I think that will work. I think it would be a slight upgrade to keep all the activity within the Discourse ecosystem through this feature suggestion, but the RSS feed is a definite solution that works as well. Especially in an intranet environment, asking people to adopt both Discourse and an RSS reader will be a tough challenge. Thank you!
I see a ton of value in making this a feature more widely available.
While it’s possible to subscribe to a user’s RSS activity feed, it’s pretty cumbersome to ask users to use two separate apps (Discourse and an RSS reader) to interact with the community.
Secondly, on private sites, you would need to generate and include api keys for each user to add on to the rss links they want to follow. This is a pain point for staff generating the keys for each user, and it’s confusing to try to teach non-tech savvy users how to use the keys.
Compare these two sets of instructions for users:
Click a button and you’ll get notified every time this person posts a new topic.
Reach out and request an API key, then download an RSS reader, then go to the user’s activity page, add .rss, append your api key to the link, add that link to your RSS reader. Now, check your RSS reader daily for new posts by the users you’ve added.
Clearly there’s room to make that easier.
This plugin is great for this, but alas it’s only available for self-hosted or enterprise sites.
I’d love to see that plugin be included in Discourse’s official plugins so that standard and business hosted sites can use it. Keeping it as a plugin would still default to your philosophical perspective that on a Discussion platform, users shouldn’t care about who is saying something but rather what is being said. Yet, it would allow any community that DOES see value in letting users follow one another to easily add this feature to their site.
One huge question I have here is what value this would provide over having a slightly different category structure?
If you have posts that you really want everyone to be aware of you could create a category for announcements and make sure people watch or track it.
Can you expand on some real world examples of when this feature is desirable. There are also lots of concerns around the “followed” feeling bad. If every time a celebrity posts on a form the same 50 people like them and reply to them cause they have them on the crossfires it can be quite stressful for said celebrity. Also… how does this not become a popularity contest?
For one, it goes with behavior that people are already familiar with from other interactive platforms. That reduces the learning curve.
For another, people post in multiple Categories. If there’s someone who I want to keep an eye on (potential problem) or who I respect and want to learn from, then the ability to follow them helps me sort out the signal from the noise. For whatever reason, I am interested in that person’s posts, and this plugin allows me to follow them at that level.
Happy to give my take, I think an example will help you understand where I see the value in this feature.
Let’s say that you have a community of (amateur) writers. The purpose of the community is for these creatives to discuss their craft, but also to give each other feedback and motivation on their work. One category is called “Weekly Prompts”, in which the community staff post a weekly writing prompt. Writers can add their response to the prompt as a topic, and get feedback from their peers.
As a writer, let’s say you find another writer that you just jive with. You love reading eachother’s work, and you both leave great feedback. In fact, you want to make sure you see all of this other writer’s work. So you ask them to @ mention you when they post. However, they say they have 10 other people who also want to follow their work, and it’s a lot to ask the writer to @ mention each individual every time they post.
So, they form a group. Now, the writer @ mentions the group when they post. This works for a while, but what if I find someone else whose work I want to follow that is in a different feedback group? It results in a fractal group structure where, yes each user might have say 10 other people in their network, but it’s the SAME 10 people for each user in the group. If I want to follow someone new, I either need to add them to my group (meaning that now everyone in my group follows them) or I need to create a new group for this new circle.
I help run an e-learning platform through discourse, and this is exactly the situation we’re in. The ability to follow someone a student has connected with in our workshops is probably the most requested feature from our users.
So, to your specific point, it’s not that I want EVERYONE to be aware of an announcement, I see this feature supporting a tighter connection between individuals in a community.
These are totally valid concerns. I certainly don’t pretend to have THE answers. However, to get around the concerns about “followed” feeling bad, maybe it’s a symmetrical connection, so I can’t follow you unless you also follow me (think facebook friends instead of twitter followers). How do we avoid it becoming a popularity contest? Well what if there was an option to set a cap on the number of connections you can have? This would drive home the point that it’s not about the quantity, but the quality of your connections. Admittedly this could cause some awkward tension if your “friend” ditches you to make room for someone else… Alternatively, you could make your “followers” list private so that no one knows who is popular and who has no followers.
Let me know if you have any more questions I might be able to help think through! Thanks Sam.
Because people want convenience. In a business context, people don’t want to miss posts from their manager or an important direct report or a colleague that they work closely with. What I find is that people default to the channels that give them the easiest, most seamless solution. If Discourse doesn’t do it, they just use email or chat instead.
Thanks Jeff. By that logic, why include the option to watch a category or topic? Why not just go visit that topic from time to time to see if anyone has written anything new or responded to something you said?
The difference is between making users hunt for the content they want to see versus serving it up to them. If we know ahead of time that a user wants to stay up to date with a topic or category, we send a notification when there’s new activity for them. Similarly, if we know a head of time that a user wants to say up to date with another user, why put it on the user to go find that content? I’d appreciate your perspective on how these are different.
I agree this should be a completely optional plugin, there are a lot of communities where this feature wouldn’t make things better (e.g. I don’t think Meta would be better with a follow feature). Though, as such a commonly requested feature, I think the plugin should be available for standard and business hosted sites by being incorporated into Discourse’s list of official plugins.
Something I could see being supported is scoping the user watch to a single category or set of categories, to avoid the forum-wide creeper effect / never being allowed to turn off your public persona.
To take the writing example: automatically watch any topics / replies the user creates in any of the Story categories, but never any of the Story Discussion categories - the set of “fans” don’t need to be interrupted to see the author’s opinions on other stories.
One area I think may be interesting to experiment in is hash tagging. I think this addresses many of the concerns @codinghorror has and has been mentioned before quite a few times. One issue though is that # is already reserved for tags and categories so it would have to be a different symbol (or a double #) .
Tags are now per topic, there is no clean way of tagging a post. But … let’s imagine for a second that this exists.
Tales from Sam’s desktop
Here are the awesome tales from Sam’s desktop
More of the story
Then users could watch ##sams-desktop-adventures and be notified of all new posts with that tag.
The ##sams-desktop-adventures would automatically become a link, clicking it would give you search results for all posts containing the hashtag.
This to me seems far more in the spirit of solving the specific issue without needing to revert to the “stalking” aspect of user following.
Not saying this is happening right now, but I think we would be far more open to having a system like this (default off) for communities that want “post tagging” vs “topic tagging” ability.