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11 Comments

🥊 Chats suck as a platform for community compared to forums (change my mind ☕ )

I don't understand how there's still a debate going on whether to use threaded open forum structure or stick to chat apps like Slack & Discord for creating online communities around products. I find it hard to justify the latter option. What am I missing, you chat-loving гucks?

Forums

  • Content is searchable & discoverable on the internets;
  • SEO value;
  • Content is structured by topic in a readable format;
  • Useful threads provide long-term value ☝;
  • Discussions can be sorted by popularity (easier to surface valuable content for new users);
  • Users don't have to sign up to get useful information;
  • Single Login can be utilized to link accounts on your platform;
  • Can double as a knowledge base & feature request board;
  • Everything is under your control - not your platform provider (anyone has a good argument for Facebook groups, huh?);

And that's just off the top of my head, I'm sure one can continue this list.

Chats

But I want to hear from the other side. What advantage platforms like Slack or Discord have over async forums? Other than being a lazier choice, I guess 🙄.

I've joined Discord & Slack channels of many different apps, from tiny startups to niche leaders - and majority of content is either 'ongoing discussions I have nothing to do with' or 'people asking the same damn questions over and over'. There are better solutions for basic customer support, cause it doesn't look pretty from my point of view:

  • People might not be familiar with Slack or Discord (on the other hand, literally everyone has seen a Discourse forum);
  • Small channels are slow - you can't expect anyone to answer right away;
  • Large channels are so noisy you can't really track individual topics;
  • No matter how you try to keep it tidy - nobody uses search, cause it's easier to just ask 🤷‍♀️;
  • People on Discord are just a bunch of weird nicknames & anime userpics, go figure.

So hit me with your cold-ass experience. I'd love to be proven wrong - it means I'm gonna learn a lot. What value can you harvest from a chat-like platform for a community to be a reasonable choice over a forum?

sips ☕ Change my mind.

  1. 6

    To me, forums and chats like Discord & Slack serve very different purposes. As you said, it's good for SEO and provides long term value which is great, but chat platforms also have their upsides (and there is no reason you can't do both).

    Discord/Slack make it easier to engage with the people who use your product. It's easier to @everyone in a Discord server about a new feature release and gain valuable feedback quickly than it is to create a thread or poll on a forum where there is a high chance nobody will read it.

    Not everyone has heard of or experienced Discourse, it really depends on your target audience and their agegroup. For example if you ask Gen Z'er what Discourse is, they're probably not going to know what the hell you are talking about. But if you ask them about Discord they more than likely will.

    You can't voice or video call in a forum. Share memes while brainstorming product ideas in a relaxed setting. Forums promote formal, content-rich discussion and chat apps promote community building and openness.

    1. 3

      Hey! Thanks for chipping in c:
      Definitely one can do both! They are not mutually exclusive, should've made this clearer - the reason I'm pitting them down is that it always comes down to the question 'where do we direct the user?'. For free/communal/open-source projects fragmentation is less of an issue, but for a business you definitely want to have a primary journey.

      It's easier to @everyone in a Discord server about a new feature release and gain valuable feedback quickly than it is to create a thread or poll on a forum where there is a high chance nobody will read it.

      As for announcements, I have a completely opposite experience since I don't use Discord every day c: But a forum has my email - so they can get my attention for some major news.

      if you ask Gen Z'er what Discourse is, they're probably not going to know what the hell you are talking about.

      I didn't know what Discourse is a couple of weeks ago, before I started researching this question. But I visited tons of forums running it - I just didn't care about the engine. My point is that it's a very familiar layout that isn't likely to confuse users - but installing Discord for the first time very well might.

      Gotta agree about brainstorming & memes in a relatively small group - but I've never seen it used like that for products (I've joined a couple dozens of them while researching).

  2. 2

    I think we'll see more flexible tools that support for different modes of communication. I'm working on this here — https://www.gardens.to

  3. 2

    Personally, I can see some huge potential to bridge the gap between these 2 medium's for community building.

    Two positive's I have in favour of chat are as follows:

    1. A set of dedicated clients. As much as I love the open web, I like the fact that when I login into discord or slack I can jump between the different servers/workspaces at a click without logging in or remembering a URL and there is a consistent experience between them all.
    2. From a chat you get a sense of how active a community at that moment in time. Forum style sites are great for seeing the history of a conversation and probably do have very active conversations, but if I am only checking in once a day it's pretty difficult to get a sense of what has been happening from the site. (this might well be down to the forum's I am currently a member), but the notifications from Discourse are horrible IMO, they don't meaningfully engage with me as a person or represent a person/community sending it. A chat system can backfire it is too active and as a member it either distracts too much from meaningful work or you just don't keep up.

    Idea: Have a discord/slack bot that bridges to a piece of forum software in the form of a hourly/daily digest, which means the conversation could continue in a slower time frame

  4. 2

    You bring up some very good points - the forum format is much better for organizing information, which is super valuable to a community. However, the real-time chat format can foster a higher sense of community as community members feel like they are interacting with people and not content.

    What I've seen recently is communities combining both, for example having a subreddit and an associated discord server (or reddit chatroom).

    Source: I curate online communities for Hive Index, and tag them by topic as well as feature. Forum and Chat are the most common "features" of a community from the couple hundred that I've listed.

  5. 2

    I think the Problem here is the GenerationZ like i am. You have a question? better get it answered NOW. A Forum feels async and if it is one thing about your Problem that it is that you can't wait a day for it to be solved.
    This is terrible, I know, yet i would always have both inside a community.
    Use a Forum for everything important and link your users from Discord to Forum posts if they have a question. Also you could program a bot that always displays the best matching search results if someone if posting a question in a specific topic for example.

    Because there is one thing that a Forum lacks of:
    Instant outreach to people. Yes you can Email them but a Discord notifications draws more attention.
    Having nice Chats with people. It binds them to you and not to your product which is way more important. If you are active on Slack / Discord, people will follow you no matter where you drive your product. This won't happen in Forums since they are async and it does feel like "one day i had this amazing conversation with the founder, he was so nice". Yet, this does not work with big communities anymore.

    TLDR; you need discord for the young folks which can't wait for async responses.

  6. 2

    I generally agree. I feel a ton of information gets lost in chat platforms, and communication happens too randomly. Slack tries to balance the two, but every Slack community I belong to drifts towards one side or the other (either no threading or militant threading). And Slack is a compromise that is generally bad at both.

    I can see that a problem with pure forums though is that communication might happen too slowly or get out of sync in some instances if a conversation has a lot of back-and-forth.

  7. 2

    On one hand, it's easier for user to just pop a question on chat than to write a forum post. But if a user is not a "people person" they would rather search for an answer on the forum or post a thought-through question, than TALKING to actual PEOPLE in some chat.

  8. 1

    chat still works. clearly.

    i can bet my "cold ass" that you've experienced community via chat too.

  9. 1

    I think the world is shifting toward more of a hybrid model, where it might be asynchronous but almost feels like live chat, especially if more than one person is there posting in the moment. The other thing I'm always looking for is less visual clutter. I find some of the chat interfaces, particularly, super cluttered and technical-looking.

  10. 1

    Core to community is conversation. While Forums do that too, the spontaneity of Chats brings a more interactive experience. Forums are great for discussions (Reddit), but Chats are great for networking. Choosing a platform therefore depends on the objective of the Community - Discussion or Networking. Discussion = Forum, Networking = Chat :)

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