Thoughts on Chat versus Forums


(Mark Williams) #1

[note: I’ve cross-posted this to CMX on FB. I see different faces and different types of responses in both places. @HAWK please feel free to mod down if you don’t want it in both.]

I mentioned that I was thinking about this topic in a “What are you working on” thread a couple of weeks ago. It’s now formulated itself enough to have a question for the community that’s outside my head.

I have been thinking about the overlap of “forums" and “chat". Specifically, as I start the process of a discussions platform upgrade/replacement for my day job and using Slack for a class chat at night, I find myself wondering if there is a good middle ground that implements the powers of both. Here are the advantages and disadvantages as I see them (note, there are many others, these pertain to this particular discussion around user experience):

Forums (classic style subject/topic + responses): Positives: ability to have specific topics or a collection of comments around a specific thing, easy scanning. Negatives: Not “real time”, more work to navigate between topics.

Chat (Yammer, IRC, Slack, etc): Positives: "real-time”. Negatives: loss of semantics and collected historical data.

So, I wonder if anyone has seen a platform that somehow combines these two ideas well?

In my research, I’ve seen Zulip and Ryver, but haven’t used either so I don’t know how well it works (but I’m dubious of both as a good meld - they seem to be more “chat"). Stack overflow has an interesting take, but it resolves this tension in a specific way that works for their audience/goals.

Anyone seen anything like this? If not, do you think it would be interesting/useful (I’m not offering to build it, just validating my thought patterns)?

(Sarah Hawk) #2

I’d be keen to hear from @rhogroupee on this. has built in chat functionality.

I love the idea of a hybrid platform – it would solve one of my current challenges. At UX Mastery I run a Discourse based community, with weekly live chat events on Slack. The Slack ‘community’ is building fast (~1k members in 3 months) and people are starting to use it as a community platform between sessions, whereas I’d like them on Discourse, where they have more value for the business.

No problem with that at all, but I appreciate the transparency. :slight_smile:

(Darren Gough) #3

Does anyone remember Google Wave? It was much maligned, arguably a forerunner to Slack, but (I felt) it did a very decent job of combining chat with an inbox/project management approach.

Google canned it, and in no way was it perfect, but I always felt it would have turned into something great given enough time and investment.

(Adrian Speyer) #4

As someone who works at a software vendor (Vanilla), my perspective is that it should not be an either/or choice, but rather seeing that each has its own value.

I’ve seen some companies replace their forums with slack and I really think (my view) it is a bad idea. Chat has a lot of value. We use Hipchat, and it has tremendous value for us and our distributed teams. However, I would never want us to hide our support forum from search engines so that our customers could not find answers.

Many seem to forget that forums offer SEO value to your company and allow discovery from Google. In some of our studies of our customers we saw organic (search engine) traffic being as high as 70%.

Slack is a closed environment that may bring a higher quality discourse, but it will prevent this discovery.

Anyway that’s my 2 cents :slight_smile:

(Richard Millington) #5

I think that’s the critical thing for me and ultimately the choice here.

You can either have a smaller group with a strong sense of community who communicate in real time or you can have a larger group with typically a weaker sense of community but where information can be easily stored and found.

In most scenarios, I’d go with forums. However for others, perhaps communities based around emotional support, chat channels might be a really interesting option.

(Jess Williams) #6

I’ve spent my entire career managing communities strictly on forums, so I’m a bit “old school” that way. Enter Slack… We used it internally and I fell in love.

I think chat offers so much added value, but I personally would us it in a very directed way. Informal focus groups. Brainstorming sessions. Virtual meet-ups. Hobby groups. Classes. Q&A sessions. Trivia night. And as @richard_millington mentioned above, emotional support groups. There really are so many great ways to use chat, but I would keep the chat focused and scheduled. Have moderation to keep the community safe and to uphold integrity.

But at the end of the day, especially for niche communities, I do believe forums add the best value to the business and I would continue to grow the community there as much as possible.

(Jennifer Filla) #7

Having been born into the online community world officially last month, this particular thread has me intrigued. My online classroom platform has chat, but I’ve only used it for the second time today. I keep hearing about Slack but I was hesitant to try it (only so many things one can learn at once). Thank you for the dialogue. I may need to pay Slack a visit in the near future!

(Sarah Hawk) #8

There’s not really much to learn.
If you want to have a quick look, I have a public channel that you’re welcome to join. It’s UX, rather than community related, but you’ll see how it works etc.

(Jennifer Filla) #9

Thanks Sarah! I went ahead and created a team for my other company (where I have a team). It is helpful to have a streamlined place on the phone to be notified and keep in touch with my group. I’m struggling to imagine it in a community setting, but I struggled to imagine Twitter and now find it indispensable. I’m sure I’ll come along.

(Sarah Hawk) #10

It works well for the people, but not so well for the business (unless you use it for internal teams, as you are).

(Mark Williams) #11

I do! Still feels like the Newton, a product that was pushing the boundaries but wasn’t quite there.

Agree, but I think you miss my point a bit. This was brought up in the CMX thread as some vendors include both chat and threaded discussion. Even if they are both included, it still an either/or choice about appropriate “channel”. I wish/want an interesting mix of both that, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t exist and may not even be possible. And that’s ok, that’s the fun part of an exercise like this - the conversation.

I also agree that forums have great SEO and that using Slack just because it’s easy or the new hotness is unlikely to improve outcomes.

This conversation has been great. Thanks to everyone that has contributed (so far - feel free to jump in if you see something). Just writing up the question clarified some of what I was thinking.

(Sarah Hawk) #12

So Discourse have a Slack integration.

I haven’t yet used it, but I think that it allows you to have a discussion in Slack and then pull that over into a Discourse topic if it becomes valuable in a wider context. Might be interesting to play with.

(Mark Williams) #13

Hrm. Wisemonk looks interesting.

(Richard Millington) #14

This could be interesting. The downside is people tend to write longer more detailed posts as a forum discussions whereas reading up an entire chat as forum posts would be…longer.

If there was a simple way of curating it, that would be REALLY interesting to explore.

(Sarah Hawk) #15

@erlend_sh Do you know of a public community using this feature?

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #16

Yep, that is at least on the roadmap. Not sure if it’s working 100% just yet. In short it’s pretty much exactly the same as what Wisemonk does.

I don’t know of any public communities using this yet, but Meta will soon! Hopefully once we’ve properly announced the Slack plugin we’ll also have some public Slack channels to refer to.

(Sarah Hawk) #17

I hadn’t heard of Wisemonk. I’m going to try that out.

(Mark Williams) #18

I’m looking forward to trying that (at least lurking on there as I do much of meta).

(Mark Williams) #19

I’ve been continuing to dig on this and, more interestingly, things have been popping up in my feed. Here’s two that I think are germane:


“It started out as an experiment — we didn’t know what the hell was going to happen with this,” Giliberti said. “This could be a great idea, an awful idea, something we need to cancel right away. We were nervous about it in the beginning. But it’s been our most successful member benefit to date in terms of engagement.”


With Slack we were more connected than we ever were before. We had 81 channels where anyone could talk to anybody in the company…

If it sounds like it would be hard to focus, it was.

The thing is, being connected doesn’t magically enable effective communication. If you’ve ever listened to an old married couple fight about how the other one never listens to them, you’ll instinctually know this already. If living together doesn’t help the old couple communicate, how can we expect a group chat tool to do it for us?

(Sarah Hawk) #20

I see a definite boost in community registration numbers at UX Mastery after every session that I run on our Slack channel (which I see you’re a member of @mdfw – cool!). So far I don’t have data on how many of those people stay engaged long term, but anecdotally it feels positive.