc. The distinction is, “this time, it’s personal”. It’s a whole new dimension to Discourse’s on-page experience, incorporating some existing capabilities (topic follow settings, suggested topics, etc.) into a new, user-customizable view.
Not… quite? I’m not sure. Do you mean, as Jordan mentioned above, replies without context? If so, then I can only answer for myself, but no, that’s not what I want.
Maybe. The “algorithm” is for me less about “what shows first” and more about “what shows at all, but in a single interface”. I am in fact one of those people who would prefer my Facebook feed be ordered strictly by date, and FB has an option for that, but you have to enable it every time you visit.
You manage this for topic reading just fine. If the posts are auto-expanded, at least to some reasonable limit of length (with e.g. a “read more”), is it still more difficult to track read status than in a topic?
Yes, probably. I have some ideas, probably not ideal, but for example 1st post (with content collapsed at some reasonable limit with a “read more” which takes you into the topic) plus latest response at the bottom of and “attached” to it.
Also fair enough, I suppose. Then again this could be a significant driver of adoption for a whole new market. Although as I think I’ve been coming to realize more of late, Discourse’s core market and revenue model may simply be oriented too much around customers way beyond the people I interact with for my particular interests, desires, and ideas to be taken into account from a business standpoint. And… I get that. It makes me sad, but I get it.
Hooray, that’s exciting to hear!
Perhaps. You’re right that what shows up in the “feed” view is somewhat tangential (although critical to adoption, IMO). But I am definitely also strongly in favor of the core mechanic OP is requesting, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with the adjustments to the “personal view” I’m also advocating for above. Now if some of that needs to be split into its own topic, that’s totally fair. Maybe I went on too much of a tangent (I do that sometimes ). But I do think they’re interrelated topics, at the very least. And there are a number of other connected topics around here too, I’m often not quite sure where to focus these kinds of thoughts.
Slight grumble here, but Follow used to have a Topic List front and centre on the main Discovery menu, next to Top, Latest etc., called “Following”.
This also means it would work with something like Topic List Previews and start to get very close to a front page Facebook feed (albeit with one major difference and that is Topic list level post entry, ok and also to mention that there would be no insidious algorithm, but I see that as a plus! ).
Since it went Official this was moved to somewhere less obvious and less discoverable?
With the luxury of time I was going to create a TC or potentially a plugin (whatever is technically necessary) to add it back, but if it were provided as an option in the Official plugin again, that would be great!
In the meantime, the quickest solution for “opinionated” me has been to run a private fork of the old plugin to keep this, which is not a great state of affairs.
Haven’t yet. It may cover one aspect of all this (specifically content that derives from particular people I’m interested in), but not all of it. The view it has may indeed be a good model to hopefully expand though, and it’s good to know some version of this is kind of already in Discourse’s design (somewhere).
100% a plus! Discourse’s existing algorithms, e.g. “similar topics”, are all I really want, with the option to enable/disable their presence in my feed.
IMO this is perfect for a chat to handle, rather than the forum. Treat each message as its own post, attached to a single “thread” (the chat channel); display each chat channel in the forum as a thread in a special type of forum category that handles chats; allow users to post replies to any given message using Discourse’s forum post editor; allow users to post replies to any normal forum post using the chat as well, converting the post into a chat message upon their doing so. The chatlog can be displayed in a separate feed: this would provide a powerful discovery and curation mechanism for the forum, where users can resurface and open up discussions around a notable thread or post without having to commit to writing a full response. It would be something like Zulip without the counterintuitive UX.
There’s no fundamental difference between a forum and a chat, despite what the oldschool, chats vs forums people think. Actually, forums (cf. social media feeds) are closer to chats than they are to feeds: there’s very little that the users can do to sort and surface content; posts are inflexibly attached to threads and can’t be conveniently consumed out of context, even though the OP in a thread is seldom the most informative post of the thread (exceptions prove the rule: social bookmarking, tech support, work/project forums work much better); threads discourage branching out into new conversational contexts. Feeds strongly encourage interacting with content in a less linear way, so that you can dip in and out of conversations with many other people participating simultaneously.
Also, all else being equal, “shallow” content is better than “deep” content.
We have effective search engines and other discovery mechanisms that help us find good content based on clues. If I want to learn deeply about a topic, I can usually do that by finding and reading the manual. When a post or a video doesn’t get to the point right away or rambles on about some irrelevant or outdated material, that’s simply offensive to the viewer/reader. A platform should be designed to pressure users not to waste each other’s time, or at least allow other users to fully filter these out (e.g. blocking). When people can’t filter out low quality content, a platform becomes extremely fragile, and usually becomes worse instead of better as more people participate. That’s precisely the problem that Facebook is facing, and also why chats, short form videos, and subscription-based publishing platforms are ascendant.
Strongly disagree. And the examples you provide aren’t really applicable or at least comprehensive, IMO. If you’re referring to the “manual”, clearly you’re talking specifically about a how-to context. In that context then yes, shorter, to the point, but still accurate and helpful content is preferred. But that is just one of, well, 100s of possible contexts/subject areas. There are many that fully justify “deeper” content and in fact very much benefit from it vs. “shallow” content. Here on Meta I would say there should be a bias toward “shallow” in a way, but there is also benefit in deeper content at times, like for example this exact discussion!
Short form content is ascendant because it is the natural extension of shortening the dopamine loop in content consumption. It’s a byproduct of human evolution and biology that platforms are taking advantage of. It has little to do with the “quality” of the content. It’s also closely tied to the combination of preference learning needs of platforms to drive their ad revenue, and the again shorter loop of testing understanding of preferences. This is a big part of why TikTok’s recommendation algorithm is generally better than many other platforms: they can test and eliminate bad recommendation options quickly, and focus in on what users really respond to. Longer content makes that loop longer.
Facebook could easily surface higher “quality” content, in my view. But they have little incentive to do so. Their growth is plateauing likely due to increased competition and their bad privacy practices.