The dreaded "general discussion" category - what to do?

(Lee_Ars) #1

Forums exist to foster discussion about a given overall topic or theme—a sports forum, a technology forum, a BMW forum, whatever. But people love talking to other people, and even in tightly-controlled web forums which attempt to categorize discussion, there always seems to end up being a big “General Discussion” catch-all forum—and, more often than not, it’s got the lion’s share of posts.

How should a Discourse-based forum approach the “General Discussion” catch-all? Is it wise to simply have a “general” category for people to use when they’re just shooting the shit? Or is it viable for general posts to remain uncategorized? Or is the “frequent flyer’s lounge” that @codinghorror and others have mentioned for more-trusted users intended to be used for that? (Doing so would at least cut down on idle chatter by normal users…)

Idle silliness can play a huge role in the development of a community’s particular “flavor,” since it’s how the regular members come up with the in-jokes and other quirkiness that makes a forum fun. Can that kind of randomness be guided with newer tools? Or is a “general discussion” category a good idea?

It seems kind of like giving up, to a certain extent, but maybe it’s just the labeling. “General discussion” feels like “stuff that defies categorization.” Maybe “Idle talk” or “chatter” or something else would be a better label.

(ComputerDruid) #2

Lots of forums I have visited have an “off-topic” categorization, which seems like a good fit for what you are describing. That seems like it would work pretty well with discourse’s categories.

(Trevor Williams) #3

Sounds like a bit of wordplay there bro. Most of the forums I’ve been to, General means everything else NOT related to any of the other categories offered. So that could mean a broad spectrum of discussions in that one category.

Take for instance, this particular forum meta.d … There’s no chit-chatting about random stuff because there’s no place for that here as specified by the categories. Everything here is Discourse related, period.

Everything we talk about in life has some type of category for it and you can break it down from something broad to something very focused and niched. Here’s another example of this (and this is what I will end up doing…):

Utilizing the multi-site feature already built in Discourse, I will create different subdomains per category. Like: … Within that, I’ll break it down to everything related to entertainment e.g. Sports, Music, Movies, etc. Another subdomain would be and within that […] – you get the picture?

That way everyone has somewhere to go regardless of what you have to say because it’ll already be categorized. I think of it like a tree; tree’s grow tall and have branches, from those branches they grow twigs.

Basically what I’m saying is there’s different ways to approach this. Hopefully this helps you in decided what you want to do with your Discourse.

(Bill Ayakatubby) #4

That’s a clever use of the multi-site feature, but I think there are some drawbacks:

  1. A user would have to register (and confirm their registration) at each site on your installation.

  2. A user might post something about football helmet sensors in, but you think it should be in Does Discourse have a mechanism for transferring topics between sites?

  3. Even if #2 is possible, what if the user has only registered on and not on Do you change the author? Create a placeholder user?

  4. That still doesn’t solve the issue of off-topic discussion creeping in. The chatter here at meta.d is mainly by tech-oriented people who can control themselves. We understand the concept of meta. The general populace? Not so much. To further your analogy, I liken it to a baseball game I recently attended with some coworkers. Did we discuss baseball? Of course; but we also discussed work issues, flower gardens, U-Haul trucks, and our cats. Can you imagine if sports venues banned non-sports-related conversation? They’d be dead zones, and I think so would your forum.

(Lee_Ars) #5

Yeah, I’m not sure if using multiple Discourse instances as top-level containers is the answer. That sounds like a massive increase in complexity, both from a user standpoint and also from an admin standpoint. It also adds load on the web server; limits http connection re-use, increases potential redis & postgres load by Nx, where N = the number of discourse instances you’re maintaining.

Putting aside the technical issues—which admittedly I’m just guessing at—it seems like you’d need to have a pretty broad forum and also a very large userbase to make that practical. Otherwise, you risk stranding your forum users in isolated, less-populated subdomains. If you’ve got a daily active set of ~1000 users, and 20 of them regularly want to talk about football, shunting them off into doesn’t sound like the answer, because then you’ve got a 20-person ghost town forum operating.

Categorization can only take you so far as a top-level organizational tool, I believe. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for users to find & discuss what they want, not to jam them into as precise a box as possible. It can definitely be taken too far; the organic fashion in which a community shapes itself tends to flow over the boundaries an admin places when he’s setting up the system before the users arrive.

(Jeff Atwood) #6

Any of that is fine. Discourse is like a dinner party, there are a variety of conversations between groups of people going on all the time, and they can be on whatever topics people like.

Personally I am a fan of uncategorized for this, but it’s entirely a personal preference.

No, I don’t think of that as a General Discussion area per se. It’s the same intent as an actual frequent flyer’s lounge – a place for experienced travelers to hang out together apart from the noisy crowds.

Then perhaps “uncategorized” is the way to go?

(Jack Slater) #7

So you can rename “Uncategorized” to “general” but then it won’t show up in the category list when choosing a category for your new topic.

Is this a bug?

(Jeff Atwood) #8

@sam recently made a change where behind the scenes uncategorized topics actually do have a real category associated with them, so this might work better now. Not sure.