Tighter integration between chat and forum - discussing ideas

My intention here is to discuss the overall idea of making Forum and Chat interactions less of a separate thing, and more like “modes” one can freely move in and out of, or at least that may be more tightly integrated in some way. I hope you’ll “think along with me”! This may not belong in Features, so I won’t be surprised if it gets moved. :wink:

Here’s my first idea. Let’s say you have the same concept of a “Topic” as we currently do, but:

  • You could freely intermix “chat” and “forum” ways of “replying”, and chat reply would essentially create an in-line chat instance for some short-ish period of time by default (further activity in it extends the time), sort of like Discord auto-expiring threads
    • This could be in response to e.g. noticing that 5 other people are currently online, making replies in the same thread. Why would you want to have to enable chat, move to that separate space, and then how would you handle that fragmentation for the future interaction on that topic?
  • After the time expires without activity, the chat reply “closes”, and you see an auto-summary (like Discourse already does in big topics) as a sort of “hyper-reply” in-line with the rest of the discussion
  • Anyone can click to expand the chat area and read it in full, reply to it as a whole (regular reply) or reply to an individual chat message once expanded (also regular reply, since the chat instance is closed, in-line)
  • Or they can just continue to reply as normal below that
  • If they want to instantiate a new chat for some period of time they can do that too
  • Chat areas could be overall expanded/collapsed in the “topic stream” (i.e. the full, long view of a topic) and would be highlighted e.g. on the right in the navigator in some color or other way of indicating “realtime chat happened here”
  • There could be an optional role of “curator” (auto-granted at some Trust Level) that allows people to “promote” chat messages from these collapsed areas into the summary/collapsed chat view to help surface key insights, etc. (this could be in addition to the current copy/move message to topic options)

Imagine the forum + chat version of “Liquid Text” as an idea of expand/collapse UI for text…

4 Likes

I’m all for these new ideas, and just speaking for myself, I can often feel confused when I don’t see them drawn out. The LiquidText video helps a bit but not sure if I’d feel super excited to use that layout.

So would this be more like a Google Docs comments running down the right sidebar of the topic? Or would it appear under the posts in the topic? Indented?

I like the idea of making it easier to create chat channels on the fly and also wonder how someone will know whether to post to chat or post to topic. Would it be a matter of post duration (shorter to chat, longer to topic)? Length of post (shorter to chat, longer to topic)? Seriousness of post (more playful to chat, more serious to topic)? Etc.

Personally I’m trying to be more aware of when I want to chat and when I want to topicalize (trying to turn it into a verb).

4 Likes

Yeah, it is understandably hard to visualize. In my head it was underneath/in-between regular replies. I could see it working in a couple different ways though… I put together some mockups:

3 different possible approaches to an in-line expandable chat. Interaction varies between the 3. Maybe on that last one you just click the speech bubble with the number (count of chat messages) to expand and/or click the space in-between the “chevrons”. Also note on the chat icons on the timeline, which show when chats happened and that there can be multiple, interspersed within the topic/regular replies. Also keep in mind these are just “quick” mockups (in the sense of basic, though they actually took me longer than I’d like to admit to create :joy:).

These are all great questions and potential answers. Ultimately I think this is something that will need to be figured out regardless of how chat and forum work together, and may also be more individual for each person or community. I suspect each community in particular will develop sort of cultural values/conventions for how they tend to handle that kind of thing, just as is the case with other conventions that are not enforced through settings or controls but are more about “how we do things here”.

4 Likes

In my opinion, chat attached to topic are for short ideation/things that do not need to be persisted over time. I could think on my forum of a feature topic on which I attached a chat. The chat would be to discuss things in quick manner but to keep the topic tidy with only persisting replies.
I could also think of having a chat in whisper mode so only people in a specific group could see/reply to then finalize an answer on the topic while the side discussion doesn’t need to be persisted (I think to remember of a feature idea to allow whisper mode to groups instead of staff only?)
All in all, I would prefer a third column than an expand button at the beginning

3 Likes

Yeah, I think you may be right. Just playing with ideas here. :slight_smile:

I will say that third column is great for me on a 4k 32" screen, but is not an option for many smaller screens, much less mobile. So the UI of it still needs some fancy thinking, I suspect.

But my main concern at present is having much clearer indications of where there is chat available and making it easy to view it without necessarily “joining”, etc. Right now it’s pretty darn clunky, you have to choose to “browse”, then choose to “preview” a channel or “join”, etc. Compared to Discord and similar systems it is very not-smooth. :smile:

It sounds like Chat in Topic is going to be removed as a feature anyway, judging from recent posts from Sam, so maybe much of this consideration is no longer necessary. I think it actually makes some sense to remove chat-on-topic for now, focus on category-based chat, and then if there seems to be need for/value in per-topic chat, it can be added in sensibly later, based on existing, longer experience with the overall chat functions and how they’re used by various communities. I definitely feel quite scattered with the chat experience at present, and category-based will provide some needed focus.

1 Like

Based on feedback from Sam, indeed, seems like it would be category based.

Going forward in that direction, I think it would be great if :

  1. Chat were visually separate from topics when browsing a category. The reason for suggesting it is that chats are normally very active so they would be most of the time on top of topics. It would then tend to make chat the easiest “way” to go into a discussion instead of going to the “right topic”;
  2. There was a support of search on chats(I have seen that already being asked somewhere);
  3. Mentioning a chat like we do categories (#community ?) would be also awesome.
3 Likes

I just saw this post and think it may relate to what someone suggested earlier about creating a chat based on a topic in real time, when people seem to be replying very quickly to the topic:

1 Like

Yep, I remember that topic and seeing it as early hints that Discourse was considering this dev direction. It’s an interesting idea, to be sure. Though it doesn’t necessarily address the UI/UX of it. Currently sidebar/popup seems to be the best “live” representation. How it gets shown to someone coming to the topic for the first time is more of an interesting question to me. And also of course whether chat-on-topic is even allowed at all.

Maybe the suggestion is that chat-on-topic would not be a manual option, but something that just auto-instantiates once a certain reply rate is reached in a Topic?

1 Like