Information Overload - Some insight through qualitative interviews

Hi I’m gaining some insights that might be useful to some community owners.

As a part of project I’m working with a startup that makes juice cleanse kits. They are very successful since slow juicing is a new and hip health trend, and the startup has a big following on Facebook and Instagram. This start up want a community site were they can offer customer support, share recipes and discuss slow juicing. The demographic is women between 20 and 40 (70%).

We asked around 200 customers if they were interested in such a community, were they could discuss slow juicing. By far the majority said yes. We created a site to test if they really meant it. A wordpress site as a frontpage and Discourse as the community backbone. We invited a 110 and bribed 10 to create a user, create some content and let us interview them about the experience.

Almost nobody apart for the 10 we paid (with free juice) created a user. The main obstacle seems to be that Discourse is initially too confusing.

Everybody I interviewed said they loved the idea. They really needed a place to find juice recipes and discuss it. None of them was used to internet forums. They use Facebook and Instagram and follow blogs. When I asked them about the experience they all said, that Discourse was too confusing, there was too much information on the frontpage.

Personally I couldn’t understand this, since I find Discourse rather simple compared to traditional forum software. But it turns out that they were all using their iPhone and the amount of information was too much for the little screen, and probably what they are used too on Instagram. They said that all the text apart from the subject confused them, initially. Like information about the last activity, which user has created.

I dont know if this information should be removed or if there is some design tricks to display these things that is easily comprehensible. But for this demographic Discourse needs to be more simple.

However when they are used to it, they love Discourse. The ones we forced to use it, keep interacting with and told me that they are learning it and think it is easy to actually use. They just think that front page with the Latest topics is overwhelming. Several told me that if they hadn’t be bribed to use they would have been scared away, which might explain why almost no one created a use without getting free juice.


That’s interesting. Why don’t you try to customize the home page and remove the parts that confuse your users? Should be as easy as adding some CSS rules to hide these information. You can always unhide it back later :wink:

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I’ll probably try something like that in the following weeks. It could be very interesting to get this demographic, who seems to be overwhelmed and scared of forums, to actually use them, as it looks like they enjoy it when they get used to it.


So you are referring to the mobile front page only in the above?

I think it is the perception here rather than the reality, in that not much is actually presented on the screen, but perception matters!

One thing I’ve thought about is including the avatar of the user who created the topic as an image rather than text on mobile. Like so

We could also suppress the last post date entirely, but I’m not sure about that…

If you like this idea @zogstrip perhaps you can implement it on mobile tonight as an experiment, it does not seem too tough, mostly CSS and a minor adjustment to the HTML templates.


I don’t have a mobile device, but looking at those screen captures I’m wondering if the problem is really “information overload” or if it’s a “wall of text” problem.

For me, the avatars help to define areas and provide a visual “anchor” while I read the topic titles.


That’s what I was thinking too. We initially shied away from avatars on mobile for performance / bandwidth reasons, but it might be better to bring them back now.

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Yes, the avatars help a lot.

If your site doesn’t use many categories, I would suppress them on mobile. They are not needed for basic navigation, and add to the perceived clutter.

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Just added and enabled a mobile customization with these adjustments :heart_eyes:.

Here’s what it looks like


Yes, I have heard this many times from non-tech people.

This new interface is good but I think it can use moar white space, specifically between posts.

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About mobile, or desktop? We’ve simplified front page a lot on desktop over the last year, see for yourself :wink:

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Yeah I know, and it was a heavy improvement!

I was thinking something along the lines of this:


Maybe clicking on the avatars should link to the post.


Why randomly right justify? Why remove category color entirely? Why remove post count (and thus also any possible notification of new and unread) entirely? Why make categories look like tags? Are we in total bikeshed mode now? If so then I’m out of here, because this topic is now a complete waste of time.

I’d prefer to stay on focus, which is the legit complaint about wall of text on mobile, rather than randomly right aligning text and removing key fields just… because.

(also psst look at how tags already look there…)


Ok, that was just a fast chrome dev tools mockup of what I was trying to say about white space.

People come from image-heavy websites and get afraid when they first see discourse and the wall of text. But they never gonna see an UI like instagram (photos app) on a most text app.

What I was trying to explain with the mockup (whatever the text-alignment) is that by hidding some elements, like you guys did on Desktop over the years, or you suggested here:

can be good, because the first impression isn’t that scary.


I can support making the mobile topic list date very suppressed, e.g. constant very light grey. @zogstrip can you turn off the age color mapping on last post dates (for mobile), and switch to a constant very suppressed grey color – let’s use the light/dark functions so it works right on dark bg sites as well.

Also as @simon noted tapping the avatar should jump to the topic in this case.

Other than those two changes I think we should ship this as default. :+1:


A department at my company recently told all ~ 200 of their employees to sign up for the internal Discourse instance that I manage. Many of them are older PhD level researchers – many recognized experts in their fields – and there was A LOT of griping about their VP telling them to use Discourse. Much of the feedback and vitriol that they emailed to me (full of hubris, signifying nothing :wink: ) sounded very much like the quotes I included here from the first post. It looked way too confusing to them, notifications made no sense and they didn’t understand why they had to use them, what was wrong with just firing off emails and copying the entire group, etc.

Several complaints were about the fact that they thought using @ to mention people was confusing and they never would remember to do it. I really would like to have a way to force all new members, even if they join through an invite link, to enter their full name. Our IT group is scared of all non-MS stuff and won’t let us integrate with SSO. It’s fine, but makes it a big pain to accommodate large influxes of new users. I spend a lot of time going through the user list and manually adding people’s names.

Slowly, some of the less noisy people are starting to use it to communicate. We’ll have to wait to see if others take it up in time. I think they will. I think the email integration is what will get them there. In the meantime, however, I get to roll my eyes about 10 times/day as I get cranky emails from people who can’t understand why Discourse might work better for group collaborative discussion than email.

But yeah… my gripes aside, I love Discourse and I don’t find it cluttered at all. Neither do any of the members of my immediate team who have been using it for over a year. New members, however, need to see a good month of active posts germane to them to finally start to see the light, in my experience. A lot of that has to do with overcoming the confusion factor. It might also help if they could choose a certain category that would represent their personal Discourse “home page,” since many of them just want to ignore things outside of the category their department uses.

p.s. Outlook 365 online now also uses @ to ‘mention’ people, or something like it.


“Users choosing their own homepage” comes up again :slight_smile:


For me, browser bookmarking works fine.
Maybe making the various “filters” that can be appended to URLs easier to find / more prominent (a Pinned HowTo ?) would suffice?
AFAIK @cpradio has a comprehensive list of them somewhere

Changes are now live :wink:


Yes only the mobile page. Non of them used a computer. I don’t know how they would feel about the desktop layout, but I think that is irrelevant in my case, since it seems that this is a very mobile demographic.

I think you’re right, that this is about perceived complexity, and the wall of text is doing that. Avatars will probably help with that, and some white space.

Choosing their own homepage is not needed in this particular case. The problem is the initial impression, and making the user understand Discourse well enough to dig through settings and make them design a homepage is not a solution.