Longevity of Discord Communities

Before Discord, there was something else that many on the internet used. IRC or Internet Relay Chat is a protocol upon which numerous networks built their communities. IRC culture is vastly different from Discord culture. In IRC, the user connects to one or multiple IRC servers. Anyone can then create a channel on these IRC servers, or join a channel that someone else has created. These channels contain the community that the user wishes to join. Whoever created these channels were the owners of the channels, with the IRC protocol supporting an extensive permissions and ban system. IRC does not support GIFs or emojis. It doesn’t support voice chat. It doesn’t work well with mobile. If you lose connection to the IRC server, you lose out on that conversation. If you wanted something, you had to write it yourself. Being completely textual, even logging in required some form of computer competency.

IRC was created 30 years ago, and many still use it and the network of servers set up almost three decades ago.

Why Discord’s model sucks

Many IRC communities have persisted through decades. I’m not talking about IRC servers, but rather IRC channels. The same will not be said for Discord.

While many argue that the main problem with Discord’s ability to retain long running communities can be traced due to the fact that it’s an application run by a corporation rather than a protocol people can write their own stuff for, there’s a large factor to the fast decline of Discord communities that many do not consider.

A user joins a Discord server, which is created by a person. This is the community that the user joins. This server can have many channels, each of which may have a different topic. In IRC, the user joins a channel where the community resides, while in Discord the user joins a server in which the community resides.

Thus, the Discord community may have many different channels.

The problem with too many channels and small communities

Large communities are probably fine.

For small communities, the splitting of the chatrooms into different channels leads itself to the problem that most of these channels are not used. The user sees them not being used and thinks that the server is dead. There’s simply not enough conversation to allow users to join in.

Imagine 40 strangers living in a mansion with 40 rooms. Most people are going to stick to their own room. Imagine 40 strangers living in a single house. They’ll be forced to talk to each other, or they can leave.

There’s just not enough conversation in a small community to justify the number of channels they have. Most Discord server owners don’t realize this, and they create a crapload of channels that nobody except a few use once in a while. Users don’t get to know each other. While there may be several hundred users in a server, it may rarely see conversation.

IRC is different. A community is one channel. You either talk or you watch people talk, or you get out. It takes active effort to connect to an IRC channel, while on Discord when you’re on a server, you connect there forever automatically.

By condensing the space, users in IRC are forced to interact with each other, which forces lasting bonds.

This is why IRC communities last decades, while Discord communities will not.

There’s a lot of other problems with Discord’s chat model, but I think this is one that people don’t often realize, and is one of the main contributors towards dead communities.