Two-layered conversations (shadow topic)

Consider a community of “experts” on some topic. Experts would like to post articles or questions on this board, to be discussed only by the other members, who are also experts. For this part, they can use any reasonable traditional message board software (with membership restricted to experts).

Here is the new part.

For each topic opened by an expert for comments by other experts, there should be a “shadow” topic automatically opened for comments by “the public”. Say, the expert’s topic is visible in the top (or left) half of the screen, and the shadow public’s thread is visible in the other half.

The idea is to keep the conversations among experts unencumbered from all the “noise” often generated by non-expert posts, while still allowing visitors to argue with each other about the discussion the experts are having.

A reader should easily be able to choose whether to view ONLY the experts’ discussion, or to view both. Searches should also allow this choice.

A related scheme exists at some news sites, where beneath every article there is a comments box (disqus, etc) for readers opinions. However, this is only one layer of comments.

In principle, the idea could be extended to more than 2 layers (imagine professors as the experts, grad students as semi-experts, undergrads below them, and finally the general public at the bottom). However, obvious practical constraints would need to be observed, in going beyond 2 layers.


Doesn’t make sense for core, but would make a great plugin.

Do you have some examples of this type of functionality in action? I have one. It’s in Norwegian but you can see how they’ve collected a bunch of highlighted comments from VIP commentators, and then they open the floor to the public by putting embedding Disqus at the bottom:

Great example…thanks!

It seems that the top part, the experts’, has been typeset to create the illusion that the experts are using a platform to have a threaded conversation, but in fact they have no software to support that.

Before I knew of the Discourse project, I had thought of the possibility of attaching a disqus box to every thread generated by a standard forum (was thinking of FUDforum because of its support for mailing list integration)…a “velcro type” solution. Conceivably this could produce something similar to what they show in the example… but it’d likely not look or work very good/well…

I can’t find any existing posts on this for some reason, I briefly touched on it here, but we have had a number of people propose this to us, and I think it’s a good idea. I call it panel discussions.

Use case:

  1. You have a panel of 5 experts and a moderator who want to have a moderated discussion on a topic with community input.

  2. The 5 experts and moderator are granted write access to a new “panel discussion on foo” topic. All other users can read the topic (and maybe favorite, flag, etc), but cannot write new replies.

  3. A parallel discussion topic is started for the general public. Let’s call it “back room discussion on foo.” Any community member in good standing can read or write to this topic (you could maybe limit it to TL1 if you want or TL2). The purpose of this topic is to generate questions for the experts to answer.

  4. The moderator will have two browser windows open, one in the panel discussion topic and the other in the back room. From time to time, the moderator will identify good questions and copy them over (probably manually) to the panel discussion in this form:

    in {link to post in back room topic}, @exampleusername asks:

    What kind of florbit do you use on your foo, and why? What florbit would you recommend?

  5. The experts answer the question and talk amongst themselves in the Panel Discussion topic, while the community can kibitz and throw out ideas for questions in the Back Room topic.

We’re fairly close to having this, we just need some idea of per-topic override permissions in special cases. What do you think @sam?


The Economist has an interesting model similar to this for highly structured debates, e.g.


Excellent examples!!

An obvious improvement would be to give the reader the opportunity to view ONLY the panel comments…not a huge problem in this case because the public’s comments are being pre-moderated. Likewise, the ability to restrict searches to panel discussion only (by choice) may be helpful in certain scenarios.

Notice that in my proposal there may not be a moderator. The policies of the board would restrict main-board posting privileges to (pre-selected) members only. Non-members could however participate (with or without moderator) in the Disqus-like “thread”, which the viewer could “turn off” by choice.

Incidentally, here is the description of Economist’s debate format:

Those attending an Oxford-style debate participate in two ways: by voting to determine the debate’s winner and by addressing comments to the moderator. The same holds here. As a reader, you are encouraged to vote. As long as the debate is open, you may change your vote as many times as you change your mind. And you are encouraged to air your own views by sending comments to the moderator. These should be relevant to the motion, the speakers’ statements or the observations of featured guests. And they must be addressed directly to the moderator, who will single out the most compelling for discussion by the speakers.

  • Moderator open topic about some issue. - It’s Topic 0
  • Someone has enough TL could write new topic refer ‘Topic 0’ - It’s Topic 1…N
  • Any member can vote and reply ‘Topic 1…N’ but ‘Topic 0’.
  • ‘Topic 0’ shows only ‘Topic 1…N’ by their ranking.

Everytime I see bunch of topics about specific politic, social issue, I’d thought about some kind meta topic like that.

This one should be good example for this case. It’s not exactly one topic, but all topic talk about same issue (Debian init system decision).

What is the status of this feature request, in view of the recent release of 1.0?
Any “guestimate” of the expected date of availability?

Assuming that the feature is not expected for the immediate future (say not in the next several months), how feasible would be to implement the “velcro” solution, consisting of automatically attaching a disqus-type (or similar) comment box to every Discourse topic?

Hi, I have learned privately that this feature is not likely to become available in the immediate future.

I have been thinking about this, and came up with a scheme that somewhat simulates or comes close to the desired feature and SHOULD be implementable right now.

Suppose you have a closed board, in which only “the experts” have posting privilege, and ADDITIONALLY you have a MIRROR board open to posts by the public.

The idea is simple: every expert post is automatically mirrored in the open board (but NOT in the other direction).

This comes very close to the desired functionality (see original post) because those who only want the expert discussions simply follow passively the expert board.

Those who want to read the expert discussion AND argue with the public about the discussion the experts are having follow the discussion through the mirrored open board. There they can create a user ID (with minimal restrictions) and post their opinions in response to the expert’s posts or to posts made by other members of the public.

This is somewhat similar to the way some boards or mailing lists are “mirrored” in usenet groups, for example (but not necessarily the other way around).

I suspect that it should be super simple to implement this. One possible way would be through the post-by-email feature (each expert post is automatically posted in the open board by email). But there may be better ways to do it.

What do you all think?

One way this could be done is by mimicking the “summarize topic” function.

Comments submitted by “experts” (users whom you have added to a specific group) will have their comments displayed, while other users will have their comments snipped with a message such as: 5 posts hidden.

The functionality would be almost identical to the current “summarize topic” feature; the only difference would be the criteria by which posts are hidden, and that the feature should always be invoked rather than only when a reader specifies.

(If you don’t know what feature I’m talking about, have a look at this topic.)

I agree that it can be implemented through “filtering”. The two board solution is probably the “brute force” approach…a bit arcane but should be doable today (perhaps with a simple script to do the automatic cross-posting by email or by whichever method). But it is definitely not the most elegant or efficient solution.

I haven’t really looked inside the DIscourse code (I am more of a scientific programming person), but I suspect that implementing the functionality through filtering would take a bit more work, although it would be more elegant and efficient.

Filtering would also allow the simulation of “N” boards…Imagine that in a university scenario, in board #1, only posts by tenured professors are visible, in board #2 post by all faculty are visible, in board #3 faculty plus grad students posts are visible, …, etc., …in board # N ALL posts are visible…presumably each user would be able to choose his/her preferred level…hence if as if there were N boards with different post privileges…very elegant…

Anyhow, I’d take the “brute force” approach at least as an interim solution for the present.

@codinghorror Please pardon the necromancy, I can’t find another topic for this… did it ever come to pass? I’d like to start doing some “AMA Style” discussions with our Dev team in the community.


Hi @Jody sorry for the delayed reply, this is the best topic I think:

This reply by @codinghorror covers lessons learned from doing an AMA