Feature Idea: Universal Inline Whispers


Whispers extended to all users, implemented as an inline markup, visible only to selected users or a group.

Use Cases

  • an extension of mentions, with additional private communication
  • a lighter form of communication than a PM
  • group collaboration on a post
  • editorial annotations


[whisper="User1,User2,Group3"] Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

Visible only to User1, User2 and Group3:

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Interesting idea, but I see a big risk that this kind of feature would be detrimental to good forum discussions. What is your use case?


It makes me think of being at a party with others having private conversation. Not the most comfortable feeling.

I guess it could be argued that the whispering would be undetected by those not in the know. I’m not so sure. In my experience people are often a lot more aware of subtleties than others might want them to be.


We already have Whisper posts for staff members and PM messages for everybody else, and I don’t see them as detrimental to to discussion. It’s would simply be a lighter form of private communication than a PM.

[whisper= @sam]What do you think about this idea?[/whisper]

Not just a private conversation (that would be a group PM) but a private conversation (whispering with each other, or using secrete codes that only certain people understand) during a public conversation.

Obviously, but as you say, people will notice that “something is going on”. Or, knowing about the feature, they might suspect that something is going on. Good discussion (aka dialogue) builds on transparency…

Yes, and that is fine, because it is limited to a very specific group of users and it is limited to separate posts. When we see a staff post, we know we see the full post, despite the fact that other posts might exist.

I’m not completely opposed to this feature. I’m just raising concerns and was wondering what concrete use case you have in mind.

The one above where you mention sam doesn’t convince me: what’s the problem with asking sam publicly?

You could say the same about PMs. Why do we have PMs? Do they affect discussions in a negative way? Do users, knowing about the feature, suspect that something is going on?

[whisper= @Dann]Can you came up with some better use cases? People seem to think, this would be a conversation killer[/whisper]

Not going to happen, as it implies per topic permissions which we have no plans for on any roadmap. We have whispers for staff only.


If PMs work the same way as “universal inline whispers” would, why do you need those whispers. Obviously, they don’t work the same way and the difference is what makes a difference here (see party analogies above).

This is actually a very nice example for illustrating my concerns: nobody has said that this would be a conversation killer. If your interpretation “People seem to think, this would be a conversation killer” is posted publicly, anyone in the conversation can adress it as a misunderstanding (or agree with it, for that matter). Even if no one actively relates to that interpretation, it is still a valuable contribution to the discussion because if makes transparent what you think of the conversation so far. And if Dann later joins the conversation in your support, it is transparent that he does so upon your request.

Consider, by contrast, the situation where that whisper indeed were hidden. Chances are that you and Dann would continue your whisper conversation between the lines based on the assumption that “People seem to think, this would be a conversation killer”. By consequence, the two of you might be developing your own parallel discourse that nobody knows anything about and that is the exact opposite of dialogue.

Dialogue requires that everyone involved makes their thinking transparent so that everyone else can relate to it and try to understand it.

all good points, however I could PM Dann with the same message, so all your concerns regarding a parallel conversation would be valid for PMs as well.

The difference is, that with inline whispers referencing would be much easier, because it would include context.

I always thought, one of the great features in Discourse was ability to open quotes and replies inline. It would follow the same logic. Think of it as private annotations which you can share.

In any case, as has been posted, such a feature would require topic level permissions. And because there is no such thing as topic level permissions discussing something that would need there to be, it doesn’t really make much sense to debate for or against at this time, does it?

In other words, the case for having topic level permissions should be made before how it might be used should.

Exactly, and why would you want to make behaviour easier that doesn’t improve the quality of the conversation?

Not if the aim of the discussion is to decide whether the feature should indeed be implemented. But I think there is a more general dimension to this discussion that makes it worthwhile.

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True enough. Kind of like “Can cliques within a community be beneficial?”

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I would argue, that quality of private and public conversation is equally important.

On the contrary, discussing future workflows based on the current technical restrictions is in-the-box-thinking. If an idea is great, technology should follow.

Kinda. Though I’m more concerned about process (communication, interaction) than structure (cliques). I’d probably say that cliques (or sub-groups) are not a bad thing. Probably even good because you need diversity to make the whole forum worthwhile. Cliques help sustain that diversity by helping individuals to withstand the centripetal powers of the big “we” of the community.

Where cliques become problematic is when they start acting strategically against each other and lose interest in dialogue. (A process which, I believe, this feature would support).

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My main reason why I find PMs sometimes inadequate, is that they always require a subject line. Sometimes it’s just too much. Using Whispers as implemented for staff members would be a step closer to simplicity, and inline whisper even better.

This makes it a discussion about a “knife”, which can be used to prepare food or to harm.
Not sure how having more different levels of communication would make the overall quality of conversation (public and private) worse. It looks like you have a strong preference towards public discussion. Private discussion is by definition more personal, which makes it a backbone of any community.

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Yes I do. But not in absolute terms but because I think that’s what any group discussion is and hence what discussion forums are all about.

Just to clarify: I define private communication as communication between two parties and public communication as among three or more people.

Both are, of course, important and legitimate, they both have their place, but when the two are combined in the same situation, it gets problematic, at least if dialogue is the goal.

I’m not sure how did you arrive to this conclusion. Let’s come back to our “party” analogy. Say we have a party of 12 friends. They may participate in a 12-way conversation, but not all the time. They will also split into smaller groups or 1-on-1 chats. This balance of public vs. private communication will change throughout the evening. Combining both (and everything in between) is not a problem, it’s natural.

OTOH, forcing a constant 12-way conversation would be excessive and formal. More appropriate for an official board meeting.

We should aspire to make online conversations as fluid and multidimensional as they are in real life. Including the good and the bad that comes with it.

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That’s why I said

What you are describing are many different situations. A common way of comparing a forum to a dinner party is this:

So maybe instead of “situation” I should have said “conversation”. But the point is: if people at the table start whispering or sending text messages to each other during an ongoing conversation, the conversation deteriorates.


Yes agreed, the only time this sort of makes sense is for staff to have inline moderation-discussion type posts. It is very situational.


This isn’t even per-topic permissions, this is sub-topic permissions. Yuck. Get a room.

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