Tips for integrating chat with an existing long-term Discourse community

Our community on Discourse has existed since 2015. After the 3.0 update, I saw that chat is available but not turned on by default.

We’re not necessarily looking to turn it on straight away, but I’m wondering if any others have any tips to share when integrating with an existing Discourse community.

Here are some questions I’ve had in mind.

  • Is there a need for increased moderation for chat, or a different kind of moderation that is worth keeping in mind?
    • E.g. need for increased moderation around certain hours when chat is most active
  • When creating chat channels, what should we start with?
    • e.g. our community has several long-term megatopics (topics with more than 10,000 replies that have reached into more than a dozen or two). I’ve seen a comment that megatopics are an expression from your community for the need of a chatroom, so it looks like chat would fill a good use case there.
    • Should we create a few channels to mirror existing the most popular existing categories, or avoid doing that?
  • Have there been a lot of cases where the community starts posting exclusively in chat and not using the rest of the forum as much? What are some ways to address it if it starts happening?
    • E.g. if they post questions & answers in the chat, when certain content would fit best as topics in the rest of the forum for others to learn from in future.

If people have other tips, I’d also be interested to hear, and hopefully others might find them useful too.

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I used a create on a need-to-have basis approach. Start with some general “Discussion” channel, as recurring & common topics emerge create separate channels if you see a benefit from such separation. I guess it’s not that much different from how you’d start structuring the forum part of the discourse.

Also, I’ve enabled the chat for tl3 & tl4 for some time and gradually started giving access to tl2, tl1 and tl0. The users will follow whatever the rules and norms are established when they join the chat.

I guess it does depend on the specific topic of those communities. We didn’t mirror the categories because a) we didn’t see a clear reason why we’d benefit from it b) it underlines the notion that chat is not just another place to hold discussions that were previously contained within forum topics.

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Thanks — these are really helpful.

Hadn’t thought about this before — this is definitely very helpful to keep in mind too. If we do turn chat on, we will roll it out in stages first.

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FWIW, I don’t intend to enable chat at all, and I very much hope it remains an optional choice. (I’m not against chat as an idea, but for my forums I want topics and replies in categories. The small mod team uses PMs to discuss things.)

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I think it’s still early days here, so getting stories from people about how they’ve gone about this and what kinds of things have come up along the way will be interesting.

In general, we’ve often suggested that sites which have been around for a while trying things out first among their site staff or a small circle of high-trust members. This may not be the end goal, but it’s a safe way to introduce the feature into an existing community and try things out. The chat_allowed_groups site setting can be used to control which groups have access to the feature.

I’d consider what patterns you see in terms of how members currently interact and overlap in time.

Are there existing topics with a lot of high frequency back and forth? Are there groups of users who need to interact more closely in some way? Maybe channels for those groups or those kinds of discussions would be worth trying out.

If, on the other hand, most communication is very asynchronous currently, then I might look at it the other way – is there some kind of more synchronous communication that would benefit the community that is not currently happening… What would that look like?

You may hit a number of false starts as you try channels out for things where the participants are better off discussing things asynchronously and do so well. When the people you want to include in a given discussion aren’t all around at the same time, and it really is better done in a topic. Finding those cases where it really helps those groups who are around at the same time get things going more quickly in chat or have a little more fun doing it along the way may take some time.

We’re still exploring this ourselves on meta, and I think we’ll end up with a handful of public channels for different thing at some point, but aside from some dedicated channels for staff and a couple other groups, many of the ones we’ve tried out so far have been rolled back into general.

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An interesting point, in cases where a community (or a mod group) has a global presence and sits in many time zones!

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