Feedback: Improved topic summary mode

Every forum has the TL;DR problem of regularly generating topics that have 100, 200, 500, or even a thousand posts. Who the heck is going to read all 500+ posts in a giant topic?

We had a “best of” mode for topics that was designed to address this, to give you the reader’s digest condensed version of long topics by algorithmically picking the “best” posts in a topic and hiding the other posts.

But it was not really complete. We went back and made a major pass on this to improve it. You’ll notice at the top of long topics (we define long as more than 50 posts) an invitation to summarize the topic:

There are 180 replies with an estimated read time of 54 minutes. Save reading time by displaying only the most relevant replies?

Summarize This Topic


  • renamed it from “best of” to “topic summary” to better reflect what it does

  • shows estimated reading time of the topic so you know how much time you might be saving; the post count doesn’t always tell the full story. Does the topic consist of one line posts, or giant thousand word essays?

  • show the number of omitted posts as clickable bars directly in-line between the posts, rather than as an easily missable bar at the bottom of the page; you can expand the omitted posts on demand so you never feel like you are missing out on anything

  • the in-line omitted post counts are better “you are in a summary mode for this topic” reminder, which we also use when filtering by user (click a user portrait in the left gutter to fillter by user.)

Please take a look at it and tell us what you think of the new, improved topic summary mode.

Just look for topics that have more than 50 posts (remember, you can sort the topic list columns now) and enter at the top of the topic, not the bottom, by clicking the first post date in the topic list.

We want Discourse to turn a world of endless TL;DR forums into … places you can can actually dip your toes in and read without quitting your job to become a full-time forum addict!

Here’s an example topic from BBS linked in summary mode, try this one out and see what you think:

"This is a city for the right people, who can afford it" - boing - Boing Boing BBS  



Clicking on your summary link to boing boing, then clicking on a suggested topic at the bottom of the page, then clicking the “back” button in chrome takes me to the full discussion, not the summary view.

I suggest that the summary view filter be preserved during navigation.

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A feature that isn’t just smart but gives me metrics on how smart it is. I like it!

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I disagree with this - If I filter by post author and go to another topic with no posts by that author, I get a blank topic. This was the subject of a bug in the past:

I love the way the hidden posts are now shown as collasped, allowing you to expand them.

Nothing to complain about with this new feature. Just one idea for a slight improvement…

Since you have a read-time calculator-thingy now, could this be tweaked to say how much time I’d be saving?

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Indeed, it is a good idea, and I wanted to do that, but @eviltrout said it was very expensive to know ahead of time just how many posts will be collapsed / omitted when you summarize.

Also I just realized this topic summary mode is accidentally a bit similar to …


Yeah, I thought of slashdot too, but the combination of filtering and threading is wacky over there

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Slashdot wacky… ya think? :wink:

That’s why I call it the galapagos islands of social software design. Totally a platypus.

I don’t mean preserved when I visit another topic, I mean preserved in the original topic when I hit “back”.


Hi, careful when talking about my mighty platypus

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A topic it’s like a conversation, a no computer generated summary are going to tell you about what is going on in a conversation you arrived late.

If you pick some posts from the conversation you are getting just fragments that may not mean nothing.

You could ask the OP or any active user in the topic to write a short summary about what is going on every 50 posts. I know that very few people will take the time to do it, but if someone care about the topic, he/she could make it approachable for future generations.

If not, well, the topic will end in the aether like all the other conversations we have every day.

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That’s why in Discourse, posts drag the necessary context along with them. So even if you only see this post, for example, you can click the quote above to expand it. Try it. G’wan. You know you want to. Just click or tap on the top line of that quote above.

Do it.

In addition, you can also:

  • click “in reply to” at the top of the post to expand the post that this was a direct reply to (if no part of that post was already quoted)
  • click “replies” at the bottom to expand the replies to the post (provided there were direct replies or posts that quoted this post)

So you see, each and every Discourse post carries all the immediate context you would need along with it. Just click to load it.

ok, but I don’t see how this is gonna help you when trying to tackle a 500+ posts topic. When I was confronted to such a task (i.e. I read the first post, trying to find a helpful Update notice, or go to the lasts posts and pray to find some helpful info.

But you don’t have to – you could click “summarize” to condense the topic to the the best 10% of those posts.

So now you only need to scan 50 posts rather than 500. Much more approachable.

Of course, if someone edits the first post to add a human editorial summary that’s also great! It’s just unlikely that the average topic has people willing to do that every single time a topic gets to 100, 200, 500, 1000 posts… the computer needs to be able to take on part of this work, too, otherwise it just won’t reliably get done.


Perhaps something similar could be done after you summarize in that case? I think it’d be almost as good:

Instead of:
“You’re viewing a summary of this topic. To see all posts again, click below.”

How about:
“You’re saving N minutes of reading time by hiding P posts in this topic. To see all posts again, click below”

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It’s funny, I was kind of wishing for a dial on this topic , it was like, show me the 20 best things you have and then I will decide if I want to see more and turn up the volume.


My main thought is that without a ton of data points in the topic (like user interaction), it will be hard to accurately create a summary view. It’s one of those things that would work great on a site like ArsTechnica or even Slashdot or the Gawker sites, just because their commenters are crazy about participation.

On a site like How-To Geek where the discussion rarely goes over 20 posts per topic, it’s probably not the most useful thing. I think it’s one of those “cool” features that will probably work well about a year or two from now.

What is the algorithm behind this? That should be up for discussion.

Personally on a giant topic I’d like to see posts from the following:

  • Consistently interesting people. Like that @codinghorror guy, he always writes good stuff.
  • Posts from new(er) users that are Liked a lot. Liked by the more interesting people, not by drive-by users.
  • Posts that are critical to the discussion, like if there is a chain of a couple of replies.

You almost need two algorithms, one for smaller sites, and one for larger sites, that factor in the participants a bit more.

EDIT: Testing to see if adding a link and text will push this to the top:


I like this feature! Is there a way to trigger this manually on an arbitrary thread? I looked in the UI but couldn’t find a “summarize me!” button in threads which don’t already have a summary.
For example, there’s a stickied thread about an error after upgrade to It has 37 posts right now. The OP has no indication of what to do about this problem, so I would love to be able to click “Summarize this for me!” to get a gist of the thread to find out what’s going on without browsing the whole thread. :slight_smile:

At the moment summaries are only available on topics with 50 or more posts.


Will it be eventually a changeable option within the admin control?

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