Discord questions for school paper!

here's a four page analysis on a discord server of mine, go wild.

Genre Analysis: How the TFWiki.net community Discord server and its idiosyncrasies serve to advance community goals

Behind every thriving wiki lies a dedicated and passionate community, but wikis themselves are not typically venues for socialization. The Transformers Wiki (hereafter referred to as TFWiki) bridged this divide between the ‘scholarly’ and ‘social’ aspects of wiki maintenance by establishing the official TFWiki Discord server. Through my observation of this server, I have found that Discord’s platform-exclusive features (the ability to notify everyone at once, to determine community status from a single look at someone’s name, and to segregate text conversations by channel) greatly benefit organized communication among TFWiki community members. Furthermore, discussions and developments on the server correspond closely with events that take place on the official website, and vice versa – the community holds itself to the purposes and standards of the wiki, and the wiki develops those purposes and standards based on input from the community. The genre that has developed from this back-and-forth interaction is not only fun to participate in but intriguing to study.

Why does the TFWiki community use Discord in particular? Simply put, the platform has features that make organized communication with a large group of wiki denizens easier than using the wiki itself. One such feature is Discord’s ‘mention’ command. On Discord, a single person has the power to use the “@everyone” command in a message to notify everyone on a server – potentially hundreds of people! – of pertinent information. The original wiki has no analogue to this community-wide instant notification. Despite its undeniable utility, the u/everyone command is a blunt instrument with the power to annoy if misused: if someone is a part of a mentioned group, they will perceive the message mentioning them as having a yellow highlight and receive a sound notifying them of the message. The ability to use the u/everyone command is thus entrusted only to higher-ranking members of the server, with lower-ranking members relegated to using commands that target specific groups.

On the subject of specific groups, Discord also has a meticulous profile system that helps to distinguish server members from each other. Every person on Discord has a profile, and that profile’s name and picture will be displayed on each message that they post. Clicking on a user’s avatar will open an expanded profile that may display information about their self-described interests, their online status, or their roles. Roles, which are server-specific acknowledgements of rank, appear on someone’s full profile as colored tags and determine the placement of their name along a server’s sidebar. Although the default name color is white, the color of someone’s name can be influenced by their role. Each name color serves to induce in readers an instant recognition of a poster’s status in a community, which makes it easier to determine appropriate conduct among server members. Furthermore, there are several types of ‘trivial’ roles (pronoun roles, book club roles, etc.) that server members can assign to themselves. The original TFWiki website is not so transparent with identity and status.

Unfortunately, conversations on the Discord server are more prone to derailing than conversations on the wiki itself; group discussions that potentially include dozens of people are naturally going to be harder to manage than the single-topic discussions seen on the talk page of a wiki article. This is one of the reasons why the TFWiki Discord server is split into multiple channels. These channels divide server conversations by their topics – if someone wanted to post a picture of their new Transformer, for example, the image would be posted in #toys rather than #editing. Channels allow for the simultaneous discussion of many topics and mitigate confusion about where to start a conversation. Channels are created and closed as server requires, which means that server members can afford to be flexible about the subjects that they discuss – #editing, for example, may be used to quietly resolve issues about policy abuse, to discuss a merge between overlapping wiki articles, or even to identify a seemingly-nondescript gun on a page stuffed with references. Topic channels are an unavoidable hallmark of this genre; while some of the server’s channels are used more than others, all current channels are used daily by dozens of people.

More important than the style of a genre is its substance. The TFWiki server is both public and easily accessible; anyone with a Discord account can join the community if they have an invite link. This accessibility necessitates that server posts must be easy for the general population to understand and interact with. Through my analysis of the server, I discovered that a majority of TFWiki Discord messages are shorter than fifty words in length, include informal grammar, and mention key words (names of specific characters or character factions, etc.) relating to the Transformers fandom. Most of the server’s formal or academic language is seen on wiki-related channels such as #editing and #archival, whereas community channels like #general and #comic-book-club contain posts that are much more casual in tone. Despite this seeming lack of formality, however, this genre still follows certain structures. While the server formally disavows bigotry and harassment of official creators, it is also considered impolite to discuss off-topic subjects (for example, to discuss your pets outside of the pet channel), to quarrel with other server members, or to return a finished conversation even if the topic’s messages are still accessible. By preventing clutter and infighting amongst server members, these rules – both formal and informal – work to create an atmosphere that is conductive to the purposes of the TFWiki community.

The text contributions that people make to the Discord server have a large impact on all other genres of TFWiki communication. People looking for answers to wiki questions can easily search through channel archives by date for their answers or to post images of the problems that they encounter, which disincentivizes communication on the (comparatively clunky) wiki itself. Voice discussion (which is reserved for larger community activities, inconspicuous resolutions to conflicts, and other things that would clog up the text channels) is harder to stall or start an argument in, but the genre still relies on the contributions of the text channels to function – if anyone wants to start a call, they first need to find people with mutual interests in the text channels. Members of the TFWiki community also interact with each other in the real world, but even though meetups help solidify group bonds better than any other genre, they depend heavily on those other genres because they require large amounts of coordination to become practical. Text channels, of course, remain the easiest way to communicate the details necessary for this precise coordination. The genre of text messages may be plain, but it acts as the backbone for most other forms of TFWiki communication.

The way that members of the Transformers community use the TFWiki Discord server corresponds to their specific needs. Whether it’s quickly determining rank, messaging hundreds of community members at once, or simply showing off a cool new toy in the right place, Discord’s unique text features make it a prime choice for a passionate community to make an offsite home. I’ve participated in the server for years, but I could only come to truly appreciate it – and the people who shape it – by explaining its intricacies to outsiders.

/r/discordapp Thread