Handling negative views about Discourse


(Rob Nicholson) #1

I know that this forum isn’t just about Discourse but as it runs on Discourse, I’d be interested in any views of handling negative opinions about the platform. CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) has implemented Discourse this year as a replacement for the phpBB forum which was dying on it’s feet both from engagement by members and by the developers.

The CAMRA demographic is such that the average age of member’s is over 50 and certainly well over that age for the so-called active members - those who actually put something back into the campaign as opposed to just being paid-members.

The problem is that we’re getting some pretty negative comments about the platform - some of these are soft subjects like “dry content” and others are just not liking the user interface - or at least struggling with it compared to legacy forum systems.

I’ve put this on here as opposed to Meta Discourse because I know exactly the response I’d get over there - not surprising if you say your baby has a weird face :slight_smile:

Has anyone else encountered this and what did you do to resolve it?


(Travis King) #2

How long has it been since you made the switch? As with anything new, it’s going to take the users a bit of time to get used to everything.

Our community put up a fuss too when we switched to Discourse. And there are still plenty of things I don’t like about the UX. But as they used the tools and got more familiar with the interface, the objections quieted down.

Also look for any quick fixes you can do with CSS to make their experience a little more enjoyable. And if that doesn’t work, just remember that it’s better to love it or hate it, as long as your community is not apathetic about it :smiley:


(Shreyas) #3

Speaking as someone who had negative views about the Mozilla community moving to Discourse and to becoming a Discourse lover because of its implementation here, I think accessibility plays a major role. Couple of reasons why I wasn’t comfortable as a first time Discourse user (in Mozilla’s implementation)-

  • Too many options seemed very overwhelming- We were moving from Mailing list to Discourse. During the same time, we had a Telegram group and mailing list. Adding Discourse to the list of platforms to get updates or participate in the community was frustrating. This was when the Community managers told us that we could ‘watch’ certain categories and get updates via email, like the mailing list. However, during my first sign up, there were a lot of options and categories for different Mozilla projects and it was really confusing.
  • Too much Gamification- I’m guessing that with the default setting of Discourse, members get a lot of badges- Filling my profile, first post, mention, message, like, comment, quote and the list goes on. For me, that was really annoying. I like the idea of earning a badge- this could be an anniversary badge or maybe if I get 50+ likes on a comment showing that the community finds it valuable. I’d consider that as an ‘achievement’ and not getting a badge for updating my profile.
  • The default black text on white background- I never really thought this would be so much of a problem, but it is.

Also, this thread by @HAWK might give you some really good insights to tweak Discourse to improve accessibility.


(Richard Millington) #4

I think there is one really useful principle here regarding any platform change.

Ignore what members say for the first few weeks and focus on what they do.

What does the average time on site look like? What is the bounce rate? Where are the clicks going compared with before?

These questions are so much more important than what people are saying. Anyone that has been using the same system for a long-term had learned to use it. A change feels invasive and disruptive to that. Give it time and follow the data.


(Rob Nicholson) #5

Too many options seemed very overwhelming
Too much Gamification
The default black text on white background

Well whilst I didn’t specifically want this to be a Discourse critique, it is handy to know that all of these points have also cropped up with us. The problem CAMRA has is that they are trying to move lots of different groups onto a single platform and I’ve counselled that they need to be very careful what impression that gives the first time user. They are also trying to add too many categories which is a natural tendency of the organisation already.

Give the age of our average member, gamification has been mentioned as a negative. Why does CAMRA need badges etc?

And the user interface has been criticised as being dated which really surprised me. A common complaint is being a lack of “place” when moving around the site. This has also been discussed in detail over on Meta - the change from page 1 of N approach as found on most forums.


(Rob Nicholson) #6

Use of the Discourse platform is already much better than the old forums but that’s not quite as positive as it might seem. The original forums were busier at the start.

CAMRA itself is going through a revitalisation project because whilst hugely successful right now, the organisation is heading towards a lack of new volunteer cliff. There is a lot of change going on and the brutal truth is that the existing active members in their 50s and upwards are not the future of the campaign.

So ignoring what some of them say does have merit as we’re more interested in the next generation.

The single best feature of Discourse is the tagging system as that can be used to drag member’s of the central organisation into a topic. IMO the biggest reason the original forums failed was because said people did not engage. It became a moaning shop with nobody taking the points on board. The national executive can now be @tagged very easily so at least they get an email informing them of a conversation that they need to be aware of.

Getting them to post is proving a little harder - 40 years of doing things behind closed doors will take a while to breakdown.


(Rob Nicholson) #7

System was launched six months ago but that was a limited release. It’s been publicised more in the last two months.

The lack of take up is interesting in itself. CAMRA has over 180,000 members but only about 2,000 of those are what we call active members. They are involved in the branches and run the organisation locally. Centrally, there is an elected team of about 15 members (volunteers) - the national executive - a kind of board. There are then about 20-30 central teams populated by volunteers (typically from that 2,000 subset above) and finally there are about 40 paid staff members which do the day to day operational stuff.

Ever since I’ve been a member of the organisation, there has been a “them and us” mentality between CAMRA centrally and the active members in the branches. I’ve always seen forums as part of the solution but this fell on death ears. But one new member of the national executive has an IT background and revitalised the forums - hence Discourse.

So a medium has been put in place to improve communication and debate between CAMRA centrally and the branches. So why aren’t the branches flocking to use the system??

I do have a small theory. In life, one often puts an argument forward as to why you don’t do something. You propose a blocker. Said blocker is then removed but the problem remains. Relationships can be like this sometimes - “You’re really lazy and unfit, that’s why we’re falling out”. So you make the effort to exercise and get fitter but the relationship still falters because actually that wasn’t the real problem.

My theory is that CAMRA centrally not communicating is partially a false reason - it’s put in the way of the real reason people don’t want to engage, debate, resolve etc. is because they’re tired, jaded and actually don’t want to change (as often happens as you get older). Hence the revitalisation project I mentioned above.

So people criticising and not rushing to use the forums is displacement activity to prevent the real problem coming to the fore - one just can’t be bothered.

Hence my reason for saying the problems here are soft and not entirely the platform. It could be that we had implemented the worlds best forum system in the world (sorry Jeff, Discourse 'aint it yet) and the same problems would have occurred.


(Travis King) #8

I think you hit the nail on the head. Forums are not your problem.


(Sarah Hawk) #9

[quote=“Rob_Nicholson, post:7, topic:4819”]
I do have a small theory. In life, one often puts an argument forward as to why you don’t do something. You propose a blocker. Said blocker is then removed but the problem remains. Relationships can be like this sometimes - “You’re really lazy and unfit, that’s why we’re falling out”. So you make the effort to exercise and get fitter but the relationship still falters because actually that wasn’t the real problem.
[/quote] Absolutely this. I haven’t been through a single forum migration or website relaunch without there being negative pushback. That is the nature of people. Our gut reaction is to do everything that we can to try and fix those things, but it’s no necessary.

I’m on board with Rich’s advice. Let the dust settle and then check your data. If there are a couple of recurring complaints about the same things, fix those, but then focus on what you can do to regain community health – and that won’t be platform related.

I would suggest that you don’t need them. We don’t use them here, fundamentally because there are so many by default that they lose their value. More on that here.