Three years ago we published a blog post about how Discourse and the long-form forum paradigm can co-exist with the short-form chat paradigm:
This kind of tooling mashup works, but it has some flaws. You end up with:
- Duplicate user directories
- Competing forms of private messaging
- “Where does this message belong?” uncertainty
- Poorly integrated tools for content gardening
One of the most upvoted HN stories of this year was a post about forums being superior to chat:
The very first paragraph immediately exposes the problem we’re now trying to solve for:
Hot take after a year or so of trying to build a developer community. If you can pick only one, use forum software rather than synchronous chat software for community building around a developer platform.
Community builders shouldn’t have to pick between the two as if they’re mutually exclusive. It’s a false duality. Ephemeral vs permanent, short-form vs long-form; these are merely different modes of communication with subtle differences in utility. They still serve the exact same purpose of communicating with people.
Minimum viable community
Get two people in a chat room together and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a healthy community. As long as there’s some chatter on a regular basis, the room will come off as lively and inviting to other prospective participants. This is a great onboarding strategy in the early days of a community, but there is a hard limit on how far it can scale. Doing things that don’t scale can be a winning strategy for startups and burgeoning communities alike; the key is knowing when you’ve outgrown your initial growth strategy.
The bigger the community, the more you need the standard (and only) Discourse interface to date. But at the low end of users and for Day-0 upstarts, the biggest hurdle isn’t to keep the party orderly but rather just to get the party started. And we know for a fact that chat does better at these small sizes.
In other words, chat solves the “Somebody say something!” problem:
Historically we’ve been deferring to chat platforms for Day-0 communities, with relative success: At scale, most chat communities organically discover a need for a more structured counterpart to their chatty firehose, so they eventually come calling.
This has allowed us to focus on being the best tool available for discussions at scale. However, by not being the tool of choice for most greenfield communities Discourse often finds itself in the very tough position of being an additional comms tool, further down in the stack.
Moving up the stack
To address our untenable position of having to introduce Discourse to communities years deep in chat inertia, we’ve begun working on something rather radical:
This plugin is now enabled for testing on a private category here on Meta. We will be chatting together in this closed space in much the same way that the MVP of Discourse Chat will be introduced to existing Discourse communities: Staff chat.
One of the complicating factors of communicating the long term plan for Chat is that we are inevitably targeting two separate markets:
(Mostly private) chat for Team-work
(Mostly public) chat for Communities.
These two verticals are largely identical; solving for one also solves for the other. Whether you’re kicking off a team project or a community, you need a good
staff chat for your primary stakeholders to stay coordinated as well as socially connected.
There are currently two ways to play around with Chat:
Install the open source plugin on your self-hosted install. While we don’t recommend it for production use just yet, we are already running Chat on our internal team instance as well as Meta.
Join our private group for chat testers to chat with us here on Meta. Anyone can request membership. Self-hosters are also encouraged to share their feedback in here.
Chat will go fully public on Meta in late December / early January.