Ideas for improving the forums & chat?

I want the forums & chat to exist in harmony. Right now it kind of feels like they’re competing. Users pretty much choose one or the other when they need help. Instead of harmony, we have Discord.

Here’s a quick overview of the two:

  • Forums: categorized, threaded, searchable, asynchronous (reply whenever), better for cross-timezone support, but a bit heavy for quick conversations
  • Chat: ephemeral, loosely structured, synchronous (real-time) discussions, lower barrier to entry, good for a quick answer but dependent on who’s around right now

There’s definitely room for both; they complement each other’s weaknesses pretty well.

Improving the forums

Our Discord is a lot more active compared to these forums, even though IMO these forums are better for providing support and having discussions in general. Discussions here are threaded, searchable, more organized, and not subject to being lost to channel spam.

I’ve been spending some time making the forums feel more first-class, so hopefully that helps. We were using the default theme this whole time and the link to the forums was buried under a page on the main site. Now everything should feel a bit more integrated.

Our blog posts will also show up automatically so people can comment on our blog posts here. Replies to the topic are embedded in the blog. (Sorry for the spam by the way, web crawlers went through our blog and that resulted in a new topic for each one.)

I also want to start just being more active in here myself. That’s probably the “duh” idea. Whereas before I would shout into the wind in Discord, I think I’ll start making threads like this and just linking to it from there to continue the discussion.

Improving the Discord

The main thing that’s been bothering me is we have way more channels than we probably need:

I see this as problematic for a few reasons:

  • They’re not exactly active enough to justify there being so many.
  • It’s very easy to lose your place - I’ll often read a message, go to another ‘unread’ channel, and forget where that message even was.
  • It kind of encourages topical discussion, but that seems to do a disservice to our forums, which are much better for topical discussion.
  • Folks end up just repeating messages to multiple channels.

So, I want to propose reducing the channels down to the following:

  • #welcome - welcome message outlining the rules
  • #announcements - a place where we’ll link to blog posts and topics like this (only certain roles can post)
  • #need-help - a place for support with the forums as a fallback if there’s no quick reply
  • #general - a place for Concourse users to discuss patterns/challenges/etc
  • #off-topic - shitposting
  • #introductions - say hi and get that sweet sweet contributor role
  • #dev - a place for contributors to talk all things concourse/resource development
  • #ops - a place for Concourse operators to talk about their deployment challenges

There are a couple temptations for further breakdown, but I’m inclined to resist the temptation until we see a need:

  • #dev could be split into a channel for Concourse development itself vs. developing resource types
  • #ops could be split into a channel for each platform (K8s, Docker, BOSH)

Tying the two together

Another idea is to have threads in ‘Support’ automatically cross-post to the #need-help channel. This way users don’t have to make a decision between the two: any support topic opened here will automatically show up to anyone in #need-help.

I’m probably typing a bit too much about this so I’ll just stop there, but if anyone has other ideas or concerns about this approach let me know!

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Following up a bit on the last point, I want to try and take that idea to the fullest extent and see how it goes.

So posts in the ‘Ops’ category will auto-post to #ops and posts in the ‘Dev’ category will auto-post to #dev.

I feel like this would make them feel more integrated, and it would let people just hang out in Discord as before and use the forums for threaded conversations.

There shouldn’t be much spam as new topics aren’t created all that often, and replies will go into the topics instead of the channel, decreasing the amount of overlapping discussions in Discord.

Alright, I went through with everything I proposed. We’ll see how this goes.

I ‘archived’ all the old channels by putting them in an admin-only ‘Archive’ category, in case we ever need something from them. (I doubt it, but hey.)

Nice work on the integrating the forums into the website and the blog!

(One little nit: looks like the favicon hasn’t yet been configured for the forum).

Having been an admin for a Discourse community with a very active Slack community sitting alongside it, I’ve felt this issue of chat vs. forum to be a significant challenge. Your “quick overview” hits the nail on the head, IMHO:

I think it’s healthy to continue to kick ideas around for how to “tie the two together” as you said:

If there’s other good Discourse category => Discord channel mappings, consider doing the same and having new topics get pushed there. I’ve found that these integrations aren’t great, but their helpful. Having every post on Discourse show up in a channel is too noisy, and just pushing the first post there doesn’t always feel like enough signal, but I think that’s the better tradeoff.

Another thing to do is encourage a culture of summarizing valuable conversations in chat back on the forum (but only once they come to a resting point… trying to move a conversation when it’s in flight never feels right).

Some related topics on Discourse meta:

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Thanks for the feedback! Glad to hear others are facing similar challenges and arriving at similar solutions. :smile:

We’ll get the favicon fixed up, I think it’s borked right now because we use a .svg for the logo, which isn’t supported for favicons.

:+1: This is the extent of the current experiment. Topics make sense to propagate; replies would be weird as they’d be out of context. I think it’s working pretty decently so far.

Summarising conversations sounds like a good idea, I’ll keep that in mind.

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