Tangents: how off-topic is too off-topic?

Well, carp’s horrible, so cats deserve it. Seems like a plan.

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I’d hazard a guess that those of us who have brought it up just really, really liked it that way. I felt Disqus had plenty of problems, but its threadedness wasn’t one of them. I found the conversations easier to follow than the initial pancake-flat rollout of Discourse. But I really appreciate the adjustments that have been made after all our squawking. Now I can get just enough context with a click or two that I can make heads or tails of the conversation pretty nearly as well as I could with Disqus, with enough benefit from having rid ourselves of the other problems with Disqus that I feel the change was definitely worthwhile.

I miss several old commenters who didn’t bother to hang around after the switchover, but otherwise I think the conversation has recovered nicely. But then again, this is an exceptionally busy time of year for me, so I don’t read as exhaustively here as I used to, so probably I’m missing some good and bad stuff. Dunno if it says anything worthwhile, but this is still the only place I bother to read and comment nearly every day.


Well, despite my personal preference for threaded discussions, I would accept that as a point in favor of a flat system.

FWIW as a data point, my first exposure to “discussion groups” was on the old dial-up BBSs, where discussion was all sequential.

However, my second was Usenet, via trn. In that format, I had a very strong preference for threaded discussion, because it was easy to trace threads forward and back, but also because the software both visually referenced where I was in any given discussion, and had the ability to only show me new posts any time I entered a newsgroup. Un-threaded newsreaders seemed to me to miss the point entirely, and I found sequential un-threaded discussions, when they started to emerge on websites, very irritating.

When it comes to most blog fora, however, I have come to prefer sequential discussion because that’s the only way to avoid having to browse pages and pages of content to try to guess what might be new since my last visit. When LiveJournal went to nested commenting, I liked it on personal blogs, but hated it in communities where discussions could blow up fast because it was too hard to tell what I had and hadn’t read yet.

I’m personally finding this hybrid, with navigation upthread and downthread built in, a manageable compromise.


When is a tangent off-topic?

When a reasonable person, after clicking on the topic title, would be unpleasantly surprised to find that tangent in the topic.

In other words, if the title of the topic is

After 8-year absence from YouTube, co-founder posts comment about comment policy

this week Karim [the co-founder of YouTube] took time out of his busy schedule at the tech incubator Y Ventures to leave a comment on his own video—and to slam Google’s move to link YouTube’s accounts to the Google+ social networking service.

And the topic diverges to

The comment system on this website is horrible!

I do not think a reasonable person would expect to find that in the topic.

  • It’s not about YouTube at all
  • It’s not about mandatory linking of commenting to “social media” accounts which is the point of the article
  • It’s meta, a discussion of the current software

Of course it is natural for topics to meander a bit, and that is fine. But a concerted 10+ post digression that would be unpleasant and unexpected for anyone based on (shock!) expecting to get what is printed on the tin, is not cool. It’s like opening a jar that says “strawberries” and finding blueberries mixed in.

I do not think it is an unreasonable expectation for the posts inside a topic to have a reasonable connection to the title and first post of the topic.

Anyway, It’s not like you can’t easily create linked tangents. That’s what “reply as new topic”, which is in the right gutter next to every single post, is for…

(It is also easy for moderators to slice topics up, just enter selection mode, select posts (and you can also select replies when you select), then click move to new topic.)

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Agreed, CH, Some divergence is expected and indeed useful in a brainstorming-type system. (See my comment elsewhere on the board about how a silly digression about bears produced a solution now commonly used for de-icing high tension wires.) But if the divergence goes on too long it starts being a nuisance and should be either moved elsewhere or dragged back on topic (kicking and screaming if necessary). Or both.

That’s another annoying thing that the board moderators are responsible for enforcing, I’m afraid. Possibly with help from the users in the form of flags, but you have to educate the users in how to use the flag system effectively and that flagging isn’t a hostile action.

Question: Does reply-as-new-topic automatically leave a pointer in the old conversation to the new one?

Perhaps put the reply as new thread button at the bottom of the post instead of the top. The post I am replying to is too long to read to the bottom of the post and still have the (until I hover over it, what’s THAT about?) hidden reply as new topic button.

A good idea. There has also been some discussion of making the reply button a sort of GMail style thing where you can change the “type” of reply, e.g.

However, changing the type of reply to topic is a bit of a radical change, a bit more like editing the title in a GMail reply chain, which is quite difficult by design.

I am not sure Discourse needs that level of complexity at the moment.

Yes of course.

And flagging extended, off-topic digressions (that someone clicking on the title would be unpleasantly surprised to find) is certainly something we would like the community to do. You should be as annoyed as us when someone derails a topic, I don’t want it swept under the “oh that’s just the way things are here in broken-down threading town” rug.

Here it is:

Seems like nested quotes don’t work though :confused:

As demonstrated, it does. The more important questions is “What does replying as a new topic do to notifications and topic tracking?” And for now the answer seems to be “It breaks them horribly.”

On the positive side, the “Which topic do you want to reply to?” confirmation when posting to a split topic is a nice way to nudge posts to the topic they best fit into. I don’t remember that last time I brought up these issues, so nice work if that’s new.

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Isn’t it un-PC to point out difference in communications styles by gender? :smiley:

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