Forum categories as social isolation, not as information organization

(Jules Pitt) #1

Continuing the discussion from Shouldn’t you be able to tag with multiple categories?:

[quote=“caderoux, post:1, topic:256, full:true”]A LOT of forums try to help with a huge volume of users by having an entire hierarchy of forums. The problem with this is that things SPAN categories…
This is where I think allowing multiple categories (a la SO tags) would be a better solution to the extensive hierarchy of sub forums which a lot of big popular forums tend to use to help users find things and track things.[/quote]

Another problem, perhaps: It’s been my experience that on large forums, the subcategories are to not only to make information easier to find, but to also keep people away from each other. For instance, ArsTechnica keeps all platform zealots segregated in their own subcategories and has one special category dedicated to relentless arguing over superiority.

Having a good reputation in one category may, in practice, mean that you are less likely to contribute constructively to another. I guess what I’m curious about is whether the system of reputation and points can be confined to particular categories, as opposed to forum-wide.

(Clay Heaton) #2

I raised this issue a few days ago, with regards to Politics and Religion subcategories, which frequently are segregated. As a user, I’d like to be able to see that there are posts there, but not even see the topic titles. I guess that means that I’d like to hide them from the “Popular” view, but have them available through the Categories page.

(Jeff Atwood) #3

I get this same sense… that’s why I am leaning towards hierarchy, but limited to two levels.

We want to have one more sub-category but we’re unsure how to build the UI to accommodate it. Suggestions welcome!

We want small forums to grow into simple, easy categorization, not throw the entire Dewey Decimal System at people when they arrive, ala most traditional forums e.g.

(Jules Pitt) #4

HI clay, I think a lot of potential conflict would be avoided by being able to hide certain categories. But what I’m concerned about is, to use Reddit as an analogy, is having the superusers and mods of /r/atheism being able to use their special privileges to “manage” posts in /r/christianity.

Or as a political system analogy - how does one implement Federalism on Discourse?

(Lowell Heddings) #5

Was just thinking about this… and after reading the post about Reddit I’m thinking that is the answer.

Treat categories like subreddits. The best bubble to the home page.

(Cade Roux) #6

Indeed, again I stick with the opinion that for a number of types of large forums, tagging is going to be better.

I’m going to use a couple examples from forums I have frequented in the past (but I don’t any more because forums SUCK) or use only infrequently which have extremely large user bases. I’m going to assume that the target audience for this Discourse product would be these forums which are currently on the unwieldy side for phpBB-style forum usage. Forums - Geocaching Forums huge amounts of categories in 14 categories. Information is there about bug reports, there is regional information, types of equipment etc.

It is reasonable to think that someone would post something about unique geocaches they had seen in two different regions by tagging it with a region code or a city code and get feedback from users in both locales. It is reasonable to think they might post about police issues across regions, so people interested in LEO problems might be able to track that tag.

It is also plainly clear that participating in this forum is extremely unwieldy as a casual user.

XDA Developers: device specific forums, with identical sub forums for themes etc for EACH device. There is no ability to tie together the sub forums for similar devices, either.

Note that their forum has gotten so bad, they have:


At this size it’s really a meta-forum. No one can possibly use the entire forum, your usage effectively is going to be restricted to your particular choices of subforums.

Again, this root listing screen also dwarfs the example @codinghorror gives. I think it’s also an example of a place where tags more than make sense - they make the current design within the constraints of phpBB or whatever it uses look idiotic. Imagine a post tagged samsung galaxy-note jelly-bean getting a lot more useful coverage then having to decide whether your topic is related to the OS or the device or even the hardware vendor’s particular add-ins. Plus people who could care less about Samsung devices still might have useful information.

(Jules Pitt) #7

Yeah Jeff, every forum I’ve seem that has more than two levels of heirarchy, has dead forums with a handful of post from the third on down.

My first thought off the top of my head is to take the category box you’ve got now, take out the avatar icons, and add tabs instead:

(Clay Heaton) #8

That would need to be configurable. Discovery is an important part of browsing a forum. With the way categories currently are nested away from the Discourse home page, I’m afraid that a lot of people never would find content they might find interesting. Reddit handles this pretty well, obviously.

(Lowell Heddings) #9

Having the best topics bubble to the home page fixes the dead subforum problem, especially for smaller forums.

  • On a smaller forum all topics are on the home page.
  • On a large forum, people can live in the subreddit, or subdiscourse, of their choice. Or customize the ones they want to see on the homepage.
  • The same logic works for both.

I think the home page UI has to make room for pointing out the best subdiscourses.

Here's my Categories as Sub-Reddit / Sub-Discourse Idea
(Jeff Atwood) #10

What I’m also saying, and what Stack Exchange has taught me, is that the value proposition of more than two tags is… poor.

Most people can generally agree what the Most Important Tag is for a post. But after that it starts to get fuzzy fast. By the time you are at the third tag it’s generally all noise.

So tag or category, I am not religious about. What I am religious about is a limit depth of two out of the box.

Plugins can of course, do whatever they like… mostly I’m concerned with a sane, safe out of box experience and sensible defaults.

(Cade Roux) #11

Allowing two tags will be limiting on some large scope forums like XDA. I would be opposed to hierarchy of tags if that meant that the two was related to levels because that would kill cross-posting. So while I agree five (a la SO) may be overkill for forums, it is not overkill for SO because SO uses that ability to be able to handle the hierarchy informally for high level scanning combined with specificity filtering - i.e. sql-server sql-server-2008 sql-profiler - while you might say this would be just as easily done as sql-server sql-profiler that might cause problems as the product evolves. Of course in a SE just about SQL Server, then one tag is redundant, so it does depend upon the scope of the largest expected Discourse.

(Brad Westness) #12

How does moderation work in relation to categories/tags? Are all moderators global to a given site? The current paradigm of forum software generally allows for different moderators to be specified for the various categories and/or forums. Are there any plans for allowing something comparable with Discourse?

(Milk) #13

If you’re going to federate content, items and users can be moderated on a federated basis also. Have ‘Hacker News’ and ‘Reddit’ views of say, the term ‘technology’, with the same posts, but their own local (and possibly also federated on a smaller scale) upvote/like and user auto hideban. Certain services that provide access to this with their own framing (including highlighted user(s)?) would become reputable for filtered and curated news and analysis (and metadata). Multiple tags would give more to filter on. I’ve always thought meta-moderation would be good for keeping such sorted, though I could forsee inclusionist/deletionist like issues, though, hey, if it’s federated and certain tags/posts/comments are filtered on certain ways, this might accommodate even, say, the 4chan end of the scale…

(keith) #14

when thinking about discourse as a tool for collaboration, categories are less about segregating users and more about opt-in interest tracking. a merged thread list across categories is great, except when i don’t care about some of them.

to me, categories as admin-defined hierarchies is a curious carry-over from traditional forums.

i’ve found that the “subreddit” style of user-created post groups is really helpful for an end user to explicitly subscribe to topics that interest them while keeping all posts globally viewable. allowing users to define ephemeral categories just to organize conversations on something really specific is powerful to help keep long-lived categories from becoming derailed.

(Doug Moore) #15

Is it over-simplifying the matter to think that people can have settings to opt-in/out of certain categories? I definitely use forums where the segregation of categories is crucial. It is hard enough to keep up with the categories I am interested in with the volume of discussions, I can’t imagine if every category was on the same page. I feel like there has to be some method of segregation for a forum with any significant volume of posting to be usable.

(Brad Westness) #16

Another thing is the fact that a lot of forums use categories as a means of enforcing different permission sets.

Say you want one category where flaming/swearing/goatse is allowed, or one category that’s just for BDSM roleplaying where posting nude pictures is allowed, or something else you don’t really want to be public or jumbled in with the rest of your threads. It’s an incredibly common way to manage sub-communities in a given forum.

Can such a thing be accomplished in the Discourse model?

(Doug Moore) #17

To tack on, I know of gaming communities where there are, say, sections for a clan where only those clan members have access.

(Chris Leong) #18

Two levels handles most of the use cases. One level for keeping people away from one another and then one level for organisation within that

(Callan Bryant) #19

I like that idea!

The subcategories could be implemented via tags possibly. That way, sorting is easy.

Also having the All tab is handy. This way users can see threads immediately rather than having to click a few categories first.

(Asher Baker) #20

This is exactly how we organise our traditional forum at the moment, the top level is specific products (which have generally distinct user bases), then there are subforums for general chat, support, modifications, donor-only discussion, etc. This model works really well for us.

Almost all of our active members enter the forum directly into one of the top-level categories nowadays, so they don’t have to see stuff they don’t care about at all.