Idea: Welcome message area on the home page for anonymous users

(Lowell Heddings) #1

I’ve been thinking that one of the things that will make Discourse less intimidating for new users is some sort of welcome message area on the home page (latest or hot tab, I imagine) for users that haven’t yet created an account or logged in.

Right now, if you click a Discourse page, there is nothing but a big list of topics, and it is hard to get an idea of what the community is supposed to be about just by browsing the titles in the list. I mean, it could be a bad time of the day, and a bunch of stupid topics were just pushed to the top, and that anonymous person will get the impression that your site is about something completely different than it is supposed to be.

So that’s why I’m saying we need a welcome message area. Basically, the same way that StackExchange does it, in a box across the top of the list.

or Minimized like this, although I think this is not quite as useful. Definitely easier to implement.

What we include in that box, by default, I’m not sure about. But I think we need to at least have these features:

  • Area for a short, pithy descriptive paragraph for what the site is about.
  • Pre-defined Button to point to an About page
  • X button to hide it (cookie) to not show again

It would be nice to include something like the first screenshot with pretty icons for a “how discourse works” type of thing to promote the new features, but I’m not quite creative enough to figure out how that would apply to Discourse. Maybe a “Just keep scrolling” icon, a “Click the heart to Like posts”, and a “Reply while you read” option.

First-run users - Configure what they see?
(Robbie Straw) #2

An interesting idea!

The status quo seems to be pinning a welcome to [site_name] (READ ME FIRST ! ! ! !) topic to the front page.

Do you think we could possibly displace that “best practice” with this idea? – Personally I think this “contextually aware” welcome-banner is a much better way to introduce new users to the platform.

Appending “READ ME FIRST!” to the “welcome topic” smells a little off to me.

With minor modifications to your proposal we could display this welcome banner to the visitors and new users trust levels. The banner might point them to a dedicated welcome page, as well as provide links for the FAQ/TOS/Privacy Policy.

The only other thing I’d add: perhaps the version with icons would show up on desktops and [high res] tablets; whereas the text-only welcome banner would be reserved for the mobile version of the site?

(Jeff Atwood) #3

This is what pinned topics are for, and why they are at the top!

Notice the welcome message there.

(I think we sometimes forget we, as avid users of the forum, cleared that pin long ago…)

Anyway, we had a plan to make pinned topics behave more like this:

In other words, automatically display the first (x) characters in the first post in the topic as a description. This is OK because it can be dismissed via clear pin, and it is more immediately readable that way.

That’d be the much more generally useful way to achieve this, and it would also help on the category pages as well, where the pinned topic there can explain the meaning of the category and what types of topics should be in it, etcetera.

(Lowell Heddings) #4

The point is to have something that the eye is immediately drawn to, which explains the point of the site and what it’s about. If your eyes have to look into the list and read some very small text, it’s kinda defeating the point of having a pleasantly styled box that immediately catches the reader’s eye and helps them get the point in a flash.

At the very least, it would be a very useful option that I’m guessing most sites would be interested in implementing. I know that I would.

And it would only be on the Latest or Hot page, no need to put it anywhere else. Just when they first visit the home page of the forum, and they aren’t logged in. One of the buttons could be for the signup, which would convert more people into users more quickly.

(Jeff Atwood) #5

Again, this is exactly the sort of thing that the forum-admin editable automatic welcome PM that every new user gets covers… the only difference is that it is a PM delivered to new accounts, not every visiting user. Here’s some screenshots from me signing up for try.discourse.

Immediately after I log in:

And when I click on it, I get the customized try.discourse welcome explaining what the sandbox is about:

The rest of the message is top tips, also editable:

Thanks for joining {forum name}, and welcome to our discussion forum!

This private message has a few quick tips to get you started:

Keep scrolling

There are no next page buttons or page numbers – to read more, just
keep scrolling down, and more content will load!

As new replies come in, they will appear automatically at the bottom
of the topic. No need to refresh the page or re-enter the topic to see
new posts.

How do I reply?

  • To reply to a specific post, use the Reply button at the bottom of that post.

  • If you want to reply to the overall theme of the topic, rather than any specific post in the topic, use the Reply button at the very
    bottom of the topic.

  • If you want to take the conversation in a different direction, but keep them linked together, use Reply as New Topic to the right of the

Who is talking to me?

When someone replies to your post, quotes you, or mentions your
@username, a notification ➀ will appear at the top of the page. Click
or tap that notification number to see who’s talking to you, and
where. Join the conversation!

  • To mention someone’s name, start typing @ and an autocompleter will pop up.

  • To quote just a section of a post, select it, then click the Reply button that appears over the highlight.

  • To quote an entire post, use the Import Quote button on the composer toolbar.

Look at that post!

To let someone know that you enjoyed their post, click the like :heart:
button at the bottom of the post. If you see a problem with a post,
don’t hesitate to click the flag button and let the moderators – and
your fellow community members – know about it.

Where am I?

  • To get back to the home page at any time, click the logo at the upper left or use the back ← button on your browser.

  • For search, your user page, or the sitemap, click on the icons at the upper right.

  • While reading a topic, move to the top ↑ by clicking its title at the top of the page. To reach the bottom ↓, click the down arrow on
    the topic progress indicator at the bottom of the page, or click the
    last post field on the topic summary under the first post.

We believe in civilized community
at all times.

Enjoy your stay!

Now you might say, well, this only helps users who create an account and log in.

I’d like to think that use of the forum for visitors, who cannot even post anything, ever is straightforward enough that they don’t need a whole lot of protips on what is going on!

(Robbie Straw) #6

Looking at Jeff’s mockup of showing the first (n) characters of a pinned topic:

I wonder if we could draw more attention to pinned topics by giving the moderator/admins the ability to give them a background color.

The color picker would look a lot like the picker for categories: a few pre-selected colors that are easy on the eyes.

We could make the [default] backgrounds very light, almost pastel colors like the little “post counter” is . . .

While I’d still be in favor of a very attractive “welcome” box with its narrow focus on new users: I think expanding the text of pinned topics and giving them a background color may be an interesting compromise. Combined: these changes enable grabbing attention towards pinned topics, while still maintaining the general utility of pinned topics.

(Jeff Atwood) #7

What problem would that solve for you, exactly? I’m not clear. Not enough users? Not enough posts? Not enough topics? Not enough activity? Users that radically misunderstand what the forum is for and post totally incorrect, disallowed, frowned-upon topics or replies?

The essential essence of a forum is the topics people are discussing there. The list of topics on the homepage are by far the best explanation of what a forum “is”.

If the forum is titled “strawberries n’ cream”, and has a nice banner explaining that – but all the topics are about Jai Alai, then you have a forum about Jai Alai, regardless of what the title and banner may say.

Also, do you really want random signups? The log in buttons are generally triggered by a discussion topic as I see it, I want people to think:

Oh man I know exactly what he means when he says that, I gotta reply to this, let me log in!

Or even

This post is so so wrong! You sir, are wrong on the internet!!1!! (INSERT XKCD CARTOON HERE BECAUSE NOBODY HAS EVER EVER SEEN THAT BEFORE) Let me log in and tell you why you are wrong RIGHT NOW!

Rather than

Oh look a forum, I better sign up for that.

Because the latter is not a good indication that you would want this user. What’s triggering that signup, exactly?

(Lowell Heddings) #8

That’s kinda my point.

  • People that have already signed up need to know the rules.
  • People that haven’t signed up yet need to know what the forum is about.

Right now, when somebody hits a Discourse forum, they aren’t going to understand what it’s all about at a glance. Sure, they can read through the list of topics on the front page and the welcome topic, and then finally understand what it’s all about.

And yes, on the How-To Geek forum, people are going to recognize what we are all about, so it’s probably not quite as necessary. But what about people that are starting a forum without a well-known site behind it?

  • It just seems like a valuable option for people. It allows them to extend some branding around the forum that will only display for visiting users, and only visiting users hitting the home page.

  • Why force everybody to read through a list of items when you can summarize it for them in a couple of easy words? Lists are meant to list things, not to summarize things. Note that I am not suggesting that people shouldn’t read the list as well.

  • We’ve already seen a lot of complaints, both here, and on HTG, that the forum is cluttered and confusing. We know that it isn’t cluttered, of course, but I think they aren’t articulating the real problem, which is that they aren’t “led” to the point of the site quickly.

I really like the way StackExchange did their welcome message - it helps to differentiate between all of the different sites, many of which are very similar at first glance. I mean, how would you know what question to post on cstheory.SE vs programmers.SE vs codereview.SE vs SO without a quick explanation?

In any case, it’s not some huge feature that I really have the energy to argue with you about. Just an idea that I’m guessing would make a lot of forum owners happy, and make users understand the site more easily.

(Jeff Atwood) #9

And soon it will be possible to read the welcome text under the topmost pinned welcome topic to understand what the site is about, saving the user one click and putting the info right at the top of every visitor’s web browser…

I feel this meets 90% of what you requested and has many other benefits.

I’d also note that Stack Exchange requires a lot more explanation because a) it’s a strict as hell system, which will slap you down hard if you don’t follow the rules, and b) it is a Q&A system not an “anything goes” forum or comments system which most people are familiar with on the Internet.

Neither a) or b) really apply to forum systems at all. They are not strict, and they are pretty much anything goes, as long as it’s not overtly evil or explicitly disallowed up front.

(Lowell Heddings) #10

For me, yes, it’ll work perfectly.

I still maintain that other people would like the welcome message area. But I’m certainly not going to argue about it :smile:

(Jeff Atwood) #11

I really worry if anonymous users, who …

  • have all of one controls on every post the share a link button
  • have exactly one action button at the bottom of every topic, “log in”

… can’t figure out how our forum works!

This is pretty much all you can do as an anonymous user:

  1. Click topic title
  2. Scroll
  3. Click back button to view topic list again (or select from Suggested Topics at bottom)
  4. Repeat until bored

Am I missing anything here, functionality wise, that would require explanation for random not-logged-in passers-by who happen to click on a forum page? I am honestly asking, this is not a rhetorical question, I swear!

My feeling is this: if we need a special “explanation panel” like Stack Exchange does (and again, this is because it is a very strict Q&A system that is not at all like the bog-standard Internet forum people expect) for anonymous users then we have basically utterly failed, IMO.

(Nicholas Perry) #12

I got the impression it wasn’t just about how it works, but also an in your face “why we exist”.

Basically, the issue I see this solving is that there is no tagline or “You are here!” aspect.

If I’m an anonymous user, and I decide to click on the homepage link in the top left, I’m doing so to find two things - what this place is about, and what else I might be able to find, and why I would want to join in. Even something as simple as “A place to discuss the development of Discourse’s forum software” in the general area would suffice.

Thread topic titles do an excellent job describing the topic of the thread. I know that I am talking about “Welcome Message Area on the home page for anonymous user”. I find the homepage itself is missing an overarching ‘topic’ title. Why does this forum exist, why would I want to spend my time here?

I do agree that discourse does a pretty good job at getting people to use it. That being said, I’d really like something to declare the site’s purpose and not have it hide in the content area, or worse hide in the PM section.

Having to take that extra moment to read and parse the site structure and content violates a few of the “Don’t make me think” principles.

(Luke S) #13

Exactly. Not so much “How do I join?” (If I want to, I’ll figure it out) More of a "Tell me in thirty seconds or less why I should join your forum rather than someone else’s.

(Ildar Abdulin) #14

This option is really useful, pinned topics don’t answer the question “what’s it all about?”

(Jeff Atwood) #15

They are supposed to, however – so rather than enable weird special casing, encourage folks to explain the mission in a standard pinned topic, per my screenshots above…

(Alfonso Muñoz Pomer Fuentes) #16

Having never had more than a shallow look at Discourse codebase, it doesn’t sound like something very complicated that couldn’t be accomplished with a plug-in.

(Jeff Atwood) #17

Ok this change is live, let’s see how it goes :

(Sander Datema) #18

I have to admit that this excerpt for pinned topics along with the stars that appear in front of every topic title now the overview gets cluttered.

(the stars aren’t appearing on HTG yet)

(Sam Saffron) #19

we should open a separate topic on the stars, personally I never use the fav functionality from the list and see it as purely clutter though @codinghorror feels differently about it.

(Jeff Atwood) #20

You should also lobby to remove the favorite stars from GMail lists as well… since it bothers you so much and you never use it… :smile:

The reason you don’t see stars @sanderdatema is because that screenshot was taken as an anonymous user. Try browsing the site in Incognito mode.