Sidebar category configuration -- just follow watching/tracking instead of having separate config?

Continuing the discussion from Try out the new sidebar and notification menus!:

@Jonathan5 suggested that the separate configuration for sidebar categories could be dropped in favor of simply using “watched” and “tracked”. @mcwumbly replied that this was the original design, but that people found this was too much notification noise. And then:

It looks like since I tried this something changed — or else I was wrong before — and now sidebar categories which are not watched or tracked show a new-message count (just like tracked categories). I guess that’s a little less confusing.

I still am not convinced that a “slightly less tracked than tracked” class is needed, but if it is, it seems less overwhelming to users to add to the category watching options, like this:

  • Watching
  • Watching First
  • Tracking
  • Sidebar Link
  • Normal
  • Muted

… and then have everything Sidebar Link and above show up.

Fewer separate config option places, and as a bonus easy to configure from each category with the existing bell icon.

What do you think?


I think the desire to split sidebar appearance from tracking level is more apparent when we look at the UI… having a dropdown with 5+ options that each require their own explanation feels like a lot.


So with the sidebar combined here, these descriptions get longer and the functionality gets less apparent… for example, Watching would become:

You will automatically watch all topics in this category and a link will be added to your sidebar. You will be notified of every new post in every topic, and a count of new replies will be shown.

That feels like a lot to understand. I suspect that there are already many Discourse users that can’t explain the difference between watching and tracking without referring to this menu.

I’d like to work towards simpler more universally understood concepts that require less explanation.

We’re also considering future functionality like the concept of personalized homepages where a user can aggregate topics from specific categories/tags/etc. The “tracked” link in the sidebar is kind of an early version of this.

So maybe in the future “tracked” becomes “subscribed”, and at that point we can follow a pattern that requires less explanation. YouTube, for example:

Screen Shot 2022-10-19 at 10.12.45 AM

In their case “Subscribe” means I want to see this on my homepage and in my subscription list, and their notification options are very simple. We’ll still require more detail than that, but if we have a separate “subscribe” button perhaps we can focus on making the existing tracking menu more notification focused, and as a result, easier to understand at a glance.


(just an example, we don’t have set plans for something like this at the moment)

I agree with this generally, I’d like to see the ability to add categories or tags to the sidebar from the category or tag pages directly rather than an isolated preferences menu… but I hope we can come up with a way that isn’t further complicating some already complicated concepts.


2 posts were split to a new topic: Is there a way to easily see which things you’ve already tracked?

That makes lots of sense. Although I’d like that to be useful and not overwhelming, I was thinking primarily of finding it in Preferences. It feels weird to me that it’s not here:

… and discovering it in another area makes me feel like I need to click through all of the different areas to see if there are category preferences in those too.

This is especially confusing because settings in Notifications do (I think? right?) change what is displayed next to the categories in the sidebar — as well as what shows up under “Everything” and “Tracked”.

1 Like

Yeah we are totally up for a revamp here. It is not particularly fun to use these controls and there are so many of them in so many different places. It would feel particularly wrong to move sidebar there cause it does not notify and this is “notifications → categories”.

We have discussed the idea of a unified UI for handling categories and tags user prefs, but it is still in the brainstorming phase.

@awesomerobot general idea is a single row per category or tag where you can decide what you want to do with it. Then show you a list of all the things you acted on with a search box.

I can certainly see us make progress here over the next few months.