Note: I originally published the below story as an article on Medium in the Art + Marketing publication. It's being mirrored here so I can see what TAZ members think of the article and the views included in it.
In recent years, Discord has been growing in popularity. Designed as a chat service meant to be used in online games, it’s recently become more and more powerful as an overall community setup for gaming communities, with many speedrunning scenes and fandoms making their home there.
It’s a good service, and for what it does, arguably the best option out there.
But it all comes with a price. A price which I feel too many communities are ignoring when choosing it as a solution.
And that price is its private setup. Basically, by default every Discord server is member and invite only. It makes sense for a chat room, since a chat room is a place where communications are fast paced and temporary and where general chit chat is prioritised over building up content for the long run.
Problem is, that only works if the Discord is an additional part of existing community. That way, the community itself is for the long-term content, and the chat room is for the quicker, more casual stuff.
But that’s not how many are using it. Instead, many communities are using Discord as an alternative to forums and Reddit. As in, the only place their community exists online.
Which as you can guess, is absolutely horrible for user experience. Why? Well, think about it like this. How do you find information about a topic online?
Usually, it’s through search engines like Google. You type in a term (like say, ‘speedrunning tactics for Super Mario Odyssey’) and up pops information on message boards, social media sites and wikis detailing what to do. It’s simple, efficient and doesn’t annoy anyone in the slightest.
Discord (and similar solutions) however, they kill this possibility stone dead. Now Google has no access to the community at all, there’s no easy way to look up what’s been posted before and those who don’t want to be part of a walled garden… well they’re just locked out of the loop. It’s killing the usability of communities as a whole and making things far more difficult than they used to be.
But wait, you may say. Does Discord have a search feature?
Yes, it does. Technically there’s a search feature you can use on whatever Discord server you’re viewing at the time. And if the amount of information posted is quite low, it’s rather usable.
Problem is, it doesn’t scale. At all.
For instance, let’s say you’re looking for a new technique found in Super Smash Bros Melee or what not. Presumably, the server where its originally posted will be incredibly active, so it’s likely that tens of thousands of comments about the technique have been posted since its discovery.
This means that you type in the name… and then get a very, very long, lazy loaded list of comments where the technique has been mentioned at all. To find the original that in turn means you need to go through the WHOLE list, which could be anywhere from about 30 pages to well over 200 based on how popular the server is. It’s ridiculous, and it means trying to hunt down the original source of something is damn near impossible.
However, the issues don’t end there. You see, the original source of this information is likely not going to be in text format. Instead, it’s probably going to be someone’s post on a social media site (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) or their video on YouTube.
And that brings us to problem number 2 with modern communities. Not only do they centralise everything on their Discord server, but they only post their work on transitionary, annoying to search social media sites and ‘platforms’ rather than self-hosted communities.
Which means that said source is prone to going missing at inconvenient times too. File hosting sites go down regularly, Twitter and Facebook posts often get deleted, YouTube videos are at the mercy of the algorithm and auto moderation bots… it’s a system where information cannot be guaranteed for more than a couple of weeks at best.
Above: An error you’ll see all too often if people have used Dropbox to host something important
So now you’ve got to hunt down the technique you found on Discord, which could well be mentioned by very few people online and only found on some random guy’s Twitter profile that never comes up in Google search.
It’s not an enjoyable situation, and it’s all something that could have been avoided by simply running a normal forum and posting important information there.
And it gets worse still. You see, the above all assumes one simple point; that you know what server the information is found on and have access to it.
If you don’t, then god help you when it actually finding the right place to be. If you’re lucky, there’s a link on a public website somewhere, or it turns up on one of the many unofficial Discord server lists out there (the company itself doesn’t have a directory). If not? Good luck finding the one you need. Or finding a working invite, if someone didn’t bother to set the link not to expire.
Point is, it’s all one big hassle, and it’s a hassle that old school communities didn’t have.
So if you’re running a community, don’t rely on Discord. Use it for a chat room or additional part of your site, but don’t base the entire community around it. It’s not a good platform for long term conversations or permanent content, and it locks out newcomers in a way that’s actively hostile to a good community.
Instead, get a forum or similar service and use that as the primary part of your community. Everyone will thank you for it in the end.