How to avoid an explosion of sub-topics in a topic

Maybe. I’ll admit that my idea might sound a little weird. There’s a similar solution built into Discourse though. Groups can be given specific permissions about how they can interact with a category’s topics: See, See Reply, See Reply Create. There are a few ways that these group memberships could be updated over time to prevent replies from being dominated by a subset of users.

X/Twitter has a feature where a user can restrict who can reply to their posts on a per post basis. For example, replies can be restricted to users who were mentioned in the top level post.

The essential point I’m trying to make is that the physical world imposes restrictions on conversations. An un-moderated real world conversation rarely involves more people than could comfortably sit at a table. When there are larger gatherings of people, for example at a party, people will naturally divide themselves into smaller groups. There are also time restrictions placed on conversations. They rarely go on for more than a few hours.

Yes, this could happen. The idea of self-imposed arbitrary restrictions is a bit of a hobby horse for me. One of my favorite things on YouTube at the moment is a channel where two musicians impose a 1 hour time limit for writing and recording a song. On occasion they get super inspired by an idea and allow themselves to break the limit.

I didn’t make it clear, but I’m not suggesting applying these limits to all topics.

Another approach for preventing an explosion of sub-topics that’s used on Meta is setting topic timers that delete all replies after 30 days. This is used for documentation topics. The idea is that if a post asks a relevant question that isn’t answered in the topic’s OP, the answer to their question gets incorporated into the OP. This was implemented to avoid having documentation topics with hundreds of replies and multiple sub-discussions.


This is important to consider, and can be very helpful for online communities to have regular meetings over zoom or another platform if people cannot see each other in person.

Forums can be good for curating a community, however it can be difficult to know if people are on the same page about things with only written text/posts/emojis.

Sometimes people just aren’t interested in having any kind of meetings, it can be difficult to organize those across different time-zones. Another way is to do question answer calls to answer people’s questions they’ve written in over a video presentation that can be live-streamed/recorded.


I’m very much with you on this observation and in thinking of ways to apply it online - as you say, selectively.

A crucial point here is that not every conversation has to cover all possible ground. A conversation is about something.

With most forum software including Discourse it’s very cheap to make a new thread aka topic. A topic has a title, a category, and a head post, all of which serve to frame a conversation. One of the tactics we have, which I believe is underused, is to spin off a new topic for a new idea.


These are all valid points. However in a discussion of philosophies all pov are always valid.

Your initial Op statement only covers in one sense a small element as @simon has further expanded.

With Discourse after years of resistance added option to view threaded response to a post(community persistence will eventually succeed in influencing needed change) can help with Simon’s presented issue.

It is quite true when there becomes a large volume of participants even on topic it can be hard to follow with ppl exploring different branches even without having a broad spectrum topic.

Ppl within a topic will often pool together exploring a particular element

Which is exactly why a broad brainstorming topic can work quite well with a bit of guidance and teaching ppl how to manage and encouraging a topic that will spawn new sub topics with SoGs and SoPs helping to make it work.

New topic branch? The post with the link can be highlighted with Staff Notice for example…Op Statement can be editted to identify where to discuss a specific element…Etc…

It is about removing barriers not imposing them.

@simon mentioned the 30 day reset replies topics. Reset Category in a free for all motive can work as well. Start a topic to fletch out an idea. Just before 30 days end. Copy key points modify op statement start a new 30 day brainstorm. Just an idea of sorts.

Which reminds me iirc there was maybe not long ago a plugin adding a form of topic threading. Will look and see if can :wink:

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Except it’s not cheap :frowning: !!

The cost - as evidenced by the history that brings this thread into existence - is in the moderation against benchmarks or guidelines that don’t acknowledge the technical facility and desirability… So much good faith effort has been spent by all sides :frowning: hence this suggestion

@Heliosurge - I think what you’re proposing is valuable, already technically available,… But doesn’t it require a culture change in outlook by the complete community? Therefore is it feasible? In what time scales with what effort and what preliminary steps - EG create a group or groups ?:slight_smile:

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We regularly struggle with exploding threads.

Two concrete feature ideas we’ve had that we think would help manage these are:


Splitting a thread at the point where someone has replied with two or three ideas is currently next to impossible. I very much like the idea of duplicate and split, with fine surgery to dissect out the different points.

There are people who don’t like having their posts edited. If somehow they could learn not to combine diverse ideas in a single reply they might end up happier.


Of course splitting is already very labor-intensive, so it’s not perfect, either. I’ve also created target posts that summarize (with my own account/voice) and selectively quote mixed grab-bag or otherwise problematic posts, which then allows me to use that new post as a target for the replies in a manner that feels ok to most participants in the discussion. It ends up with a starting post that is “newer” than its replies, but it’s understandable… and can allow you to also close the original topic in some cases. It’s still so much work, though.

The other strategy here, of course, is just around setting expectations and norms. Clear and concise rules around what makes for an on-topic topic is absolutely essential and can completely do an end-run around “but my free speech” sorts of rants.


I think there’s another independent potential issue: each forum has a culture, and when a person doesn’t pick up on that, and adapt, they may keep coming up against disapproval or moderation. One forum might welcome exploding threads and another might prefer single-topic topics. Some might like essay sized posts while others might like concise single point posts.


Here’s a thought: In a forum which prefers narrow focus, a small collective which wishes to indulge in broad discursive brainstorms could choose to convene a group PM conversation. If and when they come up with conclusions or proposals, each of those single ideas could be posted as a single-point new topic. Which could then be elaborated on in public.


I think that works but has one drawback.
As I understand it a PM has to have individuals added to it whereas a group or public thread allows individuals to add themselves?

So maybe it’s the best viable sub-optimal answer at present?

That seems to be basically true, with the group feature I haven’t seen if there are specific talk pages for those or the system just starts a new pm topic if someome writes a message addressed to a group (such as the @ team discourse group)


It seems worth a try. Not entirely unlike an assembly convening a committee to write a report.

In the case of PMs on discourse, I might suggest firstly sending one to one invitations. If an invitation is accepted, that person can be included in the PM discussion when it is created. I think there’s a limit to the number of people on a PM conversation.


For this we would need to extend the current pm system to be more robust. One method would be to enable dm tagging. However still not very good for those types of broader conversations.

Now a special category using Topic mod plugin could be useful in part to that end to explore with a more general say tl3 category with reduced need to moderate unless there are problems.

  • Flagged posts
  • snipes re site policies or of course legal misuse of the site.
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This can be a topic itself to focus on in an appropriate topic category or dm.

Sometimes when a preferred option is unavailable we need to explore other control methodes we can use client side to achieve a desired end point .

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Let’s step back from diverging back to this. The main complaint is that the topic is not focused enough for our host to allow certain level of broad potentially pi level topics. For example we now know one of your actual maun focus is how discourse could be used for a medical forum.

But lets get back to this topic’s purpose being philosophies on how to manage topics with potential to have exploding sub topics.

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I proposed one above, and another in forum site feedback

  • as a conscious management choice - allow to run and sample periodically for emergent convergence [possibly using techniques that were made common by the agile software development movement, EG retrospectives, backlog grooming,…]
  • create a space, like those for theme & plugins authors were interested parties can work up ideas to the point that they can be put into open spaces

I am interested to hear other suggestions.
I think the suggestions that equate to " don’t allow it" face the very challenging question of where is the liminally ok/ not ok boundary and then " is the judgement used around that exercised well (whatever that is defined as) " (& and perhaps " seen to be". All of which is difficult, and emotionally fraught (is it more necessary when one is holding “civilised” as a watchword?)

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This is a key important statement here, describing when things have really descended into chaos or unreadable madness no one can understand.

Primary challenge with this kind of a forum platform is that it is by default always online, unless manually shut down or on a set schedule.

What people generally want to talk about can change a lot over the course of a day, week, months seasons and years. Also how a conversation goes is generally completely dependent on who someone is talking to.

Post something on a forum, who will reply? Who is online? No one knows, can only guess based on history of if there are active moderators or members who usually reply to posts within a few days.


This one has 2.9k replies from 22 users

This one 3.6k from 27

There are others

the thread that was the parent of this one had a post that said “[things are] highly context dependant.” And it’s true here too

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