Private replies that only admins can see

(Shiv Kumar) #1

What do you think about the idea of allowing forum admins/moderators to reply in-line within a topic with a private post that is only viewable to other admins/moderators?

The use case here is that a customer creates a topic about, let’s say, a bug in our product. We’d like to discuss this bug internally before replying to the user with our solution. Currently, this is done in email chains or Hipchat or something like that. Ideally, we’d like to have this private conversation right in the topic so any other admins can quickly get caught up to speed in one place. The ability to create private posts within a topic would solve this problem.

Semi-Private Replies - replies only visable to level-X and above
(Kane York) #2

I would do this by using a private message, which you can add the other people to who need to get caught up.

(Shiv Kumar) #3

Yes, but then you lose the context of the original topic. And what if other (non-admins) want to add their 2 cents to the original poster’s comments. For example, what if other users have a similar bug and would like to explain their situation. All this context is useful to the original bug, but would be lost if we simply moved the conversation to a private message. A private reply in-line with other posts still seems more ideal.

(Kane York) #4

Another option is to make the topic invisible, which will remove it from all lists, but anyone with a direct link can see it.

This has been done in the past on this forum for a few serious bugs.

(Shiv Kumar) #5

In that case, the original user (who raised the bug report) will be privy to the internal conversation about the bug. We would never want this to be the case.

(Sam Saffron) #6

You can use the moderator flagging function for this today:


The following link should take you to the moderator conversation, (a bit buggy now cause only takes you when you did not start the conversation)

(Shiv Kumar) #7

The flagging solution might work for us. I have a few concerns, though:

  1. That bug with the “You flagged this for moderation” link. This seems like an essential feature that would need to work.

  2. When I click on the Reply button in my instance…

I get…

Not sure if this is just an issue with my instance, though.

  1. We’d probably want to remove the “Agree” button for our use-case. We’d never want to click the “Agree” button and send a PM to the user who created the post with our entire internal conversation. There may be internal-only information in this private conversation that we would never want users to see.

Still the best solution, in my mind, is to allow admins to reply to a post as they normally would, but have a check-box to mark the reply as private. This reply would show directly on the topic page, but would only show to admins. To make it clear that the post is private, you could highlight the entire post in a light yellow.

The flagging feature, while it somewhat works, is not designed for this use-case. The solution I’ve outlined above is one that I think you’ll here from a lot of companies in the SMB/Enterprise space. Support teams view this as a high-priority feature of a forum. Is this something you could develop for all Discourse users? I’m sure it will benefit you in the long run.

(Jeff Atwood) #8

This would be major feature work. I have only ever seen two requests for this all time. I believe it is similar to the “whisper” feature that vanilla offers. But I am more curious about the goal or intent here, what we are trying to accomplish?

(Benjamin Kampmann) #9

Why not just create a private category only your team members are in and then use the “reply as new topic” feature to take that conversation off topic but still linked to it by just selecting the private category there? Then you could have the whole conversation of how to reply off topic and just close that topic once it has been done.

Though I am not sure how discourse behaves in mentions of other people in private categories. Do they still get notified even if they don’t have access to the post? I guess it shouldn’t be but even if it does, you can just make it a habit to remove the @-mention in the quote for now.

(Sam Saffron) #10

no, they do not, that would be real bad :tm:

(Benjamin Kampmann) #11


So, the feature seems very suited IMHO.

(Shiv Kumar) #12

From my initial post, here’s a potential use case: a customer creates a
topic about, let’s say, a bug in our product. We’d like to discuss this bug
internally before replying to the user with our solution. Currently, this
is done in email chains or Hipchat or something like that. Ideally, we’d
like to have this private conversation right in the topic so any other
admins can quickly get caught up to speed in one place. The ability to
create private posts within a topic would solve this problem.

Similar to a couple of my other requests, I think this feature would make
Discourse even more attractive to companies with Support teams that would
like to use the forum as a place to vet out ideas before entering them into
a bug tracking platform like Pivotal Tracker. At a minimum, it would be
nice to have a place to leave an internal note containing a link to the
Pivotal Tracker bug, where the rest of the internal convo may live.

(Martin) #13

Seems more suited to a plugin really due to it only having a somewhat specialized use.

(Shiv Kumar) #14

Ignore that @codinghorror! @lightyear’s solution sounds like it will work for us – thanks for the idea. Guess we just need to learn all of the ins and outs of this thing, and how we can use existing functionality to suit our needs, before submitting feature requests. But I guess that what a discussion forum is good for, right? :smile:

(Dave McClure) #16

@shivermetimbers - this request sounds a lot like the Private reply feature on support tickets within Zendesk. Is that the sort of thing you had in mind when initially posting this?

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with that feature, and it seems like @lightyear’s solution is pretty damn good. If you start using it that way I’d be curious to know how it works for you.

(Jeff Atwood) #17

Can you elaborate on the love/hate bit. Have heard others say the whisper feature in Vanilla is similarly seductive.

(Dave McClure) #18


Basically, the love part is that you can keep an internal conversation about a support issue in context. The hate part is that its easy to accidentally reply publicly when you meant to reply privately and vice versa. Both suck.

But I will try to put some more coherent thoughts together on the subject this evening.

(Shiv Kumar) #19

I agree w/ @mcwumbly’s thoughts above. That can be [slightly] annoying, but at the end of the day, the value of the functionality exceeds that minor frustration, in my opinion. As long as (1) internal replies are clearly marked differently than public replies – so if you want to create an internal reply, but accidentally create a public reply, you can at least notice that it doesn’t look like an internal reply – and (2) there is an easy way to delete/update a post (which there already is), then I think we’ll be safe.

Curious to here @mcwumbly’s thoughts.

And yes, something like the private reply feature in Zendesk is exactly what I had in mind!

(Asher Baker) #21

The problem there is just how fast things move once they’re public - not to mention out of band communication like email notices. I can’t see how the possibility of accidentally exposing internal company secrets to the world can ever be worth it for a minor convenience (not having to keep two tabs open, which is really all that is required). You’d be extremely lucky to ever pull back an accidental public reply without anyone that wasn’t meant to having seen it.

(Dave McClure) #22

Perhaps it makes sense to start a topic on a wider discussion along the lines of “Using Discourse as a replacement for a Support / Help Desk system” From what I can see on this forum, there are quite a few topics under this general theme, and its one of the things I’m considering.

The specific needs for such a system I think will vary a lot depending on the type of product being supported, the size of the customer base, and the size of the team supporting it. As a small team dealing in a relatively niche market, we have various people pitching in to support customers, but often there is some discussion about a problem internally, or someone cc’d on an issue may jump in and offer a suggestion.

We used to do most of our support by email, so there would be explicit branching of the conversations by changing the subject line with an [internal] prefix and changing the cc list. That at least made it easier to reply to the right thread, and therefore, the right people.

The private reply feature in something like Zendesk is seductive, but its been a bit problematic in my experience. Perhaps the idea is good and its just a problem with the execution. The difference in the UI when editing one vs the other isn’t loud enough I don’t think. And the other issue is just with how we’ve been using it, which is particular to us: we still end up using email as a primary interface so many posts are made by replying to an email thread. The way we set things up, the reply will be private if it comes from, but public if it comes from A cool idea, but again, prone to the mistake of sending as the wrong person.

I’m not so concerned with leaking private information with an accidental public reply as I am with wasted effort and confusion that arises from the accidents.

It’s often easier for the customer to have a ‘single point of contact’ for the issue. So when a random message is posted talking about them in the 3rd person, its just awkward.

Usually, the accident is that someone replies privately by accident, and then inevitably others feel obligated to chime in with additional noise “hey, you realize your message didn’t go to the customer, right?”

In any case, I’d be interested to test out what @lightyear recommended, but even in that context, I do think this is important:

I haven’t played around with private topic or categories in discourse, so I don’t know what that experience is like, but it would be good for them to look very different (kind of like incognito mode in chrome).