Online Presence and Thread Presence

I’m in the process of a migration and am trying to bring to fruition some functionality we lost in a prior migration from an archaic open-source platform and online presence keeps bubbling to the front of my mind. My members regularly miss knowing their friends and others in general are there and ready to support them in their journey to quit smoking

Having used various platforms through the years(both professionally and for fun) I’ve had some communities indicate whether I am online or not. If the community had an online presence function I was always able to show if I was online or not. It seems some of the spendy platforms don’t have any presence indicators any more and have claimed it being too resource intensive too keep it whereas some of the other platforms still have it. Khoros has it but Jive had abandoned it some time back. On the cheaper side, Vanilla forums has it and it doesn’t seem to cause any resource issues. It doesn’t make sense why the bigger shops have a problem.

I have also seen some platforms that show when someone else is simultaneously creating a reply in the same thread. This prevents multiple people from posting the same content as you’re aware someone else is typing so you can possibly stagger your replies so you don’t both/all post the same thing. I’ve actually held off posting replies when I’ve been on communities where this existed. It was super valuable. Unforutnately I don’t know what platform I was using at the time. Anyone that can help me remember what platforms have figured it out?



This one. :slight_smile: Discourse has the “Someone is typing…” indicator.

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That’s right!. Thanks @HAWK

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Hey @MarkSchwanke, I feel your migration pain. We’re currently in the process of platform upgrades and showing who’s online is on the wishlist. Given you’re in a health care community, have you ever had push back on exposing that info from a privacy point of view? Members? Organization?


“Who’s online” works well in small Discourse forums like this one where the number of users is small and the ability to identify specific individuals is easy. I find it worthwhile with less than 50 users who I largely recognize but only 30 users where I don’t recognise most active users.
On the Discourse support forum, there are warnings about enabling this feature because mileage varies for users and I’ve seen many complaints:


Thanks for your thoughts on this. Definitely resource constraints could cause a poor experience and so it would be smart to monitor such a feature to ensure that it isn’t putting stress on the system. Not sure what the threshold is where it causes responsiveness problems.

Our frequently visiting members want to know when their friends are online. New members want to know that established members of the community are online to mentor them. I don’t think that a wall of usernames is helpful unless there was context to who the member is. Our established members want to know who the new people are to support them. As a community manager I’m wanting to know how many people are online and when I’m interacting with a new member I want to be reactive. We don’t want to get rid of asynchronous communication but we want people to know support is there when they need it.

I’m big on privacy. A person should have the ability to control their visibility/presence. We encourage members to pick usernames that are anonymous as well. We don’t have any push back currently as we don’t have presence as a feature on our current community. I’ll ask and see if anyone perceives any potential push back with organizations we work with.

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To know if other specific users are online then a lot of software allows us to follow a specific user to get notifications of changes in their status.

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I think that would be annoying to have it notify you everytime a person is online. I already suffer from notification overload so I wouldn’t want a notification (email or on site) every time a friend or someone I’m following logs on the site.


I’ve thought about this issue a lot, primarily from a behavioral standpoint.

I personally love, love, love seeing indicators of online presence … who is online, who is typing, multiple people are responding … It makes you feel physical momentum in the discussion, and when you see “there are multiple people typing” you don’t want to leave the discussion out of fear of missing out! The problem with asynchronous conversation is that you don’t know if you’re talking in a room alone, or if you’re talking in a room with ten other people who can immediately respond. To reverse the question, what room do you want to be in for conversation: one with nobody in it, or one with lots of online users??

On my platform, I’ve enabled everything I possibly could: who is online blocks, who is typing, and plugins that turn the borders of avatars green if they’re logged-in. Anything to make my community be “active in the moment” and to confer that sense of liveliness.

Some random thoughts:

  1. You need to make sure you have a critical mass of activity and online users to actually warrant these online indicators. It can work against you with low activity, so you want to make sure you consolidate or keep the activity focused in few areas.
  2. Take from this what you want, but I have empirical (but hardly scientific) stories from my superusers that they really like seeing who else is on. Sometimes when I’ve rearranged my blocks, I accidentally removed the Who is Online block. Superusers had a riot. It turns out the superusers always glance down at the block – even when it’s located at the very bottom of the page. It gives them a sense of familiarity and bonding.
  3. If you’ve ever posted anything online and waited for a reply (especially over something really important), there are clear psychological elements of anxiousness, impatience, and anticipation. If your community doesn’t answer fast enough, those feelings fizzle out and you lose out on that sense of connection. Seeing someone typing a reply spikes up the endorphin (and the sense of expectation!)
  4. For topics that require complex, thoughtful, and drawn out answers, it’s reasonable that replies won’t be as quick. However, my counter claim to that is the psychology of anxiousness, impatience, and anticipation are still there! Just because the answer is more complex doesn’t mean the poster still doesn’t eagerly await a response. For social and emotionally bonding conversations, it’s even important to show online users. How do you bond with someone who only shows up once a week, if even? It whittles down your sense of connection.

TL; DR online indicators align with the psychology of conversation. I’m a big fan of it.


Hi everyone

Excellent discussion here!

@MarkSchwanke, have you decide on what platform suit you best?

I want to share here some resources that can help with selecting community platforms. These tools for platform comparison don’t mention “presence/someone is typing” indicators, but they could give you a good baseline for decision.

Community Platforms comparison tool from Feverbee

The Ultimate Community Platform List

The CMX Guide to Community Platforms


@colleenyoung No, no pushback at this time. A member should be able to choose whether they want to be shown online or not. Our users want to know who else is online to feel like they’re not alone and can get support 24/7. Also they’re curious whether their friends are online or not. So they can have the proper expectations on whether they might have to wait a while for a response or if people are online that responses might be a bit more immediate. Two platforms ago we could see at an individual level who was online but nothing that aggregates the total number with a list of who those individuals are. Currently we have no online presence capabilities but are moving to Personify which does have individual level presence.

Hoping that I can get them to list total number of active users and who those users are (loved this on vBulletin forums years ago). Certainly this could have downsides depending on the size of your community. If you have few members logged on at a time it could appear as though the community is empty or if you have lots of people who are active but reply by email this could also give the wrong impression. Also enabling something like this could be resource intensive but I know that Vanilla Forms can do it with a fairly low cost so it can be done.

@veratiago @Vera_Tiago yes we’re moving to Personify.

@joelr Great thoughts. Thanks for pushing my thinking further!

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