I think that Discourse is a very powerful tool, mature, robust and customizable. I’m sure it can suit all our needs. I find only one danger that may compromise its success: too much complexity or an excess of information may be overwhelming for users.
The WEAll community doesn’t need to be the place where users connect every day, spend much of their online time inside and want to be up to date of all content. This may be one possible profile, but probably many of them will be more casual users. That enter here for one specific consult and then leave, or that subscribe to one or a few topics to be notified of new publications, and mainly ignore the rest. We need to take into account that if many people uses it, there will be a lot of information here. And casual users do not want to invest a lot of time in learning to use a new tool, or to customizing it to their needs. They want just to enter, get what they want and go on to other thinks in their lives.
E.g. imagine that in Scotland Hub they are very active in a project to influence some policy makers. But I don’t live in Scotland and I’m not interested in policy makers, I’m here for the narrative communication to the public. If every day I enter the site I see several new messages with the progress of this project and of two other ones from other hubs (and also receive emails of them), it’s possible that I end up stop using the site or muting everything. But perhaps I want to be notified, instead, when the project is finished and they write a summary post in a Special Announcements category.
I’m very fan of two principles:
- Hiding things we aren’t interested in.
- Opt-in better than opt-out.
In my ideal platform setup, a new user would find a clean interface, in their native language by default, with very little content and a clear path of the next step to do. At first, they should be presented an onboarding process, that ideally could be completed in a few minutes. It should show the basic working of the user interface, how to configure their minimal user profile and then go to a “new users” category to post a salutation message or ask for help.
The final step would be reaching a kind of “site map” with shows all kind of contents available in the platform, and explain how to subscribe to the information they are interested to (for example, watch the categories for your regional hub and the themes you want to actively follow). They should not receive push or email notifications until they start actively using the platform, and only after they choose what they do want to receive. For example, this final step should teach the user to go to “email” and “notifications” settings and choose their implication level.
And I also think we should avoid to show too much information in the screen at any time. For example, having only a few categories of first level or hiding tools and toolbars until user discovers them and set them opened if they want. And perhaps deactivate things like “Suggested Topics”, as explained here. I think this last one adds a lot of noise and may confuse users moving them to a different category they were navigating. Or at least give it less visual importance, by using CSS to make the text smaller, adding a grey background or similar.
We should take into account that this is not a commercial site, that wants to force users to “engage” and spend a lot of time trapped inside it. The objective should be to give the most valuable information with the least effort and time.
What do you think?