Address the 'too long, didn't read' issue of threaded forum discussions

We know that the ‘squeaky wheel getting the grease’ (to the nth degree) is a problem with thread systems. So, for instance, I was considering posting this in the thread about problems with threaded conversations, but was concerned that not enough people would see it.

Here are the UX solutions that occurred to me:

  • A system by which you have to read before you can post.
    Reading would give you ‘post currency’ (and maybe reading long posts, or reading whole threads, would give you more currency), and posting would deplete that currency.

  • Replying to other people’s posts would deplete less currency than starting new threads.

  • Pause periods on discussion boards. For a time, the whole board is locked, and nobody can post. Perhaps during these ‘locked’ periods, you get more post currency from reading than during open periods - or it might even be that you can only get post currency from reading during locked periods. I think this would encourage people to digest the state of the board as a whole and genuinely respond to people when the board opens up again (rather than just ‘shouting into the void’).

This is the kind of thread system that I’d really like to be part of, if anyone makes it (or has already made it).

However, I have no computer science background, so I’m not sure how viable it is (or whether it’s already been done). Please feel free to give constructive criticism.

Thanks for reading this.


I think your right and we need much more incentives to crowdsourced rating, review and organizing of content.

Counting the “read minutes” for everything would be a good start to find out how much of community time resources spent on what we read is actually not useful to us and how much is. if you engineered a feedback system to rate and review conversations so they get directed to the people who care and not wasting others time who don’t care would be a good start.

locking boards is just dumb as a solution because it discourages good intentioned generous use of time by readers and contributors. locking a board is basically the equivalent of posting a want add for comments and then saying we don’t accept comments after it’s read and a user has taken their time to formulate a comment. When I see “temporarily closed for comments” I think “waste of my time for reading” and I seriously question if I want to waste more of my time on the site. How do you feel when you go down to drop off some clothing or furniture to goodwill and the sign says “closed for dropping off, but you can look in the window today and you can spend your time check again later to see if we might accept your donation then. Just keep checking back with us till you get tired and go away.”

I have a sort of solution to the tl;dr problem I’ve been working on. My tl:dr problem is in the form of large google docs and I deal with the problem the same way authors have dealt with the problem for years. I organize it and edit redundancies and ask for feedback on each and every part or all of it together. For a crowdsourced project, there’s usually no incentive to organize or review others contributions for third readers benefit. To address the problem I’ve made into a contest game the reading experience so you get points for organizing or reviewing or critiquing if it saves others time later. I’d like to hear what you think of this idea and as your requested it doesn’t’ take much technology or computer science to understand, just read.

Thanks @peregrine, @SteveSanFranisco for your feedback and suggestions and also everyone on the Threaded conversations are a poor tool for social interaction topic (which I’ll close for comments in favour of this one).

@peregrine, I agree with @SteveSanFranisco that locking down or requirements for reading before posting are too restrictive, but also agree on the TL;DR problem. Let’s see what we have and what are requirements…

Note: These are just my opinions and I encourage you to supply your feedback :slight_smile:


These are some of the high-level requirements for this Discourse forum:

  • Inclusive: This forum is both for experts in their field, but also anyone that want to make tech more humane. Also if you are less well-versed or knowledgeable on the subject.

  • Polyglot: Though English is the primary and preferred language, posts in other languages are welcome if you just don’t master English (this is inclusive, but will make the forum messier)

  • On-topic: All topics and posts should be directly related to (the vision of) Humane Tech, or risk being moderated

  • Low barrier-to-entry: This relates to the previous requirements. The forum should be easy to use and not be too intimidating for new users, and ‘dumb’ or ‘repeated’ ideas/contribs should not be punished by long-time members, if the intention was good. Kindly help new members find their way.

  • Reasonably moderated: Trolls and spammers will (and did) appear, and need to be moderated. Also there is a need to change topic titles / categories / tags and to supply help, handle feedback. Moderation should not be too restrictive or time-consuming though (e.g. moving all posts to their designated topics is a huge task, like categorizing your email in hierarchical folder structure)

  • Full spectrum: Various members mentioned things like “We don’t need yet another tech solution!”, and “We need to get people off of tech, not change it”. I agree partially: Yes, we need to stimulate people to have real face-to-face interaction, go back to ‘the days of old’ AND we need to improve existing tech and tech businesses AND we need to think of entirely new tech! We need to be full-spectrum. As long as it aligns with the vision of CHT and the problem statement. Add your feedback to Topic categories that reflect core Humane Tech themes.

  • Functional & practical: What do I mean by this? Well, this forum - while aligning as much as possible to best-practices - should not be the best example, or reference application of Humane Tech (as some members have suggested it should be, eradicating likes, notifications and going all black&white, etc.).
    Also it should not be a development project to add all kinds of new innovative and humane features. Instead it should be KISS (“Keep it simple, Stupid!”, a term familiar to techies)
    In short it should be the best tool to elaborate on Humane Tech problems, come up with creative solutions and ideas to implement them.

  • Staging ground: This forum - like it or not - is threaded, and yes, not suitable to get real work done. But it is perfect as a first staging ground. A creative space where ideas arise, are discussed, and - when viable - can be followed up on with additional tools. We would very much welcome your Ideas for additional CHT tooling!

What we have

We are using Discourse as our forum software.

A beautiful, full-featured, open-source solution that can be self-hosted. It has its own community of contributors at, and I especially like to thank @erlend_sh, who is helping CHT to have a great start with the product! is also the place where you can file bug reports and supplies general requests for product improvement.

How to address the TL;DR problem?

Given the requirements of inclusiveness, polyglot, low-barrier-to-entry and the ‘reasonable’ amount of moderation, and the fact that it is threaded, this forum will not be a very neat, well-structured knowledge base. In fact it will be quite messy!

This should not be a problem however, if:

  1. We use the already available features well (functional and practical)
  2. Have good tooling in place to give proper follow-up (staging ground)
  3. Apply some (not many… KISS, remember) editing guidelines and best-practices

Given these 3 criteria it doesn’t matter much if the forum is a bit messy and has kilometer-long topic lists (this is unavoidable anyway given enough time)

Available features

  • Cross-linking: By pasting a URL to an existing post you create a bi-directional link, making it easy to jump back and forth to related items that are down the list. Very useful feature IMO.
  • Bookmarking: A personal help so you can find useful information easily
  • Pinned topics: There are global (e.g. Welcome message) and per-category pins possible to keep important topics at the top of the list (note: forum config might need to change so that pinned topics stay pinned after you read them, unless you explicitly unpin them)
  • Closing (old, inactive) topics: Closing a topic, either explicitly (by a moderator or topic owner) or after a certain period of inactivity, disallows new comments to be added to it.
  • Categories and tagging: Well, obviously to categorize and tag. A combination of both on each topic is preferred.
  • Topic suggestions: Unless you are on a mobile device, discourse will show suggestions of existing topics while you are typing.
  • Search: Yes, this is for searching.

There are probably more features out-of-the-box available, and more can be added through existing plugins (we’ll continuously improve on this).

Follow-up / additional tooling

If a topic thread has worthwhile posts that require/deserve further elaboration, then it should be followed-up with the additional tools, and it doesn’t matter much after that if the topic ‘sinks’ down the list (in many cases it can be closed now).

Exact toolset has yet to be determined, but it probably includes:

  • Wiki - Currently a bit outdated, but this wiki has the same functionality as Wikipedia and could truly be great. Great posts can be lifted up to a new page in the wiki that has its own Discussion space and members with related posts can be directed towards it.

  • Github repositories - While Github is geared mostly to software development it can also be used to cooperatively work on documents / document publishing. This is not hard and uses the same (Markdown) format as posts in this forum.

Follow guidelines and practices

  • Use the available features to the max.
  • Involved users help others to do the right thing
  • Mods and admins create good help pages
  • Continuously improve, improve, improve…

Additional thoughts

Gamification / reputation system

If the forum becomes too messy, valuable information gets lost in the flood of posts, moderation becomes too burdersome, and members become unhappy about it all… we could investigate a good reputation system and/or gamification package that helps in moderating the forum by the users.

Actually - having studied gamification myself - I think a gamified reputation system similar to the one StackOverflow (SO) has would be perfect for this community. This system is not in-your-face, professional and not addictive - you use it as you work. The entire stackoverflow website is managed and moderated by its users (except product development which pick the highest rated issues on for their development, and system operators).
Maybe Discourse has something similar in the form of a plugin (the default gamification which is now switched off does not cut it, should be more geared towards stimulating moderation, quality contributions)

1 Like

Discourse has a “summary mode” per topic. It gives readers the ability to write a summary after a topic gets to a certain length (default: 50 posts, regardless of post length). We can experiment with how that works. I just turned the threshhold down to 10 posts.

Yes, another feature to be added to the mix. Let’s try :slight_smile:

I am also curious on the requirements for this forum (mine were guesswork), and thus have created this topic: This community needs more involvement from its founders!