I would like to simplify our Discourse category system

Discourse has two main ways to organize threads: Categories and Tags.

Categories can be thought of as being tree-based, and tags as being graph-based. What this means is categories are more rigidly structured in a hierarchy, a thread can only exist in one category at a time like how a leaf can only exist on one branch at a time. Tags are far more flexible, a thread can have any number of tags simultaneously.

Based on how categories work on here, it would make the most sense to have our categories be mutually exclusive. Meaning that it would only make logical sense to put a thread into one category. Right now our category system isn’t mutually exclusive. It would totally make sense for a thread about #systems-changes to also be related/relevant to #systems-thinking .

So my proposal is that we only allow 3 categories based on the “type” of thread you are creating and then all other thread organizing is done using Discourse’s wonderful tagging system.

The 3 types are:

  1. Forum post - the typical type of conversational thread, where everyone in invited to participate equally. The first post in the thread is just the conversation starter.
  2. Wiki post - a special type of discourse thread where everyone is able to edit the first post as if it were a wiki page, and the rest of the thread is used to discuss that wiki page.
  3. Blog post - This would be the typical type of thread, but the difference between #1 above is that the first post of the thread is intended to act more like a blog post of the person who authored it. The author might even choose to repost/syndicate from their personal blog that they host elsewhere. The rest of the thread then effectively acts like the comment section of a blog post. The difference between #1 and #3 is subtle, the first post in a blog thread will more likely be longer-form and/or contain things like images, while the forum post might just be a sentence or two to instigate a conversation with others. Also, the blog-type is also far more likely to centre around the original author, for example providing them feedback, than it is to have the topic of discussion at the centre.
  4. Q&A Post (optional/considering) - Discourse also has a plugin for doing question and answer style threads where the first post is the question, and the rest of the posts are attempts to answer that question. All users are allowed to vote on the best answer, 1 vote per user, and the thread is then rearranged to put the answer with the most votes at the top.

Does this make sense? Would you choose different names for the categories? Do you agree with my proposal? I’d like to get some feedback from others like @daviding , @akeala , @sophia_aletheia before making this change. If I don’t get any feedback I’ll likely just move forward and convert all current categories into tags and create the new categories listed above… as this feels like a safe enough decision to just act on given it can always be undone later pretty easily.

As I said above, Discourse’s tagging system is pretty amazing. There are tag groups (with nested parent/child hierarchies), tag synonyms. You can restrict certain tags to certain categories, you can mention tags on the fly once they have been created once to describe a thread (for example #technology ). Clicking on tags searches the whole forum for that tag. I’m pretty sure you can get web feeds for tags too :slight_smile:

I just stomped to think what style of thread would this one be… I guess I would just add it to the forum category, and maybe tag it #meta or #site-feedback (Also noticing from creating this post that you mention both categories and threads in a post using # so I’m curious if you can have a category with the same name as a tag) BUT! This post does sort of seem like a special kind of post of its own… more like a proposal in a Loomio poll. Which reminds me, I haven’t given Loomio a try in quite a while and I know they have a new set of expanded “poll” types.

Maybe we need a stream-of-consciousness type! :stuck_out_tongue: (Or that can just be a blog I guess)

Turns out your can name categories and tags the exact same, but when you mention them in posts… it seems it assumes you want to mention the category not the tag.

Also, I discovered discourse also has a built in poll feature… Check it out!


What do you think about my proposal about changing our categories?

  • Agree
  • Abstain
  • Disagree
  • Block

0 voters

Ummm … yes and no. Content that I post to the systems thinking category is usually well-developed and published with some sense of legitimacy (i.e. the researcher has work that has been peer-reviewed, or the journalist is experienced in working with a credible institution).

That doesn’t mean everyone else uses categories in that way, but I do.

“Only” allowing 3 categories tends work against the style of “sweeping in” new content, in an open system of knowledge. “Sweeping in” is an idea in the fifth way of knowing, a Singerian inquiring system, as described by Ian Mitroff in The Unbounded Mind (carrying on the work of C. West Churchman).

It’s more natural to let the categories emerge. if you’re patient with the Open Learning Commons (i.e. on a scale of decades or years, not weeks), some other communities of interest may come along that want to focus on other domains (and not particularly in systems thinking).

While others might want to base their online experiences to a single platform, I believe in a variety of technologies. The Internet should be appreciated as the Inter-net, that means multiple computer technologies that are loosely coupled together. I like Discourse for its forum posts, but am yet unconvinced of it as a wiki technology or blog technology. For those latter uses, there are alternatives that are popular, with much larger development communities advancing features (and fixing bugs!)

It doesn’t seem my first post was understood. It was mostly just to promote the use of tags over categories. By favoring categories over tags we sort of get stuck in the assumption that all our threads will fit into perfectly distinct boxes. I wasn’t saying that ALL #systems-changes threads will be related/relevant to #systems-thinking threads. Only some. And even the answer “yes and no” leads me to the conclusion that sometimes a thread will deserve to be tagged with both. If using categories, that would be impossible.

For similar reasons, it feels like tags are also better suited to support the emergence you are pointing at with “sweeping in” new content. i.e. it is the tags we should let emerge, not categories. Though, maybe I’m missing something, because I won’t fully understand what you mean by “sweeping” in until I read what at your links.

This likely seems nit-picky, but I feel this is an important thing to get right. Even more confusing I think would be the use of BOTH categories and tags for the same sort of thing, maybe even having duplicate names showing up as both categories and tags.

And on the use of wikis and blogs… I’m definitely not saying that discourse is the best solution for either… But for some, it may be their first try at either. So why not just start writing content somewhere. A wiki page on here could always be moved somewhere more appropriate later.

If we eliminate categories, will people know to subscribe to specific tags before they exist?

In a personal story … I started blogging at daviding.com as both a personal and professional stream. One sister-in-law complained that she liked the photos, but didn’t appreciate the heavy academic stuff that I write. So, I ended focusing daviding.com on the personal, and moved professional content over to coevolving.com . They both have separate mailing lists.

Could I have just had my sister-in-law subscribe to one category? Maybe not, because she really didn’t want to read the professional content, and going to the web site exposes that.

We might compare to other online conversation boards. Reddit has multiple communities under the one domain. For someone coming onto the board for the first time, the variety could be hard for them to absorb.

People have traditionally thought in categories, i.e. hierarchies. Every personal computer has directories (or folders), and sub-directories (subfolders). Yet people like Google search, because they don’t have to remember the path to navigate from a top level down (e.g. like the original Yahoo).

The reason for tags is that, opposed to orienting towards full-text search, we can add hashtags so that not all words are equally important. However, search without hierarchy generally requires the individual to have the skill to know what to look for. As an example, if everything was tagged with (e.g. #systems-thinking), can we actually discern what is or what is not (i.e. do we need #not-systems-thinking).

You’re welcome to offer the affordance. However, moving a wiki page is not as simple as a single page. Would you port over the history of changes, as well?

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