FAQ: Tips on Participating in Long Discussions


One of the things that I like about Discourse (the software that this site uses) is that it has supports for long discussions with hundreds of posts. In many forums, a conversation with 100 posts is just too unwieldy. You cannot follow the threads. It takes too long. You cannot tell what you have seen. Discourse solves these problems pretty well. Mostly, it just works, but here are a few tips that may help you to be a better participant.

Quote Multiple Times

Once you have started a message, you can select text in that topic and click the quote reply button. This will, perhaps not surprisingly, quote that section into your reply. What is less obvious is that you can do this repeatedly to quote from multiple replies in a topic. Even less obvious is that while you are composing a reply you can navigate to another topic (the composer window stays open) and quote from it.

Making sense of Quotes and Replies

In the upper right corner of a quote are some icons (quote icons ). Sometimes a quote might not provide enough context, to see the whole message, click anywhere on the top of that box (or the little down-pointing icon) will expand the full text of that message in place. Clicking the up-arrow will scroll the message to that message. If the message is a reply, but has not been quoted, \clicking on the reply indicator (e.g., reply screen shot ) will expand that message immediately above.

When a message has been replied to, it is indicated with a count of how many people have replied (e.g., two replies ). Clicking that will expand those replies immediately below that message. Clicking the down arrow there will take you to where that reply is.

Navigating quickly

Part of what makes Discourse’s pages load so fast is that it loads only what it needs to display. If you return to a thread that you have read before, Discourse will load only the messages that you have not read. It also provides an indicator of where you are in the discussion (e.g., scroll indicator ). That obviously helps you to know how much of the conversation is left. Less obvious is that if you click it a box appears that will allow you to quickly navigate to a particular message or the top or bottom of the conversation. If you want to return to the top of the topic, clicking its title at the top of the window will take you there.

topic navigation


Want to find a word in a long topic? Hopefully you know how to use your browser’s find within page feature (type control-f and start typing a word; the cursor will jump there; control-g will take you to the next instance). Discourse hijacks the control-f keyboard shortcut for its own search. This might seem annoying, but since Discourse does not load all of the messages in a topic, this is a great feature. By default, Discourse will search all of the messages on the site, but clicking the “search this topic” checkbox will do what you would expect. Clicking the “options” link will show you some special things you can search for.

Some handy examples include in:likes (shows replies that were liked) and user:username (for example, to see just your posts), and in:bookmarks to see replies that you have bookmarked.


One of the icons below every message that you might not have paid attention to is the bookmark icon (blue in this example)

message icons

I often read here on a tablet. It is very handy to check in to see if someone is having a problem that needs immediate attention, or :heart: some messages to let people know that they are on the right track. When I find a message that I need to reply to, I will bookmark it so that when I get to a computer I can quickly find it and respond appropriately.

Clicking on your image will show you the notifications (described below) and clicking the bookmark icon there will take you to a page of all of your bookmarks.

Notifications: Keeping Track with what to Read

Clicking your user icon at the upper right will give you a list of notifications of things that Discourse thinks you care about. This is a good way to make sure that you keep up with what is probably pertinent for you to see. If someone replies to you, likes you, or mentions your @name, it will show up here.

Navigation, ways to keep up

Besides following links in the notifications, there are a couple ways to keep up here. Clicking the literate computing icon icon will take you to the home page (or just type ghgo home). Discourse will show you what it thinks you are interested in. If multiple classes are happening in Discourse, you might want to mute the other classes’ topics in your preferences (click the gear icon in the notifications menu).

On the home page, you can click Unread (or type gu) to see unread messages in topics that you have read previously or new (gn) to see just new messages. Discourse has multiple ways of defining new. On the preferences page is this pull-down:

new pull-down

Since I try to look at everything that people do here, I chose “I haven’t viewed them yet” as my definition of “new.” I suspect that for most people “created in the last week” or “created since I was here last” is the best choice.

Readings: E-Learning: Chapter 6