Dark Horse Discord

How a gaming chat platform is secretly connecting the internet, and defining the future of work

It is no secret that video games have seemed to consistently push the envelope of emerging technology. Gaming has been responsible for the beginning of 3d graphics, microtransactions, digital status, and the tipping point for “internet friends” being considered “real friends”. Many of our first internet communities were games, and it’s the bleeding edge of software eating culture.

So, enter stage left: Discord, which is in my opinion the darkest of horses for any kind of platform, and is generally slept upon by most writ large but has an interesting shot to becoming something bigger or at least a design pattern for something more.

What even is Discord?

Discord is a VOIP and IM platform for communities online. Discord functions organizes its groups into a community (server) and then further into channels about topics, which can be grouped into similar channels based on interest. You can private message, share files, voice and video call, and collaborate on shared uses. You usually join a Discord by either an email invite or clicking a link to join. There additionally is a large community of third-party apps that you can integrate into your servers and channels to add more features.

So without going on any further, I can feel you asking your question from here, “wait isn’t this just slack?” Yes. But no, but yes? It’s slack but for gamers.

Okay so what’s the big freaking deal, I thought slack and teams were taking over the world, who the hell is Discord and why should I care? It’s just gamers tinkering on the internet, right?

Yes. And more yes! More interesting than gamers is that Discord is quickly becoming a platform for small internet communities – and the long tail of internet niche communities is always something to be excited about.

How do Discord and Slack Compare?

Everyone loves tables. Here is a great table from this very nice comparison source

If you summarize the above summaries – more freemium, unlimited chat history.

Oh a quick quantitative comparison from this website

Slack has ~12+ million DAU, 1 billion weekly messages, and 1000+ employees

Discord has ~250+ million users, ~7 billion dail, and ~100+ employees

These numbers are not like to like - discord has different disclosures. But I do think its fair to say that the scale of Discord is 5x bigger while having 1/10th the employees and the last valuation round was at 2 billion versus slacks 12 billion valuation? Seems kind of underrated if you ask me.

Why is Discord So Different?

So, the 2 key features I can really point out that makes Discord so much better in my opinion is

1)      Unlimited free tiers

2)      Unlimited Channel Permissions

The first one is simple to understand, unlimited. You can’t create sprawling internet communities without unlimited messages and a history to search and communicate overtime. You can’t build anything if the Discord’s past is being removed once it hits 10k posts. The communities that I have joined with 1000s of members that are free slacks end up as Q&A message boards sorted by channel, but really don’t create lasting long-term relationships that a deep history of Discord use can. Makes sense.

The second and much more important function is Channel permissions. If I had to choose a killer “second act” for slack and slack-like functions, it’s multiple permissions and roles. You can have unlimited roles in my tests – and this can create some interesting logic structures when paired with simple bots.

Let’s put for example the basis “read only” channel – that usually ends up as a basic announcement and FAQ channel. I’m going to take a screenshot of an example of one of my favs, @coretek’s Discord channel

That’s pretty cool huh – Discord with a read only is a Wikipedia function huh? You could even do show only wikis based on roles so that each person who enters the Discord can be assigned a role and have a defined subset of Discords that they are shown and able to chat in. Nifty! But let’s be real here – this is not the “future of work” that I hyped in the title, just connecting the internet. No the rabbit hole goes much deeper. Let me introduce you to “shut up and que”.

“Shut up and Que” (SUAQ) is a classic world of warcraft Discord for cross server collaboration for a PVP 40 vs 40 battleground. While SUAQ shares a lot of the same attributes of many Discords of subreddits and niche communities alike, the one thing that it really does better than anything else I have ever seen is use bots and roles to create some kind of futuristic amazing meta-layer tool. Let’s walk through what it is.

First you join this Discord via invite only – pretty par for the course in an internet community. Next you have an intensive onboard process. This once again pretty much typical of most Discord FAQ processes.

The “cool part” is the following video. Once you’re all set up, you press a button in game, which then puts you into a queue to be sorted into a battleground. When you are assigned a battleground, you then put “!AV ##” into the sorting room in Discord and you are placed in a voice chat for that specific battleground. You make the choice to choose if you want to take the game (depending on your team composition) or not, and if you do you press accept, you chat with ~30 strangers on the internet and because you almost always have a communication edge over the other team, you frequently win. #informationedge much?

This is a pretty typical matchmaking system, but to me the real magic is in the following video.

Watching the !AV ## (the logic behind the sorter) in real time makes you appreciate how massive this operation really is. This is 6000 people in the server, ~100-200 waiting to queue at any given time, with ~300 people in games at any given point. Going on 24/7, automagically sorting strangers across the internet to collaborate on a relatively hard problem. The best part is this was live 2 weeks after the feature of the game got launched, and it’s pretty stable considering its load. I would call that success.

This is a really sophisticated sorting tool, but made in someone else’s platform and definitely not from the ground up. While there is some coding involved, this feels a lot more “low code” than other solutions, and overall a very satisfyingly good system. The channel permissions let you be sorted into different roles, in different servers, with a bot that has a whole different level of control than the users, and all of this layered logic is the backbone of making this system work.

Let’s take a big ole step back here for a second. Someone put up a stable and usable sorting queue in 2 weeks and it’s being used by hundreds of people 24/7, all with a simple bot and some permissions. This. Is. Bonkers.

This is by far the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet recently, and once I saw it my mind has been racing on what you can do with a lot of permissions, integrations into other systems, and some light levels of programmability. With a simple Discord bot you could probably make the note taking tool of the year – with $tags to sort all my messages into stock specific Discord channels for example.

But this framework is just a skeleton of some really interesting design patterns, and when I saw it I instantly thought of a decentralized mass of workers – and that’s why future of work really comes to mind for me. Let’s explore.

Design Patterns for Future of Work / Other Interesting Uses

First off, as all good posts have a graphic (lol) – here is mine below. This just summarizes and abstracts what happens above but in an easier to follow format. And we can take a step back from “video games” and into a more generalist “task”, I think a bigger “aha” takes place.

This basic design pattern is probably something akin to a call center right now. You show up to work – login to your desktop, start taking calls and are sorted, repeat over and over and over. You could arguably do this in Discord. NEAT.

But what if we take something and generalize it a bit more? What if there are different tasks and different roles, and you can go to a central place, be put into a “custom” end state for your role, and then change your role as your role is needed and you are shown / hidden resources and grouped with the people you need to collaborate with as needed. The graphic looks something like this.

This is pretty much what slack dreams to be in my opinion. There is just so much going on here that you could design with this. This could be a pickup mechanical turk lobby, a gig-economy app, a volunteer sorting thingy. The possibilities are endless, and somehow come together in a really seamless place.

In a hypothetical world, you could get a Discord (or whatever is next) link for your new job tomorrow – you read some wiki and meta info, sort yourself into your role you’d, and then are grouped with the people who you need to collaborate with on a need be basis. All wrapped in one platform. Maybe you have an HR complaint - drop it in #HR where you can’t read the messages but they can, so it’s a blind 1 way conversation. Maybe there is a #help channel, where you ping you write your problems and the bot pings people who have expertise based on keywords. There’s a lot of things you can do with this basic design.

And remember, something that is interesting about slack and Discord is they kind of carry a slew of all the software of the past. They kind of are a blend of email, word, dropbox, and at least in teams you can even open excel/word/etc in the team’s browser. Suddenly this looks like a single terminal where you can do sophisticated roles in a decentralized manner. This is the meta-layer that I think the arc of collaboration (great post – please read) is looking for.

It does make sense that a meta-layer for decentralized work would emerge from an activity that never happened in-person to begin with; gaming. So keep your eyes out for Dark Horse Discord, it might just surprise us all.

And now to be clear do I think Discord “wins” or somehow ends up becoming a terminal for all things? Discord probably does not do this outside of gaming. But I do think that 1) Slack will copy some of this stuff and 2) a messaging first terminal will end up being a compelling future of work hub. Thanks for reading.