Feedback on Discourse System (Please Respond)

(Brad Kramer) #1

I’d like to get everyone’s opinion on the Discourse system for comments and discussion, now that we have been using it for several months. Please reply with a single post detailing:

  1. What you like about the Discourse system, as compared to other discussion/commenting systems you have used on other websites (including our past system on our own website)
  2. What you don’t like—anything that annoys you about the current system (and its moderators :wink:) , and what we could possibly do better to make a better community experience for all.

This feedback is very helpful for us as we consider how to make a better resource.


(Brad Kramer) #2

@Merv @Relates @Humeandroid @Tony @johnZ @GJDS @PGarrison @loujost you are some of our “power users”, so I am especially interested in your opinions.

(Merv Bitikofer) #3

Things I like about your current [Discourse] system:

The ‘preview’ pane to the right of what we are typing is a great touch that helps some with tweaking and fixing posts before we post them.

Maybe I just haven’t pushed this limit recently --but I remember being irritated at starting to type a post, being interrupted or called away from my computer, then coming back and resuming only to find when I posted that I had waited too long and what I had written had been lost. Your current system seems more robustly tolerant of such behavior.

These are some things that come to mind. (I have some bad memories of your length limit from a long time ago. It would seem that is ancient history, and rightly so.)

What I don’t like …
One thing I miss that you used to have is the display of the number of comments with each article on the main blog feed page. So without needing to go into that article I could see immediately whether or not any new comments had been added since I last looked. Maybe that is intentional on your part in that you want folks to have to click into the article more often. If so, I can live with it --minor thing that it is. But for user-centered convenience that number was nice. Of course, opting to receive emails that show when replies are posted (as I do) somewhat addresses that concern anyway.

Nothing else comes to mind.

In response to expressed concerns you have already become much more intentional about having Biologos official representation (if not the authors themselves) present for comment, and that is much appreciated.

I have nothing but affirmations for the quality of “moderatorship” as it were. You seem (to my tastes) to have struck about the right level of tolerance for a diversity of opinion without letting anything become to rancorous or too far off topic.

Thanks for all you work.

(Brad Kramer) #4

Thanks for your feedback, Merv. I appreciate your contributions to our community.

(GJDS) #5

Hi Brad,

I like the review and spell check facility - I think this helps in removing most typo mistakes. The feed back (or responses) from authors has improved the discussion considerably. I commend BioLogos staff for the improvement in tone and content.

I think the improvements have made this exercise more complicated, but this may be unavoidable. As I become familiar with the capabilities you have added I will probably be able to use it with greater ease.

(Brad Kramer) #6

Thanks for replying, @GJDS. Do you think it would be helpful to put together a more comprehensive post (or video, even) explaining how to use all the features of Discourse?

(GJDS) #7


I think it would be useful to show people can simply click on reply and they can post without any other requirements. If we become fully aware of this (it is very similar to the previous format) then they will only get into the elaborate features when they are motivated. I cannot see how providing more information on the system would be useful - but then again, others may have specific points that I may not have noticed.



Hi Brad…

I only have good things to say about the new system. In my opinion it has greatly improved features and is very user friendly. I especially find it promising that members are now able to start off their own titled discussion, or, link to a new topic. It’s also nice that comments can now be edited for clarification purposes, or, deleted if so desired. I don’t know if the new system has a time limit for writing one’s comments—that was a terribly frustrating issue with the old system (I lost a few of my own written comments where they had to be rewritten). The old system also had a word count or character limit. These seem to have disappeared, so that’s fantastic. Also, I like being notified of new or unread topics and for private messages. Overall, I don’t have any poor review to comment about the system or the moderators, yourself included. I’m aware of how engaged you are in making sure that members know how to use the system, with moving and creating new links to posts, and deleting inappropriate material—as a moderator should be. I appreciate all your hard work. A last point—concerning the main Daily Blog page—that big FEEDBACK tab doesn’t disappear when clicking the close-> button (it’s disconcerting trying to read through it). Am I the only one having this issue?

(Brad Kramer) #9

@Tony thanks so much for this feedback. Other users have also been having issues with the “feedback button”. We are working on the issue.


Brad, I appreciate the format and ease of use. I appreciate the different helps, such as highlight for unread, new posts, etc. I have no suggestions for change other than possibly considering leaving a topic open for 14 days instead of seven days after last post; some people may like to have longer to cogitate before contributing. Although I would caution moderating too much, since I’ve seen over-moderation on other websites, I think you are trying to strike a good balance, and shifting a topic to a new thread with a new title can be useful. Overall, you are doing a good job.

(Lou Jost) #11

Hi Brad, thanks for being interested in our experiences of the new system. The old system constantly “ate” my comments for unknowable reasons, while this new system is reliable. After the new system launched, the decision to let commenters address each other was a much-appreciated and valuable modification.

I strongly agree with the comment above that the topics should not expire until 14 or even more days (obviously with the understanding that the original author should not feel obligated to respond after 7 days). Some topics are complicated and need more time.

(Brad Kramer) #12

@loujost, that’s a great idea regarding the 14 day timer with the author leaving after 7. I will discuss that internally. 7 days is an arbitrary number, I admit, and I have seen (rare) instances where productive conversation has continued almost a week after the last comment was posted.


See how suggestions can evolve? :smirk: :smile:

(David Hume (nom de plume)) #14

Hi all, I agree that the system is nifty. Brad does a fine job moderating, and the creation of new threads for conversations that leave the main topic works well. If I were to offer a critique of the moderation policy, I would just ask everyone to pay attention to how frequently we see highly dismissive and disrespectful comments made about science and scientists. It seems to me that many commenters at BL don’t even know that they do this, and as a former evangelical I know exactly why this is. It’s a very minor point, because I know that the Prime Directive is to help evangelicals understand evolution, such that ignorance and casual dismissal of science are to be expected. But I should end by saying that the system is nice, even snazzy, and Brad does a very good job.

(Brad Kramer) #15

@Humeandroid thanks for the feedback, and 100 imaginary points for the Star Trek reference. :milky_way:


I find it to be frustratingly difficult to keep track of a conversation. When I reply to somebody and they reply back to me, then logically those conversations should be nested within each other.

Currently the discussion system shows responses, but these only go one level deep. I cannot see the responses to those responses unless I go hunting for them elsewhere.

Also, it makes no sense for each response to appear both as a response and also further down the list of comments as a stand alone comment as well. I feel the whole system is a mess. Please try and replicate the nested comments that are available with disqus or reddit instead.

(Brad Kramer) #18

@Aceofspades25 I do agree that the nested/flat system of Discourse can be challenging. However, in having read the rationale for why the developers made it that way, I can see their point. Reddit and Disqus both have significant disadvantages as well. No comment system gets the job done perfectly. I will say, though, that one of the nice things about the Discourse system is that it discourages conversations-inside-of-conversations-inside-of-conversations, and I will try to help our community understand the tools inside Discourse for moving their conversations elsewhere if they veer away from the topic at hand.

Thanks a lot for your feedback :smile:


Brad, respectfully I disagree with both you and Jeff Atwood. It’s worth noting that his post about how internet users are too simple to handle threaded discussions (“threaded discussion is ultimately too complex to survive on the public Internet”) was written back in 2012. He has since been proved wrong. All of the top 3rd party commenting platforms (Disqus, IntenseDebate and Livefyre) now support nested commenting systems which facilitate conversation. This means that the vast majority of blogs now have nested comment systems. This level of functionality is what people are used to and it is now what they expect.

The major disadvantage of the simplistic system you have adopted here is that it is impossible to follow a conversation. Conversations can at most go back one level. If I want to find out what the person I am talking to said earlier in the conversation, I would need to go dig back through pages of unrelated comments.

That means that this sort of discussion system lends itself more to soapboxing rather than real discussion where views can be easily challenged.

I will say, though, that one of the nice things about the Discourse system is that it discourages conversations-inside-of-conversations-inside-of-conversations

What is wrong with conversations inside of conversations? When conversations are structured logically, it is a simple step to minimise the rabbit trails that a user isn’t interested in following.

(Brad Kramer) #20

Hi @Aceofspades25,

I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. This has been the subject of a good bit of internal discussion when we decided to use the Discourse engine, which is different than many comment engines in significant ways. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Discourse had threaded comments, but I’m not convinced that their hybrid solution is a bad one. For instance, I personally find Reddit to be bewildering once a post gets a large number of comments. The reality of most conversations is more complex than a simple threaded system allows. For instance, people frequently comment on multiple prior comments, and thus there’s no way to accurately place their comment in the thread. Also, once a post gets enough comments, following the full flow of the conversation is incredibly daunting (for me, at least, it involves tracing a bunch of lines up and down the page to make sure I’m reading the right level). This may just be my own personal inexperience with those systems, I fully admit, but I don’t think threaded systems are anywhere near perfect.

You may not be aware that Discourse actually does have tools to follow a conversation from start to finish. If you start at the first post of a conversation, look for the “[x] reply” grey button underneath. If it isn’t there, either there are no replies or the replies are immediately underneath. Just repeat that step to follow the conversation all the way down. Conversely, if you start at the most recent post, just click the button on the right that indicates which commenter the post is replying to (for instance, this post will have your picture in the right corner), and it will take you to the previous post in the conversation. Again, just repeat that step to follow the conversation all the way to the top. What makes this complicated at the moment is not the Discourse system itself but the learning curve for many of our commenters, who don’t seem to understand that they need to click “reply” next to the post they are responding to.

I’m strongly considering putting together an educational video of some sort to help new users understand all the features of Discourse, because I think a lot of the cool (and even essential) features here are underused.

The nice thing about Discourse is that I, as the admin, can move a “rabbit trail” discussion to its own page. If you think about a Discourse conversation as an actual classroom discussion, a healthy discussion involves each person drawing on all previous comments (by both teacher and fellow students), and not just engaging one person in debate in front of everyone. If I was the teacher, I would tell these students to take the discussion out of the class, and that’s essentially what I do as admin.

Again, thanks for your comments. -BK


This doesn’t seem to work for me. I don’t see my picture in the right corner. Is this one of those features that have to be unlocked through repeated use?

Or did you not click reply that time?

I guess that just demonstrates how it can be incredibly difficult to follow a discussion if users don’t use this system in a very particular way.