WhatsApp for human connection? or Are Discourse chat and channels used?

Hey, guys! I’ve been wondering whether it would be a good idea to disable discourse chat and channels and instead have a WhatsApp community with free interaction groups per cohort or theme, besides a communication channel. I thought of this so we could be closer to people on their day to day life, but I also understand it might not be the best solution to have a new communication channel, if Discourse already does the job.

Have you tried something similar? What advantages and problems did you encounter?

Also: how’s the usage of chat and channels in your community? Do people resort on these functionalities? Do they enjoy it? How did you manage to do so?



I think most of this should flow from your overarching community strategy.
Why are you bringing people together?

If the purpose is to foster group cohesion, then small 10-20 people whatsapp groups could be a valid strategy. They are incredibly powerful in creating a feeling of community. A small in-group like this can generate cohesion that something in a larger setting cannot.

But there are a lot of downsides too!
If your purpose is to generate content, increase your SEO, distribute information, or if you have minors in your community… probably not as great of an idea.

What’s your overarching goal? :slight_smile:


If you move to WhatsApp you lose control of your data and the user accounts.

The downside of both for me is loss of content to SEO unless you want to spend a lot of time manually copying stuff across.


I’m bringing them together so each person can get feedback on their work. Also, I want them to have a place to discuss the topics that create the large picture of their individual intelectual path, so they can find fellow writers who think alike or see things in a way that will help them develop as writers, readers and thinkers. The community slogan is “Literary friendships”.

I want this community-feeling and cohesion you say WhatsApp might bring, but I don’t want the forum to feel like a desert. I understand each channel has a limit of what it can do to the community, but I don’t feel people are used enough to the forum so it won’t get naturally replaced by WhatsApp, even if it gets chaotic.

As the community can only be accessed by members, it doesn’t contribute to SEO and stuff.

I get that, but how do you create group cohesion and deep human connection within Discourse?

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This happens in “WhatsApp”?! How so?

I’d argue that Discourse gives you connection as you become more familiar with the usernames and avatars on the platform. Introducing another platform like WhatsApp would confuse as the usernames and avatars are likely to be inconsistent.


I’ve been active in a Discourse community where we used an external chat provider, then switched to using Discourse for chat. The experience between using the external chat provider and using Discourse chat wasn’t all that different. But, if I remember correctly, authentication, usernames and avatars were synchronized between the chat provider and Discourse, so there was a sense it was all one community. As Robert noted, the possible difference in usernames and avatars between your WhatsApp community and Discourse could actually make it more difficult to create a sense of community. Also, some of your Discourse users might not want to signup on WhatsApp.

Chat is great for off the cuff discussions. I suspect that it can be easier to form deep human connections with chat than with formal discussions. Chat isn’t really writing though, and you’re forming a community for writers.

I’m not sure that you can deliberately create group cohesion. Maybe the best you can do is create conditions that help it to occur. I’d start by trying to identify some problems that your community can solve for its members. My guess is that what writers want is an audience, feedback, and motivation to keep writing. If that’s correct, I’d be inclined to try to meet those needs through regular Discourse topics. Enable chat on the Discourse site, but leave it up to the community to figure out how they want to use it.

Writers and creative types of all sorts might need some encouragement to pay sufficient attention to what others are doing. The best way to bring that about might be to be the change you want to see.

It might be worth looking at https://forums.nanowrimo.org/. They’re particularly active in November, but seem to get a lot of activity throughout the year too.


I’m going to be a bit pedantic here, but I think it’s valid.
Them getting feedback on their work is a reason for them to participate. What are you expecting to get out of it?

It’s a bit of a gamble, and it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle if you do try it out. But overall it sounds like it could be worth it.

People don’t need to “check” Whatsapp, it’s ingrained in their personal lives most of the time.


That’s depressing. Thankfully I resolved that by turning off notifications from WhatsApp (years ago).



My most urgent need is to get paid; but I’m trying to fulfill this need with literature and writers because I am a writer and would love to have a place where it’s possible to discuss literature and everything related to it in a manner that’s less serious and demanding than academia, but deeper than normal social networks (where you don’t go deep at all). Something as light and fulfilling as a great conversation you might have over dinner with your friends.

Agreed. It might be a great way of meeting them where they already are and inviting them to check the deep community stuff, all the while they will still be connected to each other and, therefore, inside the community.

How steep do you feel the learning curve of Discourse forums is? I’m writing a sequence of 8-12 onboarding weekly e-mails, so new-comers can smoothly get the grip both of the software and our community culture/potentials while also incentivizing them to take a couple of actions (such as posting a text they wrote, answering a question publicly, giving feedback etc.) on each e-mail.

I ask this because my main concern is that people won’t use channels and chat on Discourse. Having them disabled is also a way of de-cluttering the sidebar navigation, that’s overwhelming.


No it isn’t? It’s a way for me to stay in touch with dozens of my friends?

It’s not for everyone I guess :woman_shrugging:

You are most likely in the minority, and more importantly for the current topic: probably not representative of the average in the target audience :slight_smile:

If you are truly just building a community for people out of your own personal desires… then yeah, it might make sense to move to whatsapp subgroups.
You lose a lot by moving away from an open platform, but it might help to foster a sense of belonging and help to prevent people from forgetting about the community.


It really really depends on the target audience. Tech audiences have no issue with it at all, people that shy away from computers might find it a bit more challenging. Discourse is successfully being used by thousands of communities though.

I would love for you to share these! Privately if needed, via PM (or you can Whatsapp me… :stuck_out_tongue: )
We of course do a similar things with the user tips and Discobot, but by its nature it has to be generic. I’d love to learn how you tailor that to your users!


Whilst Meta records who you talk to, when, from where (and where they are) and how often. So of course not for everyone, because not everyone is comfortable with one company knowing so much about you and … your friends … where you go … where they go …

At least with a Discourse instance you aren’t aggregating and cross-referencing so much information since the scope is smaller (although I wouldn’t be surprised if leveraged third party services aren’t doing some of that of course, but there are limits on how far you can escape this).

Agreed, and with those friends I use Signal.

But I feel we’re getting off topic a little bit :slight_smile:

This topic is and should remain to be about using a messaging app (specifically: whatsapp) instead of forum chats.


I didn’t quite get what you mean by this. Could you explain a bit further?

Sure! As soon as they’re ready I’ll PM you here with the translations ^^

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Fair enough :slight_smile:

What I mean is: many communities are being built for commercial or other goals. E.g. this very community, Discourse Meta, has a purpose: make more people use Discourse. Other communities are being built for call-deflection, or for brand-awareness or to mobilize people around a cause.

It seems that your community is more altruistic in nature, you are building a community for people like yourself. And that is fantastic!


Chat apps like whatsapp can be helpful for communities, especially for more organized meetings or question-answer calls or video presentations to have a live-chat with that can be good. It is different than a forum platform such as Discourse where people may seem more distant, as there can be a delay from when someone posts something to when anyone reads or replies of a few days.

However with Discourse specifically since this runs fairly fast and has features such as displaying if someone is writing a reply, it is already close to being in the same category as whats-app or sms texting because of that.