Discord on the rise?

LeadCrow

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"Topics" was meant to be a technical optimization suiting only discord rather than a serious implementation similar to forums.

Unlike even the most basic forum scripts, Discord has zero discoverability for content even with topics. Normal as its a chatroom service whose users are goaded into making the most trivial disclosures and ephemereal commentary there's zero worth preserving in the first place.
 

Pete

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So I’m on several Discords, a couple make fairly extensive use of topics but predominantly to prevent topics taking over a channel. E.g. in the #video-games channel, that mostly got spun out into a topic just for Elden Ring lately because while plenty want to talk about it, plenty don’t want to as well and the volume was drowning out everything else.
 

Kaelon

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Discord is a perfect example of how forums, generally, haven't kept up with the pace of both user experience and community engagement innovation. For decades now, forums have seen a co-mingling of both asynchronous content (posts and replies) and synchronous content (shoutboxes, links to chat channels or IRC), but haven't done much to bridge the gap between both experiences. It's surprising because both user bases are, in essence, largely overlapping.

Discord's arrival on the scene a few years ago was highly disruptive; gaming communities now generally forego websites and forums and just use a Discord. It's easier, encapsulates the primary use case that these communities leveraged (which was coordination and information exchange, rather than lengthier discussions), and the end result is that now a Discord is non-negotiable for gaming groups.

The pandemic has amplified the importance of synchronous communication, and caused significant disruption in asynchronous communication models. Reddit, which has become the global clearinghouse for forum-style topic-driven conversation, incorporated chatrooms, community features, and, most compellingly, decentralized subscription modeling through its power-ups (which Discord helped popularize in its gamer-first model). Microsoft has taken notice, and has evolved its Teams platform to be a a retail and consumer-driven product, as much as it is for the enterprise. I will say that an earlier comment by one of the Admins looms large here:

Discord a walled garden that drastically simplifies staying inside and prevents leaving with your content and users.

Like with facebook and TT, youre not actually building "your" community on discord, but actually building discord's about your niche. Reddit also recently introduced community forking, a way for participants of any participant in subreddits to do hostile takeovers of popular sections without needing to fight for control rights over it.

Loss of sovereignity is a constant, and those who believed in forums before should be reminded a community's loss of sovereignty usually goes one way and is irreversible. If you give up at some point, you and the braves still motivated will have to compete against a far stronger incumbent with more ressources and time on their side.

People go where the audiences are, and social media has long displaced forums as general digital community convening places. However, with these large clearinghouses, group creators are now largely disempowered. You no longer have a monopoly on the audience OR the content, and Facebook, Discord, and Reddit all make it their primary focus to keep your content, community, and their contributions as their own. It makes it largely impossible to build a community-based business that has anything approaching integration with social media beyond just the basic marketing share-and-promote features.

TL;DR - If you want to build your own community, don't use Discord, Reddit, Facebook, or any hosted service. That said, because forums have lost their innovative edge, you either need to have a monopoly on content and community specific to a niche, or, you will need a different user experience that addresses the prevailing expectations that community members have of a modern experience that blends both asynchronous and synchronous communication styles. And, as others have said better than I, the Achilles' heel right now of Discord, Reddit, and other aggregators is that discoverability is very hard, so I see that as the biggest innovation opportunity.
 

Jeremy8

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For decades now, forums have seen a co-mingling of both asynchronous content (posts and replies) and synchronous content (shoutboxes, links to chat channels or IRC), but haven't done much to bridge the gap between both experiences.
...or, you will need a different user experience that addresses the prevailing expectations that community members have of a modern experience that blends both asynchronous and synchronous communication styles.

What, in your opinion, is a way to accomplish this? For example, does a XenForo Discord add-on like this one do this, or do you think they need to be blended more directly in some way?
 

Kaelon

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What, in your opinion, is a way to accomplish this? For example, does a XenForo Discord add-on like this one do this, or do you think they need to be blended more directly in some way?

In my opinion, no one has figured it out yet - but it's definitely not what has been tried already (like the XenForo Discord add-on, which - while an improvement from an alerting perspective - is still analogous to many of the other chat add-ons for the past couple of decades, that just remind users the other system is there. Not enough, IMO.). The big challenges are:
  1. Linking topics between asynchronous and synchronous modes.
  2. Aligning related content and community members between both systems.
  3. Driving reference traffic to the asynchronous mode.
  4. Driving real-time status'ing to the synchronous mode.
Until Discord addresses its deficit in discovering content, then it is going to take some very creative software developers ways to semantically analyze text and conversations on Discord and map them back to forum hierarchies and taxonomies. And, frankly, given the decline of forums as a platform of choice for everyone but niche websites, I don't see this effort being undertaken anytime soon. Instead, we're likely to see Discord (and Teams and Reddit and other PaaS-providers) address their findability and discovery challenges holistically. That will be the death knell to asynchronous forum websites, and unfortunately, to independent forum community operators. But it should pose a unique opportunity to innovate a new platform that can operate independently from these large behemoths and provide the same layer of intimacy, timeliness, value, and relevance that allowed forums to thrive in the Web 1 and Web 2 eras.
 
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Pete

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I look forward to the day when support forums won’t exist because all help will be delivered synchronously on demand and that no problem ever takes time to go away and solve.

Or that people won’t have large blocks of time in between conversations because of, I don’t know, things like jobs.

Or that some topics need more than a few minutes to put together a cogent response to a non-trivial situation.

I look forward to this new future with much enthusiasm. Let me know when email is dead too.
 

Kaelon

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I look forward to the day when support forums won’t exist because all help will be delivered synchronously on demand and that no problem ever takes time to go away and solve.

We're getting there. If you see the support trend volumes over the past decade, you'll see that support conversations have become (a) far less frequent, and (b) much shorter. This is because investments in semantic related content technology and support-deflection behaviors (such as In App assistance, Simplified UX workflows, and the like) have made running a Support Organization far more trivial and less costly. This includes the consideration that full-fledged official Support Forums need not be communities in and of themselves. So instead you see Git-style and Upworthy-built self-help systems being the more dominant form of support "forum," but they don't look anything like the meandering threaded conversations that we have seen historically. They are much more Q&A and Answer-Ranking, and eventually they become evergreen.

I look forward to this new future with much enthusiasm. Let me know when email is dead too.

See: Slack and Teams. Many corporate cultures have de-emphasized email over synchronous communication. Yes, Email is still very much alive. But considering its historic struggle with organization, timeliness, and relevance, it doesn't have a vibrant future as the main way people communicate on the job to actually get **** done anymore.
 

Pete

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Are we pretending that the Stack network of sites isn’t a forum, and is synchronous?
 

Kaelon

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Are we pretending that the Stack network of sites isn’t a forum, and is synchronous?

No, but Stack proves my point when I said:

If you see the support trend volumes over the past decade, you'll see that support conversations have become (a) far less frequent, and (b) much shorter.

So instead you see Git-style and Upworthy-built self-help systems being the more dominant form of support "forum," but they don't look anything like the meandering threaded conversations that we have seen historically. They are much more Q&A and Answer-Ranking, and eventually they become evergreen.

Stack sites are technically forums, but they aren't (by default) threaded discussions. They're Questions with (by default) up-voted Answers. I also don't really consider them a "community," they are a crowd-sourced self-help option with far less frequent and much shorter responses. They are certainly asynchronous, but they prove the point that threaded discussion forums aren't the future of Support, because the content that survives is the most timely and relevant content. Not the conversations themselves.
 

Pete

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And yet, the most timely is rarely the most useful content. It's almost like racing to put in an answer, any answer, is counterproductive to actually solving a problem.

And the founders of Stack certainly do talk about Stack as a forum. Atwood cites it frequently as guiding his design and implementation for Discourse.

And it should certainly be noted that Stack Overflow may be the most famous, it is by no means the only help community - and the more unusual the type, the more asynchronous the timescales tend to get.
 

Kaelon

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yet, the most timely is rarely the most useful content. It's almost like racing to put in an answer, any answer, is counterproductive to actually solving a problem.

I'm not sure what sort of reality you live in when you say this -- that "the most timely is rarely the most useful content," when this is in essence the only thing that matters online. Yes, you have specialized content repositories that are encyclopedic and that people can look at to learn about perspectives or thoughts about the past. But search engines, social media, and user behavior in general gravitates towards content that is sorted by relevance, of which date is often a driving factor. People generally want to know what was the last contribution to a conversation to know whether it is still relevant to them.

And the founders of Stack certainly do talk about Stack as a forum. Atwood cites it frequently as guiding his design and implementation for Discourse.

Discourse is a great example of a well-intentioned effort to evolve forums that failed because Atwood openly admits he wanted to create a better rat trap, rather than to re-think the rat trap altogether. Part of what made forums blossom across the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s is the same thing that made WordPress the dominant content management system for websites today: ease of use and ubiquity for end-users of all skill levels to install, manage/administer, and customize.

Discourse has none of these things, owing in large part to its (currently) challenging tech stack. Additionally, the user experience - while much nicer than legacy forum experiences - isn't revolutionary enough to justify closing the skill / tech gap to making this more accessible. So, forums continue to languish while other models - like Discord - explode in popularity and primacy.

Again, if you look at where gamers and hobbyists go now, they don't go to start up a web site or join a forum. They join a Discord.

This tells you the future that is already here.
 

Pete

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OK, so I will admit I visit Stack Overflow from time to time. Sometimes I have pretty niche questions, or fields of research.

And the number of times where I’ve found questions where the first answer is brief to the point of unhelpful (for both the original asker and for me as a later passenger), I don’t have research in it but as a gut reaction, I’d have to say that north of 2/3 of “the first answer” is unhelpful. Sometimes it’s just wrong, sometimes it’s too brief, sometimes it‘s a nice idea but not the most useful until fleshed out in the comments.

I find myself reading all the answers and distilling things down from all of the comments. That is something I find myself *consistently* doing because the rush to be the first to answer produces a race to the bottom.

As for the gamers/hobbyists going to Discord, I think you and I are observing the same phenomenon from different angles.

The gamers want a space to share knowledge/resources/plan things/organise things. This fundamental need has not changed. 10 years ago, say, they used a forum. It was (relatively) easy to set up, did what they needed without *too* much fuss and life was grand.

Here’s where we differ, though. This to me is “when all you have is a hammer, every solution looks like a nail”. If they’d had Discord 10 years ago I reckon they wouldn’t have started a forum in the first place. Forums are contracting as a market because the forum market was weirdly shaped in the first place. This is a market correction in action - forums getting back to a size and shape that actually fits their purpose and use case.

I believe we’re seeing this contraction because forums were used *because there was nothing better* and now there is something better, they use that. But that doesn’t assume *all* gamers and *all* hobbyists are better suited to Discord because that’s simply not true.

A service like Discord has that asynchronous behaviour, yes. But that’s not the only reason it wins over forums. It’s free at point of use even for setting one up, and setting one up is less hassle than setting up a ProBoards site (as nearest comparison). And you have the benefit of “your audience is already there” utilising the perks of centralisation. (This isn’t always a plus, but it often is. See also Reddit.)

But where Discord really shines by comparison is that it also has a nice media posting interface. It has voice chat built in. These are *super convenient* to add for its target user base. Forums, by comparison don’t see much of a need for these, which I’d argue to some degree is wrong.

Then we come to the historical content angle, the one area forums do have some sway, that you can categorise and organise content. Discord kind of doesn’t bother for the reason that if everything is synchronous, the history doesn’t really matter much. And for the kinds of things that tend to happen on Discord, that’s perfectly fine. Gamers organising raiding groups dont really care about the history, the “here and now” is mostly what matters.

So for that use case (and plenty of others) The synchronous format is fine, even encouraged, but I strongly dispute the same being true for support cases, especially if you have any serious investigation to do.

Let me posit one other thing. My wife manages a support team. The VAST bulk of their support and investigation efforts are absolutely asynchronous. I guarantee you no one wants to do their kind of support synchronously, because support sometimes takes more work and just cannot be done in the kind of fashion you’re describing. They have cases that take months to investigate and resolve where the outcome of getting it wrong is that people die. I guarantee you no one is solving “why does this linear accelerator not use the right amount of radiation” over chat with the customer.
 

tekboi

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I'm late, but I'll comment on this.

I actually ended up getting rid of my forum altogether and moving my community over to Discord full-time a few years ago. I love it and hate it at the same time.

On the one hand, it's simple, pretty intuitive, free, and tons of people already have an account.

On the other hand, I don't have complete control over the platform for customization. Everyone and their mother can easily spin up a discord, so there is absolutely no barrier of entry. People end up hopping from discord to discord, therefore, it's hard to retain members or set your community apart with the limited options discord gives you to customize your server.

In the near future, I will be brining my forum back, but in limited form. It'll be for long-form content and rich content that discord doesn't support. But as far as casual chat is concerned, Discord simply can't be beat at this point.
 

Kaelon

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I'm late, but I'll comment on this.

I actually ended up getting rid of my forum altogether and moving my community over to Discord full-time a few years ago. I love it and hate it at the same time.

On the one hand, it's simple, pretty intuitive, free, and tons of people already have an account.

On the other hand, I don't have complete control over the platform for customization. Everyone and their mother can easily spin up a discord, so there is absolutely no barrier of entry. People end up hopping from discord to discord, therefore, it's hard to retain members or set your community apart with the limited options discord gives you to customize your server.

In the near future, I will be brining my forum back, but in limited form. It'll be for long-form content and rich content that discord doesn't support. But as far as casual chat is concerned, Discord simply can't be beat at this point.

Very much appreciate your perspectives. It is clear that forums have been displaced by Discord in many communities; there is definitely a use-case for longer form discussion, but it is no longer a main-stream use-case. I think there's an exciting opportunity for webmasters (remember that term?!) to redesign their site experiences to better complement and integrate with the dominant platforms today - Discord, Reddit, and Facebook.
 

rafalp

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People are overrating discord same they did overrate forums in the past. I am on few very active discord servers, but I've also went through dozens of servers that were active for week or few only to die out completely, with some dying despite having hundreds of members. If your subject is not interesting/engaging to people, your Discord will die all the same as your forum would.
 

Pete

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Well, that's a given, that has *always* been a given that if the subject matter doesn't interest, no tool in the world is going to fix that, and that's not inherently a Discord problem just as it wasn't inherently a forum problem.

I think Discord is showing some signs of the same plateau forums already reached - and I think their reintroduction of a forum feature is actually an attempt to stem that somewhat, without trying to pander to the groups that are splintering off towards Guilded. For those not familiar... if we thought of Discord as the XenForo of the world, Guilded is an upstart in the form of IPS - same core agenda but bolting on other features, in this case forums, calendars and more.

These are things Discord has so far chosen not to implement, or is only tentatively approaching, while Guilded is actively pushing to be the venue for the folks who need that additional functionality and that aren't interested in making it in the form of Discord bots or other related venues (such as forum platforms!)

I think it'll be interesting to see whether Guilded makes a serious dent into Discord or not and how Discord responds - I feel like there are parallels in some ways looking at the 'do one thing well' vs 'do many things reasonably well' approach in parts of the forum world.
 

Kaelon

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Pete, Guilded.gg has been around for years - and I've both used it and been an early beta tester over 3 years ago when the product was already mature. Aside from the curiosity of something different, Guilded is generally a failure at this stage. It's a Frankenstein of countless content types that they've invented and re-invented over and over again, including flat-out forums, documents, video management, images, etc. I give them credit for innovating and experimenting, but aside from Reddit.com's Alexis Ohanian being an original investor, Guilded is a ghost-town and there are maybe a dozen or so gaming groups actively using it. It's been a total dud.

Discord, on the other hand, doesn't really show signs of slowing growth.
  1. Discord has over 140 million monthly active users as of Dec 2020. This more than doubled their user count, year-over-year, and in June of 2020, they expanded into non-gaming community management (including sports, betting, hobbyist and enthusiast communities).

  2. Discord is growing so fast, that Microsoft contemplated an acquisition in May 2021, and had to abort the acquisition because Discord is so large, it was seen as an anti-trust risk to combine Discord with Skype (crazy, right?).

  3. Discord has raised over $995M in PE and VC fundraising, including 5 more series fundraises (including two Series H's) in the past 12 months alone. Its growth is accelerating, and it is seen as a likely alternative to Slack and Microsoft Teams. Corporate customers are starting to line up for turbo-charged premium Discord communities.
So, I think the evidence doesn't really suggest that Discord is flat-lining and that Guilded is somehow overtaking them. Guilded has failed, Discord is on fire, and I think we're looking at a likely acquisition over the next 12-24 months.
 

Pete

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Oh god, I should have known you'd pick my words apart for meaning that wasn't really there.

Yes, I know that Guilded has been around for years (though, it *is* younger than Discord), but right now the narrative it's going for is the underdog that brings all the things that Discord doesn't. It doesn't do the core experience as well as Discord, but for people who want things outside the core experience, it might work better.

I think Roblox's acquisition of Guilded makes it an interesting thing to watch to see what they do with it.

See, I don't think raising vast quantities of VC capital is necessarily a *good* thing. It's a thing, for sure, and it shows that external forces consider it valuable - but at some point those VCs will want their money back with interest, and if they don't like where the product is going they will do something about it. Guilded raised $10m or so out of venture capital but now it's owned by Roblox who will either strangle it or let it flourish - though it is officially operating under independence for now. The fact it has an intentionally broader offering is interesting - and I think it remains to be seen whether it will make a serious dent into Discord - it didn't thus far, but that doesn't mean it won't in a changing landscape.
 

Kaelon

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Oh god, I should have known you'd pick my words apart for meaning that wasn't really there.

I was just reacting to your somewhat outlandish assertion when you said:

I think Discord is showing some signs of the same plateau forums already reached

The facts suggest that Discord continues its growth, and in some ways, is accelerating towards a transaction.

Yes, I know that Guilded has been around for years (though, it *is* younger than Discord), but right now the narrative it's going for is the underdog that brings all the things that Discord doesn't. It doesn't do the core experience as well as Discord, but for people who want things outside the core experience, it might work better.

There's a lot that I like about Guilded. But the big negative it has is that - no exaggeration - no one uses it. And the ubiquity of a platform, and how many users already have activated / established accounts, is the biggest gate right now for attracting users. I've tried more than once to get one of my three gaming groups into our Guilded, and they keep defaulting to Discord, arguing that there's nothing that really distinguishes Guilded to make it "worth the sign-up." I don't really know of any gaming group that is actively supporting their Guilded as an alternative to the ubiquitous Discord among gamers. Would love to see something other than one of the demo / dummy "official Guilded" servers run by the Guilded staff themselves.

I think Roblox's acquisition of Guilded makes it an interesting thing to watch to see what they do with it.

I would agree, but let's also not underestimate the truth about Roblox: it is so cash rich, I wouldn't rule out a defensive acquisition to just keep Guilded off the market. That strikes me as more likely here, given Roblox's core business, is that it will create an internal Discord-clone, similar to Xbox Console, UbiChat, Steam Groups, Battle.net Groups/Chat, or any of the other proprietary built-in services.

See, I don't think raising vast quantities of VC capital is necessarily a *good* thing. It's a thing, for sure, and it shows that external forces consider it valuable - but at some point those VCs will want their money back with interest, and if they don't like where the product is going they will do something about it. Guilded raised $10m or so out of venture capital but now it's owned by Roblox who will either strangle it or let it flourish - though it is officially operating under independence for now. The fact it has an intentionally broader offering is interesting - and I think it remains to be seen whether it will make a serious dent into Discord - it didn't thus far, but that doesn't mean it won't in a changing landscape.

Private Equity is pulling back cash in a big way during this pandemic, and the last year alone has seen a total dry-up of private equity engagement (vs. what you would see in prior years). This is at the heart of the work that I do today, and when a SaaS provider attracts multiple series investments during this dry spell, it really raises awareness of how exceptional they are. Discord is as close to a unicorn in the North American SaaS space as you can get today, and their growing MAU's and increasing revenue streams through premium subscriptions, provide a viable path to a market conversion.
 
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