How does Suggested Topics work and how can we improve it?


(Todd McKinney) #1

Continuing the discussion from Reading Topics and Context:


I’m starting to notice, since I had that 60 second auto-notify thing on for awhile before configuring it out of my view of the world, that the algorithm prompting for suggested topics to read next at the bottom seems to continually surface the same items. If I go read one of them, a new one takes its place, which makes good sense. Then, inevitably, I get to a list of 5 things that are not compelling enough for me to jump to.

Two thoughts on this:

  • You could do something simple almost like a captcha reload, Just give me a button to cycle that list to the next five.
  • This would be a great place to display the view that I used to get here (e.g. all unread) either instead of the suggestions, or in addition to them.

(Jeff Atwood) #2

Well, the current Suggested Topics algorithm is pretty basic, it fills in this order:

  1. Any topics you created with new posts? add those.
  2. Any topics you are watching or tracking in this category with new posts? add those.
  3. Any new topics you haven’t read yet in this category? add those.
  4. Any topics you are watching or tracking in any category with new posts? add those.
  5. Any new topics you haven’t read yet in any category? add those.
  6. Choose random topics from this category which aren’t closed or archived or category definitions.
  7. Choose random topics from any category which aren’t closed or archived or category definitions.

Repeat list until all (n, default 5) slots of Suggested Topics are filled. (# of suggested topics to be shown at the bottom itself is a site setting, suggested_topics)

Random works surprisingly well for me at the moment though, I’ve found a bunch of topics I should have looked at, or needed to revisit, just by virtue of random walk. Not sure it will scale, but… it’s much better than I ever thought it could be.


Wouldn't "related topics" be better than "suggested"?
Is there a simple way to randomize the topic list?
(Hrishikesh Thakre) #3

Is there any improvements planned on “Suggested Topics” algorithm?

I just took a snapshot of Email Problem topic.
I am sure there are many many topics on meta on email problems…But suggested Topic seems little way off.


(Jeff Atwood) #4

What is the issue? That looks correct to me per my post above. The topics you are tracking with unread posts come first.


(Dave McClure) #5

It sounds like what @hrishikesh is recommending is having “related” topics show up there. This could be useful on a site where you searched for an answer to a problem (eg an email issue) but expect to have to read through a few topics to find the one you’re looking for…


(Hrishikesh Thakre) #6

exactly @mcwumbly… that’s what i meant.


(Dave McClure) #7

Here’s a modification to the algorithm for consideration (with the understanding that there are probably bigger fish to fry).

  1. Did you start your journey by search? Choose topics that match the search query that you haven’t read since you started your journey.
  2. Any topics you are watching or tracking with new posts? add those.
  3. Any new topics you haven’t read yet? add those.
  4. Are you in a category? Choose related topics from that category.
  5. Choose related topics from other categories
  6. Are you in a category? Choose random topics from that category
  7. Choose random topics from all categories

I don’t see a problem with showing closed topics. They still may be relevant reading material, and since discourse emphasizes reading before writing, it seems sensible that you’d still get these suggestions. Category definition topics on the other hand…


(Jeff Atwood) #8

Some good suggestions.

It is unclear whether current category should be prioritized over some other things, like new topics in other categories or even unread topics in other categories. That might need to be a user setting.

Also, I don’t agree with showing closed topics. If your goal is to find and participate in discussions, closed topics don’t do you much good.


(Jacob) #9

I would like the ability to exclude categories from suggested topics. My use case is a NWS category that I’d like to keep off of the list.


(Jeff Atwood) #10

That’s a good point, we should definitely exclude muted categories from Suggested Topics @sam. You definitely aren’t going to want to read those if you have gone out of your way to mute them all…


(Neil Lalonde) #11

I pushed a fix for a bug that breaks this ordering:

New topics and posts from other categories were often showing higher in the list than those from the current category. When only showing 5 suggested topics, other categories could bump the current category topics entirely out of the list.

https://github.com/discourse/discourse/commit/e7a05c54e85695ecc64084916141612acd64f80e


(Jeff Atwood) #12

We had a small “bug” where closed topics were (by design, sort of) being omitted from steps 1-5 above. This leads to weirdness like on Boing Boing where almost all topics automatically close after 5 days, it led to them falling off your Suggested Topics immediately. Even if you had unread posts in the topics! Not cool.

(Thanks @sam for pointing out this oddity…)

@neil is going to change it so closed topics are only omitted from the random selection steps, which is technically what the documentation already said.


(Neil Lalonde) #13

I changed it today so that closed topics are included in steps 1 to 5, but not in the random suggestions (6 and 7).


(Jeff Atwood) #14

I have thought that considering where you just came from could be an improvement in suggested

  • if I just visited a topic from the category topic list, stick to the category like glue in suggested.
  • If I visited a topic from search, show the search results in suggested.

Etcetera. There is some merit to this idea since we are adding the additional information scent of where the user just was, in addition to where they are right now.

This would add more complexity though, and we have a lot of ongoing regressions with suggested because it’s already complicated.


(Michael Downey) #15

Are there any improvements planned for Suggested Topics before 1.0?

After recently becoming confused about the purpose of suggested topics (I thought they were supposed to be related to the topic I was viewing) … I asked a random sample of a few of my users, and they all assumed the same thing I did.

Maybe if these aren’t intended to really become a list of related/relevant topics, it might be better to describe it as “You Might Be Interested In”, “Other Topics You May Enjoy”, etc. to show it’s more about the user’s preferences than about the content itself.


(Jeff Atwood) #16

I don’t know why you would assume “Suggested Topics” is “Related Topics”.

Remember that “it’s all about you” so this list will favor: your topics you’ve created, topics with replies to you, topics you are tracking, and so forth.

No other changes are planned at this time.


(Avi Douglen) #17

Wow, that’s… non-intuitive, at best.

Why would someone assume a list of other discussions, at the bottom of the discussion I just read, is “Related Topics”?

Well, for one, there are so many sites that have learned us this behavior - “now that you’re done reading that topic, here are a few others you can keep reading”.

As for the title being “Suggested Topics”, not “Related”, aside from that being a very subtle differentiation, you of all people know that users don’t read instructions, so why would they read the section headers? :wink:

Now to the point, I’m not sure I see the purpose of “Suggested Topics” at the end of a topic, if they are not related to the topic… Other than a “captive audience” type situation, where it’s like “HEY! you were supposed to go look at these other, unrelated topics - while we have your attention you really should go check them out”…


(Jeff Atwood) #18

The giant blue indicators all over the Suggested Topics are not a very subtle indicator.

It’s all about you, and if you’ve used Discourse at all you’ll quickly learn that you only get those tell-tale blue indicators on stuff that is either

  • new (per your personal setting for “new” in your preferences)
  • stuff you created, replied to, or read for 4+ minutes

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #19

After more than a year of interacting with this and other Discourse forums, I have yet to use this feature.

Am I the odd one out? Usage stats would be appreciated.


(Avi Douglen) #20

Sure, the indicators are quite clear.

But that just adds to the confusion - its clear that I read these topics already. Why not suggest related topics that I haven’t read yet?

Now that I read your explanation, it does make some sense, but like I said that is not the intuitive, assumed situation. Also, I would think that “Related Topics” would be more useful here than “Suggested Topics (which are not related but you’ve already read)”…
To be clear, I am only asking because almost every other part of Discourse is SO well thought out, and meets my mental model even before I was aware of it - I am trying to understand the thinking here.