Request: UNHIDE the reply-as-linked-topic function

I have seen a norm in Discourse forums that topics get into a meta or tangential discussion far too easily and then the original topic somewhat dies. This happens more often on some forums than others, but I suspect the majority of Discourse users do not know that reply-as-linked-topic exists.

If the option were exposed when replying (instead of requiring a click on the reply-arrow icon), it would get used far more often. It would prompt people to consider it (which I’m suggesting would be great).

Perhaps radio buttons, maybe two or three of the options are exposed with a “more” link to show others.

At the least, it could be made an option to have it unexposed.

I suspect this would have a huge improvement in the nuanced choices people make about how to engage most effectively.


I suspect that most of the time when replying the average person doesn’t need to see the “reply as linked topic” option at all… and some people might not need to ever see it; showing it 100% of the time seems like overkill.

I wonder if there’s a better way to educate people about the possibility of switching reply types?

Very rough mockup:

So we could show this under specific circumstances… brand new users already have a lot to learn, but maybe if you’re a newish user that has posted 20+ replies, and you’re replying to a 100+ reply topic or something in that general area?

(We do already have the composer-specific popup for things like the “similar topic” warning, which is also an option… but I like these little popups that point to the functionality specifically).


In addition to something like that, it might be that just making it more really obvious that the arrow is a thing to click would make a big difference.

To be clear: I repeatedly have the tension where I want to tell people to please use the feature, and I feel inadequate even saying “click the arrow”. I can’t readily in words feel they get what I’m talking about. The only thing I feel works has been to post a gif animation of clicking it. So, right now, even telling people explicitly isn’t enough.

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The mockup is a good idea, but I think you could force people’s hand to click the arrow (via some complex, imaginary set of remote robotics), and it still wouldn’t change their behavior.

I’m … not optimistic … about the idea that you can get people to go out of their way to create new topics, even if they know exactly how to do it, when it’s so much easier to reply to the existing topic.

(I also think it’d be a mistake to make it very easy to spawn a bunch of new topics willy-nilly. That’s trading one set of problems for another.)

All you’re left with is arbitrarily making it harder for people to reply, to incur intentional friction on reply, which has its own set of pitfalls. I mean technically we want people to read the entire topic before replying, yes, so we could block replying until we know you’ve read “enough” of the topic? Or we could block replying (somehow…) until you’ve read “enough” of the source article that the discussion is about?

There is no clear win here. The A+ students who sit in the front row of class will create new topics and help split. Everyone else … kinda doesn’t care.


Also worth mentioning that it was visible on every post at once point in Discourse history (in the space where the timeline is now). A lot was different then, but I don’t recall it being used dramatically more before the change.

Expanding on Jeff’s point, it might be more impactful for a community to recruit their most active/diligent/reasonable people that care, promote their trust level, and have them help out with organization.


There’s obviously design influence here.

If you made every reply prompt people with a forced choice of new-topic vs same-topic reply, you’d indeed reduce engagement but there’s no doubt the function would get used more.

Hide the function, almost nobody uses it.

So, there’s trade-offs. This isn’t all-or-nothing. The aim is to reach all the users who would bother and currently don’t know and can’t even readily understand when someone tells them the feature exists. What portion is that? Definitely non-zero. Probably varies amongst different communities. It might be very high in a niche community of smaller numbers of highly-engaged users and much lower in a drive-by-commenting style place with less engagement and larger audience.

The status quo reduces use even for a communities of all A+ students.

Some communities will have reasons to really prefer on-topic focus and no problem with lots of small topics. Others may never care. Don’t make it hard for communities that want the feature. It’s a great feature.

At just a tiny push, if there were a built-in way to post something like the mockup above, it would at least make it easier for moderators to choose to easily show users the feature.

I don’t like the suggestion that handling this should all be about hands-on moderation rather than teaching and empowering users. Keep in mind that there are instances of pretty hands-off (and even relatively ignorant) moderators where engaged users still want to help each other have the best experience.

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OMG I’ve been using Discourse for years and just learned this. Previously, I thought the only way was:


… so I’m excited to find this, but also a little disappointed. My informal polling has shown that this is a surprise to all of the heavy users of the Fedora sites. @codinghorror maybe that’s because we don’t have any A+ students, but surely this should be known to at least… solid B-average folks?

I wrote a new mini-guide

… which hopefully will help. But really, when a doc like that needs to be written, I think it’s a sign that the design could use some love. I’d like this to come to people naturally.


You may want to change “top right” to “top left”. :wink:
Looks great otherwise! And thank you. :smiley:


Oh! Yes. Those have confused me since kindergarten! :slight_smile: Thanks for the correction!

Note that as with pretty much everything in Fedora, that text is under an open license. (CC-BY-SA 4.0, to be specific.) So feel free to reuse, improve, etc.

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Continuing the discussion from Request: UNHIDE the reply-as-linked-topic function: (Ha-ha — I toggled the “Reply as linked topic” switch in the composer (I was so excited to have found it!) and didn’t notice that it had left this line at the top of my post.)

I was perusing the Discourse FAQ (“This is a Civilized Place for Public Discussion”), and noticed the suggestion “Rather than taking an existing topic in a radically different direction, use Reply as a Linked Topic.”

“Oh, there is a ‘Reply as a Linked Topic’ feature?” I remarked to myself. I went to try it out — opened a topic, looked for a button for that; couldn’t find one. Tried hitting a “Reply” button, looked for a linked-topic option in the compose window; couldn’t find it. Is this something restricted by trust level? Looked through the site’s Settings; couldn’t find anything relevant. Was this feature removed, without updating the FAQ?

Desperate for an answer, I headed over to Discourse Meta (desperate!) and searched for “reply as linked topic”, and as the sixth result down I encountered this topic, and I finally got my answer!

In all my time of using Discourse sites, it has never occurred to me that clicking the swoopy arrow icon in the corner of the compose window would yield a dropdown menu, let alone yield the hidden magic “Reply as linked topic” feature.

That swoopy-arrow needs some text to show that it is some kind of selector, and to more clearly show what option has been selected, to make it clear that other options exist.

That still won’t be enough, though. The Reply button at the bottom of a topic leads one directly to “Reply to topic”; the Reply button at the bottom of each post leads one directly to “Reply to this post”. “Reply as linked topic” needs its own button, too, somewhere, as an affordance to find the feature and initiate the decision to use it. If the FAQ is literally telling newbies to use “Reply as linked topic”, then it should be trivial to find it.

The swoopy-arrow-dropdown-selector mechanism should only exist to help identify the current composer mode and to allow someone to change their mind after they have started composing.