Out of frustration at how the gradual enshittification of Facebook Groups was destroying my ability to organise folk music events, I created a Discord server called ‘Bad Tradition’.
A few friends then got in touch with me and asked if I could explain how to use Discord, so I thought I’d put it in a blog post.
Let’s start with…
What the hell is ‘Discord’?
Discord.com is a web platform that lets users chat with each other in separate organised ‘channels’. It was originally created as a place for gamers to coordinate online game strategies, but as it has grown and grown in popularity it has become a more general place to chat for any online community.
Jesus, really? Another social media app?!
Yeah, I mean, that’s fair. The 2010s were kind of an old fashioned ‘rise and fall’ morality tale for a number of the biggest social media apps.
But they got big and powerful for a reason: the ability to communicate with your friends and family remotely at any time is one of the great gifts of the 21st century.
It is getting harder and harder to do though, and I think it’s this decline that has led a lot of people (particularly younger people) to Discord.
So what are the advantages?
Here are what I consider to be some of the biggest advantages of using Discord over, say, Instagram, Twitter (are we really going to keep calling it ‘X’?) or Facebook:
- No ads, no spam, no constant confusing new features added (and then suddenly removed)
- No algorithm designed to boost outrage and anxiety and keep you hooked
- It is literally just a real-time feed of posts made by people that you actually know
- But it also has a basic level of organisation: it’s not just one mega-thread where the conversation and focus keeps changing every second
I’ve been saying for years that the best social media platform is Facebook circa around 2008 (before they’d figured out how to optimise for engagement with negative emotion). And Discord right now is actually pretty close to that design.
I’ve also been saying that ‘social media’ today isn’t really social. It’s just ‘media’. It’s huge, algorithm-based, and full of people you will never meet.
And messaging apps like WhatsApp (which I find deeply clunky to use) are for keeping in touch with people who you already know.
Discord seems to be where new communities are built. Discord is where you can meet and get to know new friends online, who might be interested in the same things as you.
And the disadvantages?
- It’s still funded by venture capital, so it’s presumably not immune to the forces of Enshittification (although at least it seems to be profitable already, so those investors won’t panic in 5 years and break everything)
- Whilst it doesn’t have the scale of problems with trolling, doxing and shitposting that other platforms have, they are still a problem
- It has a user interface that makes Facebook circa 2008 look like some kind of clean, exciting, cutting-edge design
- And, of course, it’s one more fucking app on your phone
Okay then fine, how does it work?
Whilst you can ‘friend’ and send direct messages to people, it’s really a place for group chats that are structured into different topics.
These group chats (rather confusingly called ‘servers’) can include just a handful of people or they can be thousands.
Within each chat there are separate feeds divided by topic, and within them you can post text, photos or (very short) audio or video. You can reply to people specifically, and you can add all sorts of emojis. Too many emojis, some might say (although not me because I’m extra).
And there’s a bunch of other features that we try to avoid on Bad Tradition because life is complicated enough. But they exist too.
Here’s how Discord looks:
There are two sidebars on the left, and then a main window – much like most email apps. So (in emails) you might the Inbox on the far left, and then see a list of the most recent emails in the Inbox, and then in the main window it will show the email selected.
In Discord, on the far left, there’s a sidebar that lists all the servers (i.e. group chats) that you’ve joined. These servers are displayed as circular icons.
In the middle sidebar there’s a list of topics (that start with a #) that the group chats are divided into.
And if you click on any one of these # topics the main window will show you that topic’s feed.
Why does it look so…?
Yeah, you’re probably going to want to go to User Settings > Appearance.
I immediately set it to Dark Mode, and increased the font size. There might be other things I tweak over time too.
How do you set it up?
You first create an account in the usual way:
- go to discord.com/login
- click ‘Register’
- add your email and a password
Once you’ve created an account, you can join servers.
I’m not sure if you can browse them or discover them yourself, but I think many people start with an invite link.
For example, if you want to join Bad Tradition, you can click on this link:
(Be aware that, as a security measure to stop incels from ‘server raiding’, you need to wait a little before you can post.)
Yeah, thanks… but I still don’t wanna
And that is probably a sensible choice for most people. Our digital lives are already full of so much clutter.
But I think it’s worth being aware of what the options are.
And if you miss the days when social media was actually social, and therefore fun, and you are part of a community that is gradually getting pushed out of online spaces…
It’s worth remembering that Discord might be a solution.