About topics derailing

Continuing the discussion from How can we make more nutritious soup for more people?:

Thanks @jwilling you make good points in your post that derailed topics can be problematic to some degree.

Here is what I will say on this topic:

  • First, I blame Discourse for HIDING the "reply as new topic" feature in the link button of every comment (completely counter-intuitive as this is mostly to share a post with the buttons or with the URL provided. I would NOT expect the "+ New Topic" button to be there).
  • Sometimes instead of replying to a comment, it would be better to start a new topic, even without using the reply as new topic feature, but from the user's perspective, it is more demanding (finding a title, making sure it is in the proper channel & tag appropriately).
  • This translates to missed opportunities of having topics dedicated to a given discussion, kind of like an email thread can derail with multiple replies that will keep the same subject even when the subject is no longer relevant. The same exists with other platforms, like with Slack where you can discuss something and end up overlapping with a subject covered by a different channel altogether.
  • Longer discussions with mixed topics makes it harder for people to know what to expect out of a given topic (if you are not part of the discussion, you rely on the title to determine if you want to know more or not).
  • A long hiatus can probably prevent a reader from finishing reading the whole discussion, if he assumes the topic has shifted from him main interest, even if the discussion gets back on track. This can also be true of someone who is originally familiar with the discussion, but reads it back after some time, not being familiar anymore.
  • The search feature can be forgiving to some extent as it is looking for content in title, OP and all comments.
  • If members do not have the reflex and / or discipline to start new topics, we then have to rely on moderators & administrators to apply this after the fact. But this is far from the best scenario or the easy scenario in my book:
    • Not being familiar with how this is managed in Discourse, I do not know if it is easier to split a discussion into multiple topics or to merge 2 topics together, but I can only assume it is more work than when performed by the author(s) himself (themselves).
    • Is a comment just a comment or should it be a new topic? Some calls may be clearer than others, but overall this is subjective. That question is most likely best answered by the author. An admin will have to guess the author's intent and can draw false conclusions. Leaving things as they are can be a good default option here.
    • Something else a moderator has to evaluate when applying decision like this early (perhaps attempting to avoid additional work or relocating following replies) is the likeliness that the comment will spark a "new off-topic discussion". Your crystal ball is good as my magic eight-ball.
    • I suspect keeping everything on track would require a larger number of moderators / admins. I believe @Malcolm and @Cecile to be the only ones at this time.

With all that said, I guess I can say that I see this more as a problem than something we should "keep around", but I fail to have a solution for it.

Happy to hear what everyone else thinks about it, that is for sure...


Cecile is an active moderator. I have been slow to respond to these
things as I may only drop in a few times a week. Embarrassing (for an
admin) I thought my settings were "tell me everything that happens on
fmsoup" but recently discovered that I was only following several
channels :frowning: Now that I've selected everything I may be a bit more


I think the best way to have a topic not "derail" is to ask a very specific question.

For example, a specific question: "Since I don't have FileMaker 16, how can I create the HMAC256 value using a technique other than the built-in FileMaker way?" (I'm not actually asking this question since I solved this particular issue long ago.)

What often happens is that as developers are posting with other developers, postings often get conversational and friendly. IMHO, this site, much more than the FMI site, is extremely friendly and much less stuffy. Plus, some of us are consultants and posting is one way to get together with other like-minded developers on related topics.

I don't find anything wrong with topics going off here and there a bit as long as someone answers the OP's question as close to the top of the thread as possible.

I think the way Cecile has set up and is running this forum is superb.

My two cents...


@Bobino, as always I appreciate your ability to dissect an issue and bring up various points to consider.

I know some people are sometimes annoyed with topics derailing. On the other hand, I have noticed that the entropy it creates generates often very interesting and fruitful exchanges, albeit not always in line with the op's question.

I regularly grab chunks of derailing conversations and put them in their own threads. I usually wait to see if it starts having a life on its own or if its just an à propos here and there. Sometimes, it's more of the same or closely related to a topic that was discussed in the past. In that case, if I remember such thread, I will move those stray posts to it. Although it might be weird to revive old threads, I feel it is better than having tons of thread on a similar topic, especially when the thread's tone and the new posts is more of the same bit of "whining" about that given topic. I am sure it is not a perfect strategy, but the one I have on hand at this time.

The other reason why I wait a bit before moving the stray posts is to allow for it to grow enough to show some potential. Sometimes great ideas are stricken dead if we put the breaks too soon. That has the value of generating new interesting content and, because it is eventually moved to continue its life elsewhere, it doesn't rebuke people that consult the original thread later on.

Sometimes, it is not so much that the topic is being derailed but people having a little side chatter about current events and personal stuff like birthdays, sickness, Australian fires, etc.

I find it more difficult to decide what to do with those. Although I feel really uncomfortable deleting people's posts, especially when they are sharing about themselves, I have deleted a few such comments when they were mainly by two people that were starting to use the thread as a chat room. In my opinion, the content is not mine and I would hate for people to decide that what I say has no value. I just discovered yesterday that I can actually flip these chunks into becoming private messages between the involved people, which is what I will probably do in the future, again, not right away when it occurs but after a reasonable time.

The reason I consider it should not be right away is that, as I mentioned elsewhere, the soup plays an important role for peers to mingle and have friendly chatter. I often refer to it as the church front porch. In the past, people would gather there and have social interactions, talking into clusters, yet being able to overhear other conversations, feeling part of the community.

Of course in the future, it becomes noise, in terms of the knowledge base. That is why I "clean" threads once in a while. The discovery of the new tool (converting some posts into private messages) will make this task less challenging ethically for me or other members with moderation or editing rights. Level trust 3 members have that ability.

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Part of the issue with pulling posts out of a conversation is that you really lose context. The conversation spawned from specific comments usually.

As an example, if someone makes a blank or controversial statement, or one that needs clarification to newer users/developers, that is a potential for derailment, but is necessary if the goal is to be a repository of knowledge.

One example would be if someone says or the sentence structure reads like you need 19 to use JavaScript in FileMaker. A small but important correction is that we have been able use use JavaScript since all the way back to version 9 or 10. In 12-13 era it became easier to get data back from the web viewer. In 19, it has become even easier.

One other example from recent, was a comment made about how preposterous it is that FMS is stuck on Java 8. That made me laugh, but needed to be corrected, because Java 8 is the current stable build and shipping version is Java. Someone not know better would have read that and assumed FMS is using old tech and a possible security risk. I’ve had this discussion with clients many times. So thoughts injected into a larger or separate discussion need to be addressed.

So many times reading a thread, you learn something you wouldn’t have read because it’s adjacent to the topic, but can change you development world. I know I had plenty of those over the years. This is where separating topics, even with the best of intentions can be seriously damaging to a forum. I have been a moderator on several forums. I’ve watched them live and die by this behavior.

To really curb the kind of derailment we would like to stop, we all have to be careful not to inject inaccurate, purposefully inflammatory comments. We also have to avoid suggestions that put users in direct conflict with Claris...like suggesting they stick with an unsupported version of FileMaker in a production environment. When they call Claris for help, they won’t get any. That’s a bad place to get stuck as a customer. It hurts the platform and is as professional developers.

Although I agree with what you say, I think there are ways to mitigate the issues you are pointing out. One that I use is to put a staff notice at the beginning of the newly created thread or on the first of a chunk of post relocated in an existing thread.

@Bobino is especially diligent in doing this. Also, it is built in Discourse that when a branch is made, a note about it is added in the original thread, and the link to the parent thread is included at the bottom of the first post of the displaced chunk. If I fear there might be loss of context, I usually won't move posts or I will make an introduction in the new thread.

One thing is for sure. I do not want to encourage a 400+ posts thread ever like we have seen on community. It snowballs because at some point, people stop reading responses and add their own, creating even more disconnect. To make matters worse, they often preface saying, "I did not read all..." or "I did not read the previous response but here is what I think".

In the end, it greatly dilutes the content and looses its power in terms of knowledge source.

Another tool available for moderation, which I sometimes use, is to put "staff colour" on a post. The aim of this tool is to highlight posts that bring a lot of value in a long thread. People have then the ability to request seeing only those.

Bottom line is there are several tools that Discourse put at our disposal to keep things efficient and relaxed.

(revised below.)

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What is the difference between Java and Java SE?

Java.com shows up to 8.

If it’s on topic, that’s natural. I agree if we are taking about a debate unrelated to the topic. However, many readers don’t read it anyway. They lost because they assume, correctly usually, the experts on the thread will see it and respond.

I’ve run into a lot of threads on different sites that were split...and it’s frustrating because the adjacent info is really what I needed to solve the problem. Something I was missing that wasn’t what I thought was my issue. Too much control also kills it.

TL;DR is a major part of internet life. lol

Most of what you mention is fine by me. I simply want to give a different perspective on "you really lose context"

  • You lose part of the context that it stems from, that is true. We get tiny pointers to the discussion it is from.
  • On a larger timeframe, keeping everything in a single topic constitute in itself "lost context". The recent discussion on How can we make more nutritious soup for more people? is a good example (84 comments as I write this). The topic started as an inquiry on how to bring FB traffic over to fmSoup. People started to have good suggestions on how to generate traffic in general (not pertaining to FB). In the midst of this:
    • There were suggestions on how to improve our SEO
    • There were suggestions to revisit our mission statement
    • There were comments about why we like fmSoup
    • There were suggestions to change the UI
    • Other comments were moved to a separate topic (see my comment about that)

I believe revisiting our mission statement is a good idea. Did it get the space it deserves, smacked as comments within that thread? What were the conclusions about that sub-discussion: to know, I have to figure it out from a mega-thread of 80+ replies. Thanks, but no thanks. If I want to contribute back to in 2 months from now, will I go back to a discussion titled "How can we get more traffic/traction", quite unlikely I would say.

If I'm looking for any previous ideas about our site SEO, seeking to contribute new ideas or just revisit what was already covered, not to overlap, will I go back to a thread with a title that conveys nothing about SEO. Not a chance.

Just the same way no one ever will look into this discussion for info about Java, as I attempted to point out to fmpdude.

The same applies to the other contributions (SEO, UI, ...). We had our chat, and the precious comments will be lost, buried in another topic.

I'm sure there is a way we can figure what is good for today AND tomorrow. Not have one at the expense of the other.

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Please note that we are going to keep the posts above that derail because they provide the occasion to illustrate what is being discussed in the current thread. I made comments in blue to explain the issue.

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The trigger should always be included in the new branch. @Bobino does it systematically for the branches he makes. I do it if I feel that the trigger post must remain in the original thread but I copy it and put it in a staff note at the beginning of the new branch

I would also say this. For the question I asked @anon45965781 above, which is a legit question I don't specifically know the answer to, how do you indicate that the discussion moved to another thread?

99% of users/readers/members, never going to happen. They click reply type and click reply. That behavior is one you have to adapt for. The options are typically:

  • be okay with it.
  • moderate it. ( moderators burn out really fast from this ).

To illustrate this I will do it here by making twice the same post so that one can be redirected and the other one stays here

Wow... I hope you aren't still performing that task. That's a long time. LOL

1 is still here... where is the other one?

No it doesn't take time. I changed my mind about the content of the post and erased it instead of just editing it and now i try to restore it in order to avoid too much edits in the thread.



What is the difference between Java and Java SE?

Java.com shows up to 8.

  • That's why I regret the "reply as new topic" is not more visible to the user.
  • To attempt moderation / curation, I've already mentioned I believe there need to be additional moderators as it does represent a lot of work. No one wants any of us to burn out.
  • Discourse is not Slack and it is not Facebook. I perceive it as a discussion board. In the specific case of fmSoup, I sometimes see it as a Wiki with discussions.