Suggestion: Hide/show group inbox via user preference or group admin setting


(Tobias Eigen) #1

I have been exploring group inboxes and wanting to turn it on for more groups in my community, but held up by the group inbox/archive accessed via the message sidebar. It looks a bit quirky and will get overly long the more groups a member is in. Also, a longstanding bug prevents group inboxes from going away when there are no messages in it.

It occurs to me that, in our community at least, having a separate group inbox and archive really only makes sense for a team inbox. For the vast majority of people who are in a group and being included in personal messages, they don’t need to have a separate group inbox/archive at all… they would be happy to just see the occasional group messages they receive interspersed with the rest of their personal messages in their inbox. When they are done reading they can move it to their own archive. When they leave the group, the messages would no longer be displayed.

This is something users could be allowed to turn on/off for all groups via their user preferences - and presto! All the confusing group inboxes would disappear! For teams using groups for support ticketing, a group admin setting could be provided to always display a specific group inbox.

I of course don’t know the technical implications of such a change and if other communities are facing a similar challenge with group messaging, but thought I’d put it out there for discussion.


Wording for private/secure categories
(Jay Pfaffman) #2

I was with you, but then it occurred to me that maybe the solution you need is for each of those groups a category that is visible only to the group. There’s a pretty good interface for that already. :slight_smile:

It’s got the same features, e.g., you can email in to the category to start a new topic, and seems to solve the problems that you’re describing.


(Tobias Eigen) #3

Thanks, Jay. Yeah, I hear you on all that and it’s what we do currently.

But as I wrote elsewhere today, there are times when personal messages and group messaging make sense.

Notably, it’s a goal of ours to limit the number of categories and we think carefully before we create more of them. We want to open up channels of communication that are direct and non-public for alot of different groupings of people, and it becomes an admin nightmare to keep track of all these groups and secure categories.

Also, people get really (and I mean really) confused about the difference between groups and categories on discourse. So why do that to them?


(Alex Armstrong) #4

Until the group PMs started being usable (and they’re still not quite there), we used categories that were only viewable/postable by the specific groups. That, coupled with my version of the Watch Category plugin was a decent solution. But as Tobias mentioned it was really confusing to users.

I’m not sure that Tobias solution is ideal though. Right now it’s a vague whether something is a group PM or not. I don’t have anything to suggest at the moment. I just wanted to chime in and say that I’m facing the same difficulties as Tobias.


(Tobias Eigen) #5

Hi Alex! Thanks for adding your voice.

Actually, my solution would totally simplify group messaging for regular members. You can see right at the top, below the OP, who is in the message including any groups.

Meanwhile the UX is straightforward. All your messages will be in the same inbox or archive. Also, selecting the envelope link from a message takes you back to your inbox and never to a groups inbox which currently happens for messages including groups you are in. This throws me off and I know what’s going on.


(Alex Armstrong) #6

I re-read your proposal and I think it makes sense.

I’m trying to move away from using private categories into using groups and PMs. I hope that will help make it clearer what is public as opposed to what is private. But there are a lot of UX issues with the Messages page currently. Your suggestion is simplifying and there’s a lot of that needed :slight_smile:

But I’m hesitant of endorsing this or that change until I’ve had a bit of time to think about what would make sense in total.


(Alex Armstrong) #7

Ah, one issue with your proposed change is that that would hide the UI for changing whether a user is Watching/Tacking/etc a particular inbox.


(Tobias Eigen) #8

That’s true - it is not possible to change the notification settings for messages. With my proposal all messages would be treated the same, which is what I want in my use case.

If a specific message thread gets too noisy for you, you can always change your notification level for that message.

Maybe if some day tags for personal messages is implemented it could also be possible to customize notifications based on tags.


(Alex Armstrong) #9

I’ve completely failed at getting people to change their watching settings based on categories and tags – I’m not hopeful that they’d do that for messages :slight_smile:

A cleaner idea might be to expose the watching/tracking UI for groups somewhere else. The logical place would likely be your notification preferences. Adding a “Groups” section underneath “Categories” and “Tags”.


(Alex Armstrong) #10

I drafted a related, but distinct feature request here:

I think the two might work well together. Hiding the complexity from the users’ Messages tab, while enabling it through group pages.


(Alex Armstrong) #11

I just realized that messages sent to a group, don’t appear in a user’s inbox. That’s nuts. This part, at least, is more of a bug than a feature request. It makes finding recently sent/received group messages very tricky indeed. Or am I missing something here?


(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #12

I’m not following. This is what the dedicated group inbox is for.


(Alex Armstrong) #13

I thought the group inbox was a filter on the user’s inbox which only showed you that group’s messages, and not the only way to access them.

It makes a lot of sense to show group messages in a user’s inbox.

When I’m looking at my inbox, I’m looking at a dashboard of things on which I have to decide: reply or archive. I don’t only want to see the messages for which I am the sole recipient. I want to see all the messages which are addressed to me – including group messages.

Think about it in terms of an email account. All new emails land in my inbox regardless of whether I am their sole recipient.

Some of our users belong to half-a-dozen groups and clicking through them to find messages can be tricky, especially as there’s overlap between some of the groups.


(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #14

Aha, so that is where our use cases are drastically different. Here on Meta we only have the one main group inbox to manage, and some of us also field a fair amount of personal messages. The two types of communication are quite different (group inbox is customers, PMs is Meta users) so it makes sense for us to keep the inboxes separate.

Your use case is valid. I suggest you create a new feature request for this: A personal preference setting for “show group emails in personal inbox”


(David Taylor) #15

Another way of looking at it is to do what some email clients do: have a “unified inbox” tab in addition to all the separate inboxes.

That could work for both use cases.


(Alex Armstrong) #16

I like @David_Taylor’s suggestion as well. It would be useful for people who generally use the unified inbox, but could benefit by looking at their personal PMs occasionally – or vice versa.

The nomenclature could get messy here: “Unified inbox” vs “Personal inbox”. One tack might be to add the a checkbox beside the “Select all” button that reads “Include messages from group inboxes” (which only appears if there are emails there).

But this might be overengineering a solution. I’d be happy with a user setting as well.

Not sure how this relates to @tobiaseigen’s OP.

@erlend_sh: is my feature request substantially easier or more likely to be implemented?

(The confusion over the inbox is currently causing some support headaches in my rollout of private groups.)


(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #17

I don’t really know. Need input from dev @team on this.


(Tobias Eigen) #18

This is all very interesting - thanks. On my end, as stated in the OP, I have hesitated to roll out group inboxes more widely because the functionality is confusing and creates messiness. It’s not clear when to use it and how members can manage the messages. Mostly this comes down to the fact that messages are actually topics refactored to only be visible to individual members included in the message. It’s weird that members can’t delete their messages, for example, until you understand that they are actually topics that exist only once in the system. If I were to be able to delete it for myself, I’d delete it for everyone else! :scream_cat:

This confusion and messiness is real and disruptive both for staff (who should know better as experts of discourse) and for members (ordinary civilians trying to go about their every day lives who we try to serve with this community). I wrote up another post on this to try to clarify the situation for my staff - take a look and see if it matches up with your own experience. I’d be interested to hear from you, and happy to see the topic wikified to add more use cases.

Honestly, with this particular topic I was hoping we could find a way to cut through the noise for ordinary civilians and I still think it’s a good (the best?) idea. I am not excited about opening a pandora’s box with a range of different kinds of inboxes for messages that I then have to explain to my members. When in doubt, why not just use a secure category?

By simply putting all messages in the inbox for everyone by default, I think we will erase most confusion about messages. They all land in the inbox whether they were addressed to me directly or to a group I am in. I can then archive it and it goes into my own archive. Messages I have contributed to also appear in my sent folder. When tagging of messages comes along, I will then be able to organize my messages as I see fit like gmail labels.

If I am in a group used by a team to provide support (by email and PM) and don’t want to see all the group messages in my own messages, I can turn on the group inbox to separate out those messages.

Potential problems that occur to me in my pre-:turkey: state:

  • if I am kicked out of a group, do messages I’ve already received and replied to still appear in my inbox, archive and sent folders (and tagged folders when that is implemented)? Or do I lose access to those messages completely when I leave the group? confusing.
  • if I don’t use group inbox but others in my group do, if they archive a message does it archive it for me? confusing.
  • later, when tagged messages is implemented, do I see tags for group messages created by others? do I lose those tags when I leave a group?

Given these potential pitfalls, maybe the answer here is to have a group option for admins to “enable team inbox for messages” and otherwise just have everyone’s messages land in their inbox as they would expect. For the few of us who need a group inbox for team usage we’d see those folders in our inbox and then not be surprised to lose access to the folders and messages we haven’t contributed to (and their tags) when someday our role changes and we are removed from the group used for team communication. It would make sense to keep access to the messages we wrote or replied to, and in specific oddball cases where it’s required another team member can remove us from selected messages.


(Alex Armstrong) #19

Sorry for not replying sooner. Some of my recent time was, unfortunately, spent undoing the work for getting people to use group messages instead of secure categories (what we, rather confusingly, call “closed groups” in my system). I’m now in the process of moving everyone back to secure categories and using my “watch categories” plugin to enable notifications :pensive:

Broadly, I agree with Tobias. I support the idea of having just one inbox with everything in it.

I would like to maintain group inboxes, but I would prefer if they functioned as filters/labels rather than as buckets. So, if a message is sent to @foo-group, it should be available both in my personal inbox and (if enabled) my “Foo group” filter.

I use the inbox as a dashboard to see what’s on my plate, so I need to all “active” messages there. It would be a PITA to have to click through multiple groups to view all active messages.

Here’s how I envision the sidebar:

  • Inbox
  • Archive
  • Group A
  • Group B
  • Group C

etc.

Notice that there’s only one inbox and one archive, which work as you might expect. The inbox contains all messages that have not been archived. The archive contains everything else.

The various groups would list messages sent to that group regardless of whether they are archived or not. When you are viewing the messages in, say, Group B, there would be a section for messages in the Inbox and a section for messages in the Archive – but all on one page.

Average users can just work out of their inbox. Users who need to get an overview of group activity can do so using the labels.

I think this would work for most cases without requiring additional configuration.

Tobias, in such a case, would you still feel that it’s worth turning the group labels on the side on/off?