OC Making threadiverse communities more discoverable - some suggestions

TLDR: Poor discoverability impedes the threadiverse's growth by making life hard for new users. Here are some suggestions on how discoverability could be improved.

  1. Make fediverse-wide search more friendly by hiding complex front-ends and grouping search results by type
  2. Allow communities to be discovered more easily on unfederated instances via directory services
  3. Bring over at least some content (last X posts, last Y days, all pinned posts) when first federating communities
  4. Ideally bring over all content, or find a way for searches and sorts to interrogate the most complete set of community data (likely the data on the community's original instance)

I'm still learning about how the fediverse works, so if I've gotten something wrong in the following discussion (eg terminology, or even a fundamental understanding of federation works), please do correct me. There's a chance I'm making a total fool of myself with this post, but here goes anyway.

In my opinion fundamental to the popularity of reddit is the ability for anyone to create niche communities. That's what set reddit apart from predecessors like slashdot or digg, where there were only a small number of pre-determined categories, like tech, politics or gaming.

Critically, reddit it makes it very easy for new users to:

  • Discover communities tailored to their - even very narrow - set of interests.
  • Immediately see what people are talking about in their chosen community, ie to show it is active.
  • See what people had been talking about, ie to surface high quality content

The fediverse is poor at all three of these discoverability features.

I have four suggestions on how these issues might be fixed which are summarised above. I'll post these in separate comments as the post would otherwise be too long.

(By the way, I'm generally going to use the term "community" to describe both lemmy communities and kbin magazines, simply because I think "community" is more descriptive. Similarly, "posts" will generally refer to a mix of threads, articles, comments, replies etc.)

Assuming my understanding of how the fediverse works (as I said, I'm still learning, having only heard the word fediverse for the first time a few weeks ago) isn't too far out of whack with reality, I'm guessing these solutions may all be various degrees of difficult to implement. And not necessarily implementable at the individual instance (kbin.social, startrek.website) level, or threadiverse software level (kbin, lemmy), but perhaps requiring thought and application at the ActivityPub protocol level.

But I believe that making threadiverse communities and content more easily discoverable by new users will be critical in growing the fediverse overall.

Prouvaire,
Prouvaire avatar

3. BRING OVER SOME CONTENT WHEN FIRST FEDERATING COMMUNITIES

When an instance first federates a community, it should bring across at very least the last (let's say) 100 threads or the last (let's say) 7 day's worth of threads from that community (plus associated comments), whichever is greater.

This will prevent the following scenario: A user finds a community that's hosted on another instance, joins the community, but then finds no evidence of activity on their instance, because when an instance federates a community, it only starts pulling across posts from that moment in time. It makes it look like the community is dead, even if it isn't. While there may be a "Browse this community on the original instance" message, but that may well confuse people, and it doesn't mitigate the initial impression that the community has not posts.

Related to this - any pinned posts from a community should also be brought across by default, as these posts often contain information that a new user will find useful or that the moderators want all users to be aware of.

4. IDEALLY BRING OVER (OR ALLOW TO BE SEARCHED/SORTED) ALL CONTENT WHEN FEDERATING COMMUNITIES

The shelf life of posts in most communities is pretty short. If you subscribe to /news it probably doesn't matter if you can't see the top-ranked post from three years ago. But other communities curate content that has a much longer shelf life. A community like /askhistorians for instance, or /buyitforlife, where a user might want to search the archives for a great overview on the events leading up to the building of the Berlin Wall, or recommendations for the best compression socks. Allowing new users to search the complete history of a community, or sort posts by something like "most upvoted by all time", makes the community more useful.

So ideally if you subscribe to a community hosted on another instance on your home instance you should be able to browse/search/sort that community's entire archive.

I know you can click a link to browse a community on the original instance, but that can be confusing because suddenly you are now browsing on a site where you do not have an account.

Copying over the entire database for a community has storage/bandwidth implications (although I would argue data consumption issues are inherent to the fediverse model, which could lead to another discussion around the fediverse's scalability limitations). But perhaps there is a way for searches and sorts to interrogate the host instance of a community (which presumably has the most complete database) rather than the local instance.

sik0fewl,

Something like https://lemmyverse.net/communities needs to be integrated into all instances. For that, I think there needs to be some way of federating communities. I'm not sure what's missing from a technical perspective (ie, why hasn't it been done yet).

Prouvaire,
Prouvaire avatar

2. ALLOW COMMUNITIES TO BE DISCOVERED MORE EASILY ON UNFEDERATED INSTANCES

Communities should automatically (unless the community owner deliberately prevents this) be registered with one or more community directory services. The lemmy/kbin community search facility should use these services by default so that a new user's search results are not limited to communities that have already been pulled into that user's instance.

Multiple directory services should be available for the search service (similar to how you can switch between DNS servers) in order to eliminate single point sensitivity, which is part of the fediverse ethos.

The current method of finding new communities not already federated ("enter the exact, direct address of the community, and/or search and wait for a day before any results show up for anything not already on this instance") should be deprecated and only be used in the event these community directory services are down.

This will prevent the following scenario: A new user chooses an instance, creates an account, and searches for a community related to their interest on that instance. They may find a popular community (eg /gaming), because other users on that instances have already joined it (or because someone has created this community on their instance). But even moderately obscure communities will likely not appear in the search results because they're hosted on another instance, and nobody on this instance has subscribed to them yet. This makes it look like the fediverse is a lot emptier than it actually is, because niche communities (the long tail of communities that are the secret sauce of reddit's success) are difficult to discover.

Basically, every community should easily be discoverable from any instance on first search (unless the community owner deliberately chooses to hide their community from the directory services).

I know there are already some websites that act as a directory of communities, but you have to be aware of these in order to use them. They are not built into the native community search functionality of lemmy or kbin, so 99% of users (especially new users) will not be aware of them.

!deleted260470,

deleted_by_author

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  • Prouvaire,
    Prouvaire avatar

    @pure_honey As moderator of a niche and currently tiny community - https://kbin.social/m/Musicals - I admit to a level of vested self-interest in making this post. :-D

    BlondieBuff,

    Back on reddit, the main way I found new subs was by people mentioning them in the comments of related threads in my existing subs. Once we start getting a bigger level of activity in the "main" communities, I feel like sharing smaller ones will happen organically.
    Until then, keep spreading the word :)

    hiyaaaaa23,

    100% discoverery on here is pretty bad lol.

    We def need to improve it

    akaxaka,
    akaxaka avatar

    Could not agree more!

    Prouvaire,
    Prouvaire avatar

    1. MAKE FEDIVERSE-WIDE SEARCH MORE FRIENDLY

    Search should, by default (ie unless constrained by the user), search communities and posts and users, and present the results grouped into these categories, with communities displayed first or at least prominently.

    The current default fediverse search screens - especially on lemmy - are intimidating and require the user to know how the fediverse works before searching, eg knowing the difference between "local" and "all" or the difference between a "community" and a "creator".

    Rather than putting the onus on the user to narrow search parameters before searching, have a general search bar that group the results after searching into easily distinguishable groupings, ie communities, posts and users.

    Reddit search does this very well, and offers additional quality-of-life features like suggesting communities related to your search term even as you type.

    Advanced users should still be able to specify search parameters in more detail up front of course, but it's important to hide any complexity from new users.

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