Please better describe the relationship between emails and notifications

I have users who want to interact with Discourse via email a lot. One thing I’m noticing that isn’t clear to people is that notifications → emails, but maybe only sometimes. This becomes particularly confusing in these settings:

… which say nothing about “send me an email when a new post occurs in a Category” I’m watching.

Actually, I’m not even sure if these settings affect that case, and if so, which one — it’s not a message, nor is it a quote, reply, mention, or invite.


I also sometimes struggle with the way the user preferences are categorized and described. If you have specific suggestions for improving it, with specific rationale and proposed better copy, let us know.

One improvement I’d agree with is that the notifications > categories / tags preference sub-sections is where you determine which categories and tags you are watching but it doesn’t indicate there when you will be emailed. I think that goes along with this email preference:

I guess this could be changed to something like this to include the topics being watched because of category/tag notification settings:

Send me an email when someone posts to a category or tag I am watching, quotes me, replies to a post I wrote, mentions my @username, or invites me to a topic.


I’ve added “, and also regarding categories and topics I’m watching.” to the standard text in the screenshot above. This isn’t perfect either, for instance it doesn’t mention watching tags.

There are some topics about the email and notification confusion and I think there are some suggestions for improvement there.


I’ve been reviewing the previous forum discussions on this, (fact checking for a topic I was involved in) and I’m wondering if part of the previous confusions are due to a difference in mental model (because of greater familiarity?) between the discourse devs and everyone else…

My basic model for the current behavior would be:

  • Notifications are about which pieces of data Discourse tries to highlight for my attention.
  • Email settings specify which delivery mechanisms I prefer for getting my notifications.

Note: this is already missing some subtleties:

  • unread posts show up next to the topic in certain modes. This is not a notification, as such, but it’s linked to/controlled under the notification settings.
  • Invitations to a topic are emailed based on the option that I associate with “notification deliveries,” but in my mind are more akin to a specialized personal message. (As opposed to @mentions, which are public within the topic.)

If the team is using a different conceptual model, maybe explaining that model would help the community to give more useful feedback on settings and descriptions. If the team’s conceptual model can’t be broken down to ~3 bullet points, maybe it’s time to revisit the model?

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how about this:

  • Only created post notifications trigger the discussed type of email
  • Several filtering rules are applied to determine when we shouldn’t email you (bounce score, seen recently)
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I think the unspoken question here is, as often, how can a user avoid missing out without having to log in all the time? Ultimately the answer here is that the defaults are fine. Even if you change nothing, you will be notified about everything you need to know, even if you don’t log in on a regular basis. But because it’s a forum and not a mailing list, the experience will always be better if you log in to join discussions and to see what notifications are popping up for you, and to click the link in emails you do receive to read the topic on the site and engage there.

For those people who really truly never want to log in we offer mailing list mode.