Time limits for unfocused discourse threads?

In my head that was a slightly different thing: I think of POLICY: feedback discussion splitting as being pretty focused on litany of gripes/complaints/feedback than general unfocused questions.

I like this way of putting it! To allow for “bootstrapping” topics: the burden of topic-splitting is thus transferred from moderators to contributors (if ever some interesting enough ideas pop up).

Also, this provides those with divergent minds (mostly newcomers, but not only) with some times to try to focus, by getting some feedback.

(And as @mbauman mentioned, that’s a great way to not take it personally when a topic is closed, and not accuse moderators.)

These were my two cents


Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut, but I came here after reading the title for the interesting idea of @spawn with a timer that auto kills a Julia thread if it hasn’t completed by a certain amount of wall time… :joy:


Is an “unfocused topic” flag something that we could do now, or does that require a feature request from the Discourse maintainers too?

Is there a way to allow readers to flag a thread as possibly unfocused?
If N > Nthresh users so flag it, an automatic X hour close timer could start.

I don’t think we would ever want this to be automatic — like any other flag, it should have to be approved by moderators.

I think you can do this right now, without any software changes, by clicking the “flag” button on a post, choosing the “Something else” reason, and writing “unfocused thread” in the comment box.

However, it would be more discoverable if we could add an explicit option for “unfocused topic — should be time limited” in the future.


We can change any of the text in the radio buttons in the flag dialog, but we only get four options:



Maybe change the “It’s off-topic” to “It’s off-topic or unfocused”, with a corresponding description?


Handling off-topic and unfocused the same way with a time limit seems pretty reasonable, imo. Moderators can always choose to take a different action as needed.


Here’s a thought: what if the Offtopic category itself had a default close timer of 7 days?

Why that one category? It’s often where the non-technical, more opinionated discussions happen. I like leaving technical threads open because they gather Google search rank and can often be found long after they were written — so updates can often be valuable.

I think this would also mean that moving topics into Offtopic would also start the timer.

We could always choose to extend or disable the timer on a case-by-case basis, but then it’s a positive intervention instead of a negative one.


I think think that’s a good default for the Offtopic category, but we would still want an “offtopic or unfocused” flag (replacing the current “offtopic” flag) that would start a timer (possibly a shorter default timer for posts that were specifically flagged, e.g. 48 hours) and can be applied to posts in any category without moving them.

Otherwise, I’m worried that Offtopic will just become a dumping ground for annoying threads. e.g. “How can machine learning be better in Julia?” clearly belongs in Specific Domains / Machine Learning if anywhere, but is also such an unfocused topic that it will never end without a time limit.


I’m on board with that. It’s very easy to change this text; let’s try it. Here’s what I’ve changed (unfortunately the site doesn’t show a diff nicely, but I think you can guess what these used to say):

(As I understand it, our site is not localized, so the English text is what shows up regardless of your locale settings)

It’s easy to revert if we don’t like this; and suggestions are welcome!


When I first looked at this thread on AI and CO2, I happened to notice the two day time limit and was intrigued. I ended up engaging more than I originally anticipated, and I think in this case the time limit worked like a charm. People got some interesting points in, some interesting Julia-related ideas came out of it, and it seems to have closed gracefully. Well done, I’d say!


You linked the wrong thread, though…

Fixed! Thanks for pointing that out!

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@benslinux I’ve moved your comment here — the challenge isn’t so much in the “endless” part; we do have many endless discussions here! It’s the unfocused-and-prone-to-hot-takes part that ends up consuming lots of people’s time needlessly.

And yes, there are wide-ranging and unfocused threads that can and do make for interesting discussions! That’s why we just limit them to a short period of time instead of closing outright.


Understood - but it doesn’t make much sense. I wrote it as part of an ongoing thread - it’s completely out of context posted here. I just deleted it.

Good luck to all of you at Julia Discourse.

The opposition to the time limits seems significant. Perhaps an additional category for unfocused threads/chat should be introduced to the forum?

You’re clearly going to find a number of people who like open-ended threads — after all, many people create such threads. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be discussing this policy.

But this is a moderated forum, not a free-for-all, and the maintainers of the forum get to decide what kind of forum it will be. (The extreme alternative of “anything anyone wants to say, as long as it’s not illegal” quickly results in 8chan.)

Personally, I think that we’ve tried allowing unending open-ended threads already, and time limits have created a vastly more pleasant experience. Long open-ended threads, while occasionally entertaining, tend to be an overall negative for the forum for the reasons discussed above, and any positive contributions are buried because it’s too hard for later readers to go back and sift through the discussion. A few days seems to have been plenty for people to get some interesting thoughts in before wrapping up, and someone can always start a new thread on a narrower/spin-off sub-topic.


One more thing to consider. I would argue that threads have a peak number of posts where after that point it discussion becomes less useful, and this number varies depending on the post. I tried following the rand(Float32) thread, but that is now 438 posts. So despite the singular focus and necessity of the topics, what person is going to read through it all? Most likely someone will just jump in at the bottom with an idea that was already said 200 posts higher. I don’t think it should be closed for that reason, but I hope it illustrates my point.

Part of the reason Discourse exists is to create of a body of knowledge that is easily searchable and helpful. Being led to a mega-thread to find the answer to a problem is less than ideal. Julia WATs has some interesting stuff, but is there much more to say? How much of it is now outdated? If someone has a new WAT they can just start a new topic.