Using discourse for family or small group communication

(Bhishma Raj) #1

Hey guys I’ve been lurking in discourse meta and reddit for a while and I really liked both of them .

We have a WhatsApp group for our family and extended family (~ 50 members) , usually only a few of the elders are active and they just post forward messages (sometimes fake news) . Due to this most of the younger generation don’t participate in the group . I really liked the concept of subreddit and having a moderated discussion about various topics . Is it possible to replicate a reddit kind of discussions in discourse or is it too formal for a family setting . I would like to hear your opinions .

Edit 1
I think there is a misconception here . I am not trying to substitute discourse for WhatsApp rather both will coexist .

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #2

What is a “reddit kind of discussion”? If you’re talking about nested replies, that’s something Discourse does not do.

Usually I would say yes, but if you’ve managed to get ~50 extended family members together in a WhatsApp group the same could certainly be done with Discourse, and that’s enough people to sustain the community-feel. Getting everyone on board with moving to Discourse is going to be incredibly difficult though. Most likely not worth the trouble to be honest :stuck_out_tongue:

(Bhishma Raj) #4

By “reddit kind of discussions” I meant having moderators , bots and subreddits (this is similar to categories here) . The major problem with WhatsApp is that it’s a spammers haven and has close to zero moderation . Even if something interesting is being discussed , it gets buried and if some one wants to discuss something different from what’s currently being discussed they’ll have to wait until the current discussion is over . I didn’t mean to move completely to discourse , rather both will coexist .

How about inviting only the younger generation , would that work .

I wanted to know how to maintain a active community . For example , we had a ACM slack group in our university , initially there was some traction but once the group got big (~ 200 members) no one except the admins were active . How do you go about solving this .

(Christoph) #5

I’m thinking a more telling title for this topic might be something like “Using discourse for family or small group communication”…

Well, if you want to give discourse a try, you should definitely invite everyone in the WhatsApp group. Every single person who follows your invitation counts because in the long term, people will probably not want to have two communication channels for the same group and that means you need a critical mass on your discourse forum to eventually pull everyone else over. I agree with @erlend_sh that this is going to be a tough task, but it’s up to you to assess the odds and decide whether you want to invest the time.

Here is a short story from a slightly different context, just to give you an idea of what kind of inertia you’re likely up against: the parents at my daughters daycare were recently informed that the entire daycare will be temporarily relocated to a new site (into a container building) because they want to replace the current building with a one twice the size. The problem is: the site of the temporary building is quite far away from the current site of the daycare and not easily accessible via public transport. At an information meeting with the parents, it became clear that the relocation will cause huge problems for many families and we were given two weeks to more or less formally file a complaint/ constructive criticism or whatever it is the people in charge need to know.

The same evening, I finally setup the discourse instance for organizing from below that I have had on my todo list since long. I set up a category for us parents, pointed a sub-domain to that category, and wrote a quick summary of the preceding meeting. The next morning, I post a couple of notices at the daycare, inviting people to come to that sub-domain. I later learn that daycare staff photocopied my notice and put a copy into every child’s basket (where they usually also put their own letters to parents).

I believe there are about 80-100 children at that day care. There were 30-40 parents at the information meeting. So, one week later: how many people have joined the forum? The answer is two. But I could also see that people did visit the forum (about 120 anonymous page views, they just didn’t sign up.

I don’t give up easily. So I got hold of a list of email addresses from the parents in my daughter’s unit (I don’t have access to the other ones) and invited each of these 29 parents to the topic about the information meeting. I also added a post reminding people that we have one week left to come up with some sort of statement and that such a statement is only possible if people actually articulate their grievances or say whatever they have to say. Almost two days later, who joined? My wife.

Do you think your family can do better than that?

You are not alone there. Books have been written about this. But their focus is usually on large and huge communities. So I think it is interesting to discuss here the specifics of maintaining small communities.

To start with, I suppose the basic conundrum of starting a forum also applies to small forums: you need content to attract members and you need members to create content. One rule of thumb in the big-forum-world is that you need 39 members in order to get one active member. In my daycare group, this doesn’t apply so far: 2/3 of all members (myself excluded) have posted.

(Bhishma Raj) #6

I stole your title :grin: . I had a similar experience with a forum . I created a google group for discussing ICPC problems , and it did worse than your daycare group . Me and my friend were the only people who were active . I think it’s better to build it incrementally , create a small group make it active and then expand

(Blu McCormick) #7

Wow. That’s interesting and good to know. Has a ring of truth to it.


Mmm :thinking:

If you need that, use discourse!

For “family” or “small group” communication I use Slack.
It’s free, easy to use and have a lot of integrations with other tools.

(Michael Howell) #9

Uh, yeah, Discourse has mods, APIs, and categories. The only real missing feature is “category mods,” meaning that someone either is a mod for the whole forum or isn’t a mod at all. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, though; if something is really spam, it’ll just get hidden after enough TL1 people flag it.

And I have to side with the guy complaining about inertia. Replacing WhatsApp with Discourse just isn’t going to happen.

What I’d do, if I were you, is try to sell Discourse on random bits of functionality that you just can’t get in WhatsApp. For example, collaborate with one of your family members on a document using a Wiki post, or hold a poll in a Discourse post. Do not try to replace WhatsApp entirely. Some of your users probably like the fact that everybody sees everything that gets posted in there, even though that’s literally what you’re trying to “fix”. Using Discourse as a “side-channel” for doing things outside of the “big room,” however, seems like a great way to convince people to use it at least in a one-off way.

It’s basically the same relationship my job has between Slack and GitHub. Slack really has nothing comparable to wikis, or a way to mark a discussion as closed, so even though Slack is the primary communication’s system, we also use GitHub issues and a wiki.


And, you can merge all with integrations :wink:
We have Discourse + Slack + Github :rocket:

(Michael Howell) #11

We’re not really using Discourse at work, though. Not enough value-add over what we already have. Maybe if our company size doubles, but right now it’s not worth it.

It’s really the same problem OP has, honestly. You can’t get people to voluntarily stop using WhatsApp unless you’re delivering value right now (which, luckily, I think you can).

(Carson) #12

I think the main things that create friction for Discourse at this level is that it is a forum rather than a chat. So, you have to create a subject line and a Category - vs. just writing your thoughts in the WhatsApp chat. Second, there’s a bit of a lag between a post and a notification - vs. the sense of instantaneous updates in WhatsApp/Slack. These are so small it is amazing how much of a difference they seem to make, but I think the sense of intimacy that is desired in these small groups is fostered by the extremely low friction of chat applications. Once you’re taking a few steps to send something, it feels more formal, and that takes away the immediacy and the openness of the conversation to some degree.

(Bhishma Raj) #13

I think there is a misconception here . I am not trying to substitute discourse for WhatsApp . Yeah I get your point of having a informal mode of communication ,

I just want a more structured discussion forum , where people can discuss about interesting stuff . For example let’s say some one wants to get into programming , it’s far better to use a forum kind of setting than WhatsApp . Also everyone with the same query will benefited.


Ok, now I can’t understand your topic.
Do you think that discourse is too non-structured, or what? :thinking:

(Christoph) #15

More structured than WhatsApp, I think.

(Bhishma Raj) #16

I meant more structured than WhatsApp