Discord will start testing a handful of new features in some of its biggest communities this week. The social audio and chat platform got its start connecting gamers for online play, but it’s grown into one of the main ways to build a thriving online community, complete with custom emoji, live events, topic channels and a whole suite of third-party plugins that can do everything else.
The company recognizes that as servers grow, things can get unwieldy. At any given time, some of Discord’s most popular communities have hundreds of thousands of people online simultaneously (hit Chinese RPG Genshin Impact’s official server boasted more than 300,000 at the time of writing — and that’s just one example).
A Discord server is kind of like a real-time subreddit, but instead of people dipping in and out of the conversation, a ton of people are chatting live, all at once. For smaller communities, this works really well and it’s easy to stay on top of the conversation, but as those servers scale up — sometimes really, really up — a lot gets lost in the mix.
If you’re new to a large Discord server or if you step away from a conversation, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to get caught up. Most big servers have introductory channels to onboard members and topic-specific channels to direct people to relevant conversations, but it’s not a perfect solution at scale. To make everything run more smoothly, some big servers will be test driving three experimental features, starting this week.
The first new feature gives servers a forum-like channel as a hub for “more organized conversations.” The idea is that people could dip in and out of these special channels asynchronously and not miss out, the same way they might on Reddit. It’s also a way to surface older content that’s still relevant and loop people into an ongoing thread, letting conversation topics develop over time.
Apart from forums, Discord will test a new homepage-style feature that collects hot topics, offering a tl;dr-style snapshot of timely content that’s relevant on that server at any given moment. Right now, many servers use dedicated news channels to pull off something kind of similar, but those spaces aren’t very dynamic and often don’t offer a lot beyond highlighting major announcements.
On the moderation side, Discord is testing new automated tools that bring some of the functionality communities get with third-party mod tools in house. While the company didn’t disclose much in the way of specifics, some of the most popular Discord mod bots automate the process of welcoming new users, scan for bad behavior and even kick people out when they break the rules. (Mee6, one of the most popular premium third-party Discord bots, is currently getting its own taste of the NFT backlash that Discord dipped a toe into in November.)
Last July, Discord bought a company called Sentropy that makes AI software to detect online hate and harassment. The acquisition was meant to bolster the company’s own in-house automated moderation capabilities, though the company did not confirm if the new test features grew out of that deal.
The experimental features are only available through a closed beta for now, with Discord tapping some large servers to take them for a spin. Communities in the test won’t necessarily have all of the experimental features enabled right off the bat, as the company watches how the new tools can meet the needs of different servers.
The current wave of experimental features might only be a glimpse of what’s on the near horizon, though the company hasn’t dropped hints about what else it’s working on. Discord boasts some of the largest active online communities anywhere and the company is wisely evolving to offer those servers more utility as they grow.
“We think about Discord like a growing neighborhood and have to design for all the shapes and sizes of communities that call Discord home — from small friend groups to music, gaming, or education communities with thousands to hundreds of thousands of members,” Discord Group Product Manager Rick Ling told TechCrunch.
“We care deeply about enabling admins, moderators and community members to make their spaces uniquely their own and will continue to invest in tools and features to help them come together and find belonging.”