Improving the Forum

Continuing the discussion from How to make the forum better for novices?:

I have voiced my concerns about the forum before. I have held my peace for a while, but I see the same issues recurring, and a new thread on the subject suggests to me that it is time to raise those issues again.

  1. Splitting forum topics. I am sorry to say this, but it’s more than a little ironic in a discussion about how to improve the forums for novices (and where someone points out how difficult it is to follow threads that have been split) that the thread was itself closed and people told to split it! To me, that sounds like moderators saying “we are happy to hear what you say, but only within the limits we have prescribed”. But if those limits are part of the problem, then I don’t see how that helps.
  • Strangely enough, I have never had a problem following a discussion that has more than one underlying thread. I find that’s how humans converse. I can easily filter out the bits that aren’t relevant. On the other hand, finding a thread that’s been split off is hard. Sometimes, as others have pointed out, the new thread doesn’t show up. That’s clearly a Discourse problem, and it’s very annoying. But the issue goes beyond problems with the software.

  • I often get an email with a link to a discussion. But if I click on it, and the discussion has been moved, I don’t find what I was expecting to find. It’s extremely disorientating, and it gives an extremely unprofessional look. (The same is true with clicking on links provided elsewhere, of course, but it’s particularly irritating when the link is in an email, because that’s a direct invitation to visit a specific discussion … which is no longer there.)

  • So I ask again. Please stop splitting threads! If there’s another problem, such as trolling, deal with the trolling.

  1. Use ClassicPress instead. While I understand why Discourse is used for the forums, I remain convinced it’s a big mistake. As I have said countless times, we should be using ClassicPress itself. Yes, I have heard the argument that Discourse can do things better, but I think those making that argument have a fundamentally different view of the criterion against which to judge that claim from the criteria I consider most important.
  • We should be showing off what ClassicPress can do. It’s a shop window for our product. Just as importantly, we will find shortcomings, and will enhance our product accordingly, for the benefit of our whole user base.

  • ClassicPress is more than capable of handling forums, whether we build the functionality ourselves or use a ready-made plugin.

  • It would mean that forum users would visit the main ClassicPress website. We hear so often that no-one visits the site or reads the posts there: well, no wonder! It makes no sense to draw users away from the main site to an alternative location.

  • What happens when the current moderators wish to relinquish their duties? Only those who know Discourse could take over, which is inevitably a small number. Yet there’s no reason to be having to choose from such a small pool. If we used ClassicPress, almost anyone with experience of running sites could potentially be a moderator.

I think it’s time to make some fundamental changes!


The problem wasn’t trolling; it was off-topic comments…which is what topic-splitting is meant to deal with. Before topics were being split, there were complaints that threads went on too long, kept loading forever, and created an annoying experience, particularly when there were off-topic comments and discussions interspersed within.

Capable, yes. Ideal, no. It’s been awhile since I’ve looked, but, are there even any high quality, supported forum plugins out there? Last I knew, there wasn’t. Writing a plugin is a possible solution, but, it seems doubtful we have even a single person to work on it, support it, etc.

I had never used (or even knowingly seen) Discourse before this implementation and I’ve gotten on just fine in terms of moderation. To me, if someone is going to be a moderator (of anything), they should take some initiative to learn the thing, regardless of the platform. In the case of Discourse, the docs are well-written and, while I’ve never sat down and read page-by-page, it’s a simple matter of Googling for anything unknown. Within a few days, moderation controls are easily discoverable and learnable.

What criteria do you consider most important, that Discourse does not meet, and a 3rd party plugin does? And, what criteria are you referring to as being a “fundamentally different view against which to judge”?


I think there has been too great a pursuit of topic purity. That’s fine when we are trying to make a decision on something specific. It’s generally counter-productive when it’s just a topic of discussion among community members, because it acts as a deterrent to discussion and participation.

The most important criteria to me are those that draw new people to the ClassicPress project. The quality of the tools available to moderators comes way down the list.

Much more important are ease of use to new visitors (which we have heard on many occasions is something on which Discourse fails) and the ability to show off what ClassicPress can do.

Definitely. Asgaros Forum is probably the obvious one. But, as I have already suggested, perhaps you’re using different criteria from me to evaluate such plugins. So what do you consider to be the features that such a plugin should have?

That depends on what criteria we decide it needs. See above.

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I disagree with this statement, and would love to see an example email that does this. Links are to specific posts, regardless of “where” they are

Regardless, to your point on splitting threads. I would hate to see what the forum would have become if I had not started to enforce stricter policies on splitting threads. Even just looking at the thread this was split from - in 50 posts what was accomplished? There were 5 different conversations happening all simultaneously and then some where getting frustrated when I didn’t reply to 1 of their specific points in one of their posts. How is that productive?

Regarding using ClassicPress. Yes, hypothetically, using ClassicPress would be ideal. But without a huge budget and unlimited work hours to reproduce what we already have here I don’t really see the point you are trying to hit there. That also ignores the enormous cost of moving at this point. We have what 2299 threads with an average of say 25 posts per thread? Beside that, moving the users (which we are already running into issues even moving the petition site…), plus the infrastructure we have built up around Discourse. All in all, realistically, yes in words that sounds simple but would be an undertaking that would divert most resources away from anything people really care about.

At the end of the day the forums is meant to support us building ClassicPress, not eat resources we don’t have.

Thanks for following up.

These are opinions, not facts by which any specific action can be taken.

I’m not convinced that having an old school forum is the right draw – we need actual sites, showcases, numbers to draw people in.

Conversely, we’ve also heard on many occasions that Discourse are “forums done right”. I’m curious to understand how many SMBs want or need a forum. I’m guessing the number is minimal.

I don’t have a definitive list and wasn’t intending to compare/contrast against your own; I was just trying to understand what you were specifically referring to.

We seem to have different definitions of off-topic. I found nothing in that thread that was off-topic.

Wade said: “it was basically 5 different conversations all happening in one thread”, so I guess off-topic means off-conversation or off-subject.

Anyway, I was trying to find out more from MrLucky about his opinions and I had pinged him a few times to get some feedback. He will now come back and find the thread closed and I’m pretty sure he will give up on us. I’m also giving up on this topic/conversation/subject/whatever.


So, what I’ve gotten from all the discussion is that people want 2 things:

Easier Forums:
Likely, similar to what is installed at … If so, it can’t be overlooked that those forums haven’t drawn more than a few users and, indeed, they seem to have gone dormant. I believe this negates the ease of use argument.

No topic-splitting:
I’m happy to never split a topic again, if that is the majority desire. Of course, that will take us right back to square one in terms of threads meandering all over the place. If people are fine with diluted threads that scroll on forever, I’ll go along with it.

Still, the vast majority of users here don’t seem to have trouble with the interface or splitting; it’s been limited to a small handful of people…which, in my mind, doesn’t warrant overturning the whole cart.

That is what happens with broad overarching threads. Nothing can ever be off-topic, especially true with a thread that started as a question.

I mean even this thread, what is it trying to achieve? Is it to stop us from splitting threads, or to move to a new software? But it could also be to add support for gifs, or maybe allow signatures, maybe even a calendar, or what about a chat functionality - all of those fall under “improving the forum”.

Me too, at the end of the day - we will work or continue to look at the 3 points I mentioned in the previous thread.

I have already begun working on new welcome thread wording; I will chat with the mods to see if there is anything else we can do to make the thread splitting less disorienting; and finally we will leave the discussion open about the layout (and I will include instructions on changing your layout in the new welcome message).

Hmmm, right. So, what you are saying is the forum shouldn’t be a place for general discussion about a broad subject. It should have a very specific topic (ideally not a question), a very specific response to that topic, close thread.

Wow. Not only do we have a different definition of “off-topic”, we even have a different definition of “forum”. :confused:

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I think you missed my point. I even posted a “broad” question the other day: Check in: How is everyone doing?

I am going to chalk this up to me being exhausted with my new job and apologize if I don’t see what you are trying to explain. I hope the steps I outlined above will help ease some of your concerns, and please don’t take my disagreement as me discouraging your input - by being questioned it allows us to iterate on what we have and make it better.

When we split threads it is because one or more replies verge off into a different topic than the original thread. The system always leaves links between the original and the split thread, and whenever we split threads we should also be sure that the new thread makes sense as a standalone item (i.e. re-post any missing context in the original post).

I’ve also seen the issues with notifications not linking to the new post correctly, this has been mildly annoying but personally it really hasn’t been that difficult for me to follow these. In any case fixing this behavior would be a good issue to raise with the Discourse project.

I’m fine with splitting threads less often, but I don’t agree that we should stop doing it. I would also suggest that users consider whether their reply is directly linked to the original topic of discussion, and if not, start a new thread (as you appear to have done here Tim).

Discourse is not perfect but it is where all of our users and content are. There are at least three additional criteria that should be present in any decision about switching to something else:

  1. Maturity and level of active development of the software we choose. It’s a huge mistake to assume that we can build something better than Discourse, many thousands of hours (probably on the order of 100,000) have gone into its development so far.
  2. Security and ease of hosting. The amount of confidence we can have in a software package in this area is closely tied to (1) in my experience.
  3. Inertia - amount of work involved in any potential migration (user accounts, content (or suddenly having yet another repository of old/archived discussion content to keep track of)).

Given these criteria, my judgment as Infrastructure lead is that currently we cannot justify switching our forums to another platform.

I’m all for making tweaks that improve the first-time user experience, and finding better ways to explain how to use Discourse in prominent places. One simple idea I had was to make sure we have a good description for each category, and anyone can help with that by starting a new thread here in Meta.

I agree with this. Even as just a user of our forums, there are a lot of different things being discussed here, so it’s reasonable to expect people to take some time to explore and learn how things are organized.

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Yes, this really confused me. I was following that topic ( How to make the forum better for novices?)

and about to reply when I find it has been closed.

There is a final post saying: " I am closing this thread, but please feel free to continue the discussion by using the “Reply as linked thread” "

But no sign of how to do that. If you follow the link about “reply as linked thread” it shows a curly arrow, but that is not to be seen anywhere on the thread that was suddenly closed for no apparent reason.

Really, really annoying and confusing…

I can certainly see the logic in this, presumably it would have to be one of the existing forum plugins, which are quite basic, but almost anything has to better than this!


A case in point is the email which I received with a hyperlink to a post in the original thread. I clicked on it, and not only was the post not there, but the thread had been closed. (That’s what triggered me to start this thread.) But James has already confirmed that this happens. Unlike him, I don’t find it a mild irritant but extremely annoying.

There is no real way in Discourse to create a linked thread when the original thread has been closed. The only option is to start a new thread.

That’s a specious argument. People (including me) don’t go there because it’s not an official ClassicPress site.

What’s that to you? That sort of question sounds more like one posed by a landlord than a moderator. I have never heard of a forum where each thread needs to start out by specifying its intended objectives.

It’s also a very odd question on its own terms. The best discussions in which I’m involved (on any subject) see others take the discussion in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. The idea of setting parameters at the outset for anything other then business meetings with a specific agenda sounds quite absurd.

That’s another oddity, because earlier you said:

You can’t speak of “ideals” without some criteria.

Thank you, James. Those criteria are perfectly valid. And you have stated them before. I just don’t agree that they are the most important criteria. Many thousands of hours have gone into Gutenberg, and I still wouldn’t use it. And, interestingly, both are JavaScript based (and my guess is that’s where the issues related to the temporary “losing” of things comes from).

ClassicPress can easily handle forums — and securely too. I have one site that’s had thousands of comments in the last five weeks, for example. At the same time, it’s been under regular attack from several botnets, but it hasn’t missed a beat.

But the biggest problem with those criteria — and, indeed, it’s the reason for the division of opinion here — is that they are set from the perspective of a developer/moderator. Those who are moderators want to be able to moderate. To me, though, that’s the tail wagging the dog. And, as a dog owner, that’s a concept with which I am very familiar.

I keep coming back to the fact that, for most people, the public face of ClassicPress is … Discourse. Go figure!


This is true - thousands of development hours does not automatically mean that a piece of software is going to be good. However I’d argue that that kind of significant and active development is a necessary prerequisite for anything with any complexity, like a full-featured forum.

I don’t think so, it’s just that the “topic splitting” feature needs to be integrated into the rest of the system so that notifications can also follow those links.

Defending from botnets is a bare minimum in terms of security, our standards for our official sites are much higher, as they should be.

To give my perspective on this, I am not really OK with changing out the foundation of one of our most active community engagement channels, without a clear plan:

So far we’ve identified one specific thing that we all agree would be a big improvement to the forums: get the bug fixed where split threads don’t redirect properly in notifications. That seems to be the most productive avenue of investigation that we’ve identified here, the rest seems to be basically “we should build something better / make fundamental changes” which in my opinion is not justified for multiple reasons that I’ve started to explain above.

The counterpoint to this, of course, is that someone has to do the work behind any such fundamental change. And trust me, it would be a huge amount of work to do something like this and not just end up in a worse (more confusing/fragmented) place than when we started.


Based on these stats, I have to ask, @timkaye, @MrLucky and @ozfiddler have you completed the basic user onboarding for Discourse?

I am genuinely interested in finding out, and if not:

  • Why not?
  • Was it just not clear we offered onboarding?
  • What could we do to make onboarding more obvious?

Because, I am inclined to agree with Code Potent:


Following this discussion regarding improving the forum and new users.
I’ve just received the “Read the Guidelines” badge. Went back to my first email to find link.
BTW I am not a new user.
Out of curiosity if I want the “Certified” and “Licensed” badges where do I find the tutorials
The Read Guidelines badge has a link, but I can not see any others

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A lot of things have gone dormant this year, especially with the effects of the Coronavirus. John Overall is even considering shutting down his weekly podcasts at the end of this year, after nearly 500 weekly episodes.

Rearranging the deck chairs is probably not going to bring in a deluge of new forum members here. I think there is just not enough interest in WordPress/ClassicPress, as John is finding out himself.

Why, I don’t know. Whether it’s people using other platforms or they just don’t care enough to get involved is hard to tell.

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Thanks for your thoughts, @Aussie.

When I mentioned the forums being dormant, I was referring to the last post being made nearly a year ago. Your blog still remains active. I suspect there was a desire for such forums, just not an actual need for them. Nonetheless, your effort is commendable and I hope it eventually does become well-trafficked.

Re: the podcast, it’s been in decline for a long time. If you look at the viewing stats, the vast majority of the videos get fewer than 25 views and, looking at the dates, you can see that is a very longstanding pattern. I can list at least 5 possible reasons for the low viewership without putting much thought into it, however, enumerating those things is not my intent here; the effort is commendable either way and I wish him the best.


Not that I’m aware of. Why would I? What is onboarding?

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