Is a private limited-access category helpful for community building?

(Nick Ivanter) #1

Discourse in particular has a private “lounge” category that is only available to users who reach a certain “trust level” in the community. I’m wondering if it is actually helpful in developing a community (increasing the number of active users).

On the one hand, it may be an incentive motivating new users to be more active so as to earn the higher trust level and thereby gain access to something exclusive. On the other hand, I worry that a good portion of the discussions otherwise taking place in the open might move to this exclusive category, if it were available.

In the forum that I manage, I disabled the lounge category from the beginning, but now I’m thinking about this again and would welcome other opinions. What are your thoughts? Has anyone experimented with the lounge category?

For or against a "Lounge" category for regulars
(Sarah Hawk) #2

I have. I’ve removed The Lounge both here and in the other Discourse community that I manage. In both cases I have experimented with a mix of private/public spaces and in both instances, the private ones have stimulated very little engagement.

We archived the private categories here (with the exception of branded learner cohort homerooms) because all of the valuable discussions were taking place publicly.

In my other community, we still have a private category for VIP members (essentially a Lounge, but access is not systematically controlled) but it is very rarely used – only in instances where someone has a question that they don’t want showing up in search results, which is a valid use case.

I think exclusivity CAN work, but I don’t think it works with every audience, and you need to weigh the benefits against the fact that you’re gating potentially valuable content.

(Nick Ivanter) #3

So, you are not finding that a private category for VIPs is much of an incentive for new members to be more active to earn the VIP status?

(Sarah Hawk) #4


I’d be interested to hear from people that have seen success with exclusivity.

(Nick Emmett) #5

Totally agree with this, I think it depends on what you’re trying to do. It could be helpful for building a “sub-community” for sharing details, info etc with that group of people.

We haven’t gone down this route as yet with VIP etc but it is something to consider , I think you just have to be clear, as with everything Community related IMO, about the WHY. What value will the private area deliver? Why would people come? Why is it good for your Community? Why is it good for you business? etc etc…

Salesforce and their MVP program is a great example of exclusivity, although I’m not sure if they have access to secret rooms within Salesforce’s community. they do a lot of off line work though, which is something to consider.

(Graham Perrin) #6

Also: thoughtful use of a non-public category can, simply, help to reduce noise in public areas.

I refrain from publishing things that have the potential to cause confusion, and so on.

An extreme example: I was asked to make public the READ ME FIRST: Getting Started topic that is intended for administrators and moderators of Discourse sites.

That’s not what should be read first by a newcomer (neither an administrator nor a moderator), so instead of making it public within the site, I offered a link to

(remah) #7

I’m using the Lounge category on two Discourse forums. I was involved enough in each forum to be automatically promoted to Trust Level 3 (TL3).

A deeper community of …

I have benefited from both experiences:

  • Seeing a little deeper into a forum and gaining more insights about how to run them.
  • Having a little more information a little earlier than the rest of the user.
  • Having my profile raised among what is, essentially, a core group of forum users.
  • Got a t-shirt and a software upgrade.

… not frequent-fliers

As I understand it, the lounges were conceived as being like frequent-flier lounges at airports. Only there are no attendants and no refreshments and you don’t get to relax in comfort. So as far as I can tell, the Lounges do not attract anyone to Discourse or to work to TL3.

… but secret squirrels

In my view, each lounge is for “secret squirrels”, who do a lot of work in the background and don’t want to expose it in public until it has been reviewed. There might be a better way to create workspaces for drafting and reviewing topics. But is there a better way to gather those who are a) most active in the forum and/or b) most committed to its success? The Lounge certainly provides these users with some of the features needed to work on improving the forum without having to manually maintain a new group and without cluttering the more public categories. As a TL4 user I can do a lot of topics admin but I can do nothing with the category admin I would need to create my own workspace.


The Lounge has 38 users including staff so it largely functions as a group of “trusted” users who are asked for their input and involvement before many things are opened up to the vast majority of users:

  • Discussing and modifying the structure of the forum e.g. wikifying long topics in the Plug-ins category
  • Discussing the status of certain topics. Which topics to remove: as obsolete or out of date e.g. the system requirements like minimum RAM required.
  • Requests for helping with basic admin tasks e.g. deleting and recategorising topics in the Features and Bugs categories
  • Requests to participate in beta-testing
  • A workspace to draft, review and stage topics for public release.


The Lounge has two non-staff users who have been manually promoted to TL4:

  • A reference group for the staff to discuss things with like discussion of potential changes to the forum. Because there are only two end-users, such discussions tend to become one-on-one in PMs with the staff.
  • A workspace for me to draft and stage topics for the How-To category. I think that this is essential if you are deep into the site but you are not staff so you can’t create your own hidden category.

(Graham Perrin) #8

Here: I guess that it’s not unusual to find people who are reasonably familiar with Discourse – why it behaves in the ways that it does; the effects of those behaviours.

@HAWK please, can you name the other community? If not by name, then how might you describe it?

Setting aside, for a moment, communities that are unusually familiar with Discourse: there can be great value in allowing some types of participant to progress naturally to trust levels 3 and 4.

(Sarah Hawk) #9

Sure! It’s

We do have a private category there for Gold Members (our incarnation of a SuperUser program), which works in the same way as the Frequent Flyer lounge concept. The difference between that and a TL3 lounge is that people can’t get there without being specifically promoted.

We actually have several private categories here also, for learning cohorts and for clients to collaborate and get support. None of those are designed to motivate by exclusivity though.

(remah) #10

Apparently, another difference is monthly prizes! :gift: