Don't split too early: what are our criteria on when it's time to split a topic


(Anton) #1

I’d like to share my finding that splitting topics too early works worse than letting people digress for a while.

Splitting a topic works like a “red signal” - you make an obstacle when splitting a topic. Some people might feel that mods are not happy and their splitting is an act of aggression. Others may just get confused while responding to the original topic and see their posted reply not fitting anymore - this not only confuses, but also discourages, especially emotional people. They might think - oh no, now what do I make? Will I have to ask a mod to move my message to the new topic as well? After all, some people might just disagree with your splitting the subject into two subjects! Etc - there are many hidden reasons that we might not know, but I learned that splitting too early is rarely good.

When you split a bit later, people do not pay that much attention to it.

My criteria for splitting is:

  • has at least 5…10 messages, depending on how long they are (I never split a short digression which is less than 5 regular or 7 short messages)
  • is not getting new replies for at least 24 hours
  • always keep in mind: splitting often irritates people

Do you split topics? Do you have any rules of thumb on when and how to do it to get maximum benefit out of it?

Also, don’t forget to think twice (or even 5 times) when you decide on the new topic title.


(Sarah Hawk) #2

I do frequently, but not for the same reasons as it sounds like you do. I split valuable discussions out of busy topics into a topic of their own. I do it for a few reasons.

  • The primary reason is so that it doesn’t get ‘lost in the noise’ because it has value in its own right.
  • The second is so that I can give it more public visibility by displaying it (with a descriptive topic title) on our homepage.
  • And lastly (and perhaps most importantly) to model the behaviour that I want from my members – namely to start their own discussion topics.

Eg: The first two topics here are ones that I split out from the larger “What are you working on?” discussion.

Now I just need @LouisaS and @Terri to add avatars! :wink:


(Robert McIntosh) #3

This is always a major issue for new communities I imagine. It came up with a local forum I helped to kickstart as well.

I don’t think there is a rule that applies everywhere. The key issue for me is that it will depend on the style of moderation. If you want a friendly, light-touch conversation between peers with minimal investment in the site (such as our local forum) then splitting topics looks like “Big Brother” because it reminds everyone that their social conversations are being monitored and evaluated. In that case the split is more about helping them to be MORE social, not an admonishment for having broken some sort of relevance rule. Of course there will be times when you have to take corrective action as well, but this should be clearly flagged and explained.

On the other hand, in a technical forum members will appreciate clear separation and focused threads because it makes things easier to follow and search for. However, even here this should only be done if it is really important since it can confuse people (I have a visual memory and sometimes recall things in context, and when this is changed it irritates me immensely).

Either way it is important to have open conversations with the members about why this was done (possibly via PM) so they understand that this was to help the community in some way and encouraging the community to learn to internalise appropriate behaviour themselves.


(Priscilla McClay) #4

I don’t have the capacity to split a thread off, or not a proper split like you can here on Discourse.

We’re on Drupal, and what I have is called ‘reply as new conversation’, which doesn’t move any posts out of the original conversation, it just starts a new one (which shows as being started by me), and quotes the original post. So basically ends up with me saying “I noticed some of you have been talking about [X issue], and I thought it was really interesting. [User] had this to say: [Quote]. What do you think?”

It is a bit more clumsy and doesn’t usually prevent the original thread from carrying on exactly as before, so, for me, the purpose is more:

a) highlighting a particular issue and trying to encourage more users (not just those in the original conversation)
b) making sure that the site has at least some conversations that do what they say on the tin, to balance all the long and broad-ranging ones with general titles
c) as Sarah mentioned, trying to model that behaviour in the hope that members will follow it


(Alessio Fattorini) #5

I use split Discourse function a lot, to keep the discussion tidy and in-topic.
The second reason is so that I can give it more public visibility by displaying it in the “latest” list so more people can hip in


(Ernesto Izquierdo) #6

@meglio Anton, I understand that your users might get surprised by a moderator splitting the message. I think that a good practice is what Sarah @HAWK does here…

When she split one of my comments, she sent me a message with a link to the new topic explaining why she did it, :
“Hi Ernesto, I love this discussion about collaboration metrics. I’m going to split it into a new topic so that we can discuss further. It’ll get lost in the noise in this topic”

These simple lines made me feel glad that what I’m posting is relevant, and that it may ignite other interesting conversations. So probably it’s just improving how you do the splitting, the message you use to inform your users, that will get your users happy with the new topics . :slight_smile: