Feedback requested: improved topic summary mode

Every forum has the TL;DR problem of regularly generating topics that have 100, 200, 500, or even a thousand posts. What I’d like to know is, who the heck is reading all 500+ posts in a giant topic?

Unfortunately, I think the answer is often “almost nobody”.

With Discourse we designed in “best of” mode for topics specifically to address this, to give visitors a handy reader’s digest condensed version of long topics by algorithmically picking the “best” posts in a topic and hiding / collapsing the other posts.

But it was not really complete. We went back and made a major pass on this to improve it. You’ll notice at the top of long topics (we define long as more than 50 posts) an invitation to summarize the topic:

There are 180 replies with an estimated read time of 54 minutes. Save reading time by displaying only the most relevant replies?

Summarize This Topic


  • renamed it from “best of” to “topic summary” to better reflect what it does.

  • shows estimated reading time of the topic based on word count so you know how much time you might be saving; the post count doesn’t always tell the full story. Does the topic consist of one line posts, or giant thousand word essays?

  • show the number of omitted posts as clickable bars directly in-line between the posts, rather than as a hard to see bar way down at the bottom of the page. You can also expand the omitted posts on demand so you never need to feel like you are missing out on anything by summarizing a topic.

  • the in-line omitted post counts are better “you are in a summary mode for this topic” reminder, which we also use when filtering by user (click a user portrait in the left gutter to fillter by user.)

Please take a look at it and tell us what you think of the new, improved topic summary mode.

Just look for topics that have more than 50 posts (remember, you can sort the topic list columns now by clicking on the column) and enter at the top of the topic, not the bottom, by clicking the first post date in the topic list.

We want Discourse to turn a world of endless TL;DR forums into … places you can can actually dip your toes in and read without quitting your job to become a full-time forum addict!

Here’s an example topic from BBS linked in summary mode, try this one out and see what you think:

"This is a city for the right people, who can afford it"  

Notice how many posts you’re reading in the summary, versus how many are in the total topic, and which ones get omitted.

I hate to think that we’re generating 100+ reply topics that ultimately will be read by almost nobody. I hope Discourse can make those topics readable for future visitors with an easily accessible (and one day … maybe even automatic for older topics) summary mode. Comments?

I like it, but some of the comments make no sense because they are replies to posts which have been omitted, like post #5. Apropos nothing, now we’re at turd sandwich?

The “in-reply-to” chicklet at the top is not visible? If it is, click it to expand and drag the necessary context along on demand.

You can also expand inline quotes by clicking on them, and replies at the bottom by clicking on that.

Try expanding that ↑ for example. Just click or tap anywhere on the top bar of the quote.

G’wan. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

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I’d actually never noticed that inline quotes could be expanded like that, thanks! Looks like a great way to distill comments to me.

Well, the idea is that each Discourse post, via …

  • in-reply-to button at the top (for posts that are replies to a single post and do not quote)
  • expandable inline quotes as demonstrated above
  • replies button at the bottom

… carries the necessary context with it to understand the post. Simply expand the context on demand by clicking or tapping on the top, middle, or bottom of the post.

(I always hated the way that threaded discussions demanded that you follow the full connected chain of umpteen zillion posts to have any possible hope of understanding any of the discussion. Puts huge burden on the reader for no good outcome.)

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You should have the stats… How many people are actually using summary mode?

(I don’t. I speed-read to decide whether the conversation’s got anything I can or want to contribute to, then read bottom-up to see what’s been added since last time. That approach has been working for me for over a quarter century; I don’t know that I recommend it, but I don’t feel a need to change it.)

maybe this is explained and I missed it, but I’m curious about what the algorithm selects for. What makes a particular post part of the summarized view? I’m wary that busybodies will game threads by using likes and replies as votes, assuming these are part of the selection.

as for me, I’ve never used the truncated view of threads (yet.) If a topic interests me enough that I go to its BBS thread, I just scroll the thread and skim through all the arguing and infighting to get to the relevant/thoughtful posts and jokes. I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to open a 100+ post thread, though.

my concerns over the effectiveness of your algorithm aside, your reasoning seems sound. I just read through the thread about the Archie Comics boss, I’ll check out the summary and see what’s up.

EDIT: mostly this just reminded me what a crap thread it was to begin with. the entire bottom third of the thread was left out (35 posts) which seems odd. I’d have to say that the jury’s out on this feature for me. maybe as my time gets scarcer with my new job I’ll use it more, though.

I have never used the topic summary mode, so I am curious about how many people actually do. I have never avoided a topic because it was too long, but I have avoided topics because I thought the subject was not interesting or because I assumed most of the discussion was fighting. In those situations, a topic summary is no help.


The usual stuff: replies (includes quotes), bookmarks, collective read time, likes, number of read markers, internal and external links, etc.

I have noticed that pattern with summarized topics too.

That seems to accurately reflect what actually happens with topics, though: a burst of initial activity when the post is made and publicized on BB and then a “long tail” of a few people coming back to the topic, a handful of new people discovering it, etc.

Certainly less people are reading (and subsequently interacting with) post #243 than post #10, don’t you think?

Of course, we won’t click on topics that don’t look interesting to us. However, what’s your reading strategy for clicking on long (50+ post) topics that do – at least based on the title – look strongly interesting to you?

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I start from the top and read through the posts. If a post seems to be part of an argument that I want to avoid, then I usually just read the first few lines and skip to the next post.

Actually … I think a lot of people are going straight to the bbs., and the latest topic actioned is at the top, and they dive in there to the latest comment. It’s a fun way to re-ignite things.

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It is, but Discourse always puts you at your last known read position in a topic, if you have read the topic.

So if you are visiting a topic for the first time, that’s the only (ever?) time you will come in at the top at post #1.

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