Discourse - nannying software or empowering the poster?

Continuing the discussion from Suggestion of Junior Moderating vs Request to Members:

That’s the thing. It depends on how you see it - nannying sofware or improving the poster experience.

Let me be clear that I don’t think the remarks in that thread reflected all the posters on the SDMB, just a handful that I’ve noticed.

I see the information as empowering the poster. Take the example of duplicate thread titles. I like that the duplicate thread titles show up in the suggested posts so I know that I’m not posting a duplicate. If I posted a duplicate that’s current with another thread, a mod will possibly close my thread. In that case, the software is not nannying, it’s the mod. I like the power to know if that might happen and can circumvent it. It’s OK with me that I can’t post a duplicate thread title when I know I can change it at the time of posting instead of after it’s out there and have it shut down by someone else.

Other things people consider “nannying” that I like. I like that the software gives a reminder when people are going back and forth many times. Generally, when people are going back and forth multiple times, they’re arguing. Sometimes the mods will let it go (often if they agree with the argument) and sometimes they’ll shut it down (often if they don’t agree). Mods are human and have their own biases. I like that everyone gets reminded equally, regardless of whether anyone agrees with them or not.

For many of the features some have called “nannying”, I consider those an improvement to the poster experience.

I think there’s a difference between informing the user and nannying. I almost (and may have actually done so) started a thread once asking about what level of MERV filters I could get away with putting in my furnace. As soon as I typed my thread title, a half dozen or so highly relevant old threads popped up, and I read through them all. None of them were exactly the same question, but they were extremely informative. Great job, Discourse!

OTOH, just flat out preventing people from using a duplicative thread title, or posting a short post, or a number of other little miscellaneous things the software doesn’t let you do - that’s just nannying. Also, nannying doesn’t require a full, software-enforce blockade on behavior. Sometimes, it’s just tone. Those things bother me less since I’m free to ignore them, but I could see why they annoy other people, who don’t like being told how to behave by a not-very-bright AI.

The software disallowing things is still OK with me because in many cases, it would be disallowed by the mods. So nannying would happen. I like it to happen at the software level.

In the case of how many characters to allow, etc., I believe that many of those features are set at the admin level. In the majority of cases of the complaints, it’s that the SDMB admin is not responsive and have set certain limitations. It’s not the default of the software in some cases, and in some cases, the defaults can be changed. In those cases, saying that Discourse is nannying is only saying that the defaults set by the SDMB admin are, in their opinion, nannying.

The problem is that the software often disallows things the mods would not. It enforces its own views, or, more accurately, the views of its developers.

People generally do not like it when their software makes decisions for them which they cannot override. Imagine if your autocorrect would simply not let you type a word that you think is spelled wrong. Imagine not being able to turn it off in any way. Your only course of action is to rewrite it.

That’s the sort of thing Discourse does. It doesn’t just put in the red u feeling and let the user choose. That could be called “empowering the user.” Restricting the user cannot fairly be categorized that way.

Most software has an option that will let you turn off any features that the user feels are too “nannying.” There is a reason why we could turn off Clippy. Since all it did was five suggestions, you could say it was empowering, but that doesn’t mean that people didn’t find it annoying–so much so that the feature was removed.

It seems a lot of developers are having to relearn the lessons of those days—why it’s better for software to get out of the way as much as possible. How information should only be a suggestion, and easily disabled.

That said, this applies much more to other situations than the title issue, as there is apparently an option to allow duplicate titles. Still, I would definitely see it as an improvement if there was an option to inform the user that they are writing a duplicate title, yet allow them to continue anyway. That would be empowering the user.

I think a lot of the perception issues have to do with the specific language used. If you have suggestions as to better copy, e.g. “wow, abandon my post is strong language?” those are useful discussions.

I used to put a lot more effort into my posts back on vBulletin. vBulletin wouldn’t hold my hand. The editor did not save my drafts or offer real-time feedback. As a result I learned to draft posts in text files and save often. I memorized BBCodes and became accustom to typing them out while committing a stream of consciousness. I would always preview before posting.

vBulletin would only allow edits within five minutes, and it would always mark your post if you saved an edit. Previews were on their own page, set apart from the discussion. If I remember correctly you had to go down past the previewed text and past the editor to actually make the post. On that platform I took proofreading more seriously.

vBulletin would track your reading progress, but only for a few hours or something wonky like that. I learned to track debates by hand - on paper. I actually have a folder of Dope debate notes. I would read debates in threaded mode, which is only supported on Discourse via email… sort of…

Don’t get me wrong, Discourse is a much more powerful tool than vBulletin 3.8.7. ever was. But it does nanny users quite a bit more than vBulletin.


I think it’s best to focus on specifics. What specific text do you think could be improved, and how? Can you quote that text and provide an example of how you’d copyedit it, to make it better?

You may have misinterpreted my post. I identified features as simultaneously nannying and empowering. Discourse has a real-time WYSIWYG editor and vBulletin didn’t. Our installation does not mark minor edits, while vBulletin did. Discourse tracks read progress very well, and vBulletin didn’t. These features are inherently empowering but they are also a form of hand-holding.


Ah yes, thank you for the clarification!

I am very open to copyedits that make things feel less “nannying”. We have a sophisticated userbase here and a lot of excellent writers, so… keep the suggestions coming!

If you’re soliciting copy and UI improvements, when making a new topic the ‘composer-popup similar-topics ember-view’ element overconfidently declares,

Your topic is similar to…

This is bad because

  1. Sometimes the topics shown aren’t actually related to what I’m writing about
  2. It is not clear why Discourse is showing me this list
  3. It is not clear whether visiting one of those topics will discard my draft
  4. The preview pane is completely obscured, including the top-right buttons for fullscreen editing and to hide the editor
  5. The ‘x’ to close the suggestion list and show the preview is the only ‘x’ visible onscreen, therefore as someone used to Windows I am justified in assuming clicking this ‘x’ cancels my post

I’m no expert on good user interface, but at the very least consider changing the copy to something like,

Here are some topics you may be interested in reading while writing your new post:

and instead of “esc X” you could have “no thanks, show preview”. The fullscreen and hide editor buttons should probably show even while the suggested topics list is on-screen.


I think you and I mean very different things by nannying. Useful features - remembering your read position for every thread, showing you related threads when you start a new one, etc - I don’t see those as nannying, any more than the cookie that remembers that I’m logged in is nannying. It’s just good, helpful software. I’m glad Discourse does those things.

Features that prevent you from saying what you want to say because of the developer’s sense of what makes a good message board, those are nannying. Secondarily, allowing you to proceed, but wagging a finger at you is also nannying, but much, much less of a problem.

Yes, we had different definitions in mind. You describe what I would call censorship.


If you try and make a topic with a duplicate title, an error pops up during after clicking “+ Create Topic”. Current copy reads

Title has already been used

There is no punctuation and the message does not indicate why that is a problem. Again, I’m no expert on UI, so here’s my shot at better language,

This forum does not allow topics with duplicate titles, and the title you have selected is already in use.

It would be nice if we had a little red indicator on the editor’s title field, too. Or even if focus jumped to the title field.


I like this. The similar topics list is a hit or miss feature. Sometimes, it pulls up topics that will likely answer my question, and I’ll read those before posting a new topic. That’s awesome. Sometimes it pulls up topics that are obviously irrelevant, but obviously similar. (Help me buy a new printer, posted in 2003, isn’t going to be useful as i shop for a printer in 2020.) And other times it pulls up what looks like completely random stuff, and i just scratch my head.

I am also not great at interface, but that’s definitely a feature that could be improved with better interface.

That’s my only objection to the “might be similar threads” feature.

Here’s a micro irritant that trips me up fairly often.

I intend to make a post that will quote snips of several posts upthread. So I begin with the big [Reply] button below the last post which is replying to the whole topic, not to any particular previous post, and specifically not to the immediately previous post.

Then I go up-topic, select some text from some post and click the pop up [Quote] button. The text comes down into the edit control and all is good. I add my two cents’ worth below the quoted text and all is still good. Lather rinse repeat for a few other quotes from a few other posts. Still all good.

But …

If somewhere along the way I select some text in an earlier post and mistakenly click the [Reply] button of that post instead of the [quote] button, that changes my whole post into a reply to that one particular post. And worse, there’s no undo button to get back to making it a generic whole-topic reply. Once my post is parented to a particular post there’s no way to re-parent it to another post or (more relevant to my use case) switch it back to unparented.

My workaround for this mistake is to select all the text in the edit control, copy, abandon this post, start a fresh topic-level reply, hit paste, and pick up where I left off. Which is a slightly fraught maneuver; I’m always uncomfortable with 20 minutes of work sitting only in a copy buffer.

Here’s my proposed improvement:

IMO it would be better if once my post has some content in it, clicking the [reply] button within some other post is treated like clicking the [quote] button and does not trigger a re-parenting of my post. That might be too difficult technologically, or might just expose more people to the opposite error from mine.

An alternative solution would be adding an additional option under the type-of-reply arrow at the upper left above the edit control. The new choice would be something like “Reply to topic, not to So-and-So’s post” Which option would only appear for posts that are parented to a specific post, and when selected would un-parent the post.

Another vote that @Max_S has a highly idiosyncratic definition of “nannying”.

Keeping track of stuff for me is helpful, not nannying. I like having a reliable personal secretary to track all those pesky details so I don’t have to.

Preventing me or for scolding me for trying to do something that’s not logically impossible is nannying.

There is, though; press the reply button on the first post, or the blue reply button at the bottom of the topic. That’s “reply to the whole topic”.

This already exists; I’m replying to your post, but look what I can do if I click the arrow at upper left:


D’oh!! :man_facepalming:

Thank you!!!

Discourse has a lot of non-obvious functionality. If I were a talented interface designer (sadly, I’m not) I would put some effort into improving that. It’s pretty nice software once you get the hang of it, but the learning curve is STEEP. And a lot of the non-obvious things are extremely frustrating. I left a board because it was on discourse, and I couldn’t be arsed to learn to use it. I know a bunch of other people who have left this board and another board I’m on that transitioned at about the same time.