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Discord as community and social infrastructure

by on January 15, 2021

easyDNS is pleased to sponsor Jesse Hirsh‘s “Future Fibre / Future Tools” segments of his new email list, Metaviews

The chat platform taking over the culture

This time last the year the pandemic was still considered an epidemic, and Discord considered itself a chat service for gamers. A year later and the pandemic may not yet have reached its peak, and Discord, now focused on general chat, is also flourishing.

Software that enables people to connect via the Internet has been experiencing an obvious boom and with it an opportunity to grow and evolve. Some software is mandated by employers or schools, while others are chosen by workers and students, or in this case gamers.

Zoom was a dominant tool in 2020 due to the combination of easy to use video (with backgrounds) and smart compression that made it one of the only apps viable for slow and unreliable connections. However Discord was also a modest success, for similar reasons: it’s easy to use and can work using low quality Internet.

While originally focused on audio and text, Discord now has video capabilities that are on par with similar tools.

However part of what fuels Discord’s success is not the same communication tools that other software does just as well, but the control and range of features it provides to communities and community organizers.

As a result Discord has come to host a ridiculously wide (and diverse) range of communities.


Rea is not the only Metaviews member I’ve seen singing the praises of Discord, although it’s also probably safe to assume that the majority of you may be hearing about the platform for the first time.

In the same way that Twitch seems to be following in the footsteps of TikTok, by going from a niche platform to general interest, so too is Discord. Both are riding the wave of pandemic Internet culture, leveraging their experience in gamer communities, and using those insights to crossover into the mainstream.

Fast-forward a few years, and Discord is at the center of the gaming universe. It has more than 100 million monthly active users, in millions of communities for every game and player imaginable. Its largest servers have millions of members. Discord’s slowly building a business around all that popularity, too, and is now undergoing a big pivot: It’s pushing to turn the platform into a communication tool not just for gamers, but for everyone from study groups to sneakerheads to gardening enthusiasts. Five years in, Discord’s just now realizing it may have stumbled into something like the future of the internet. Almost by accident.

Although that accident was more akin to leaving out a lot of the nonsense that makes up social media as we know it. The highly competitive industry fosters conformity, and the same can be said about videoconferencing and collaboration apps. In doing less that may make Discord better.

Almost everyone I talked to picked that same example to explain why Discord just feels different from other apps. Voice chatting in Discord isn’t like setting up a call, it doesn’t involve dialing or sharing a link and password or anything at all formal. Every channel has a dedicated space for voice chat, and anyone who drops in is immediately connected and talking. The better metaphor than calling is walking into a room and plopping down on the sofa: You’re simply saying, I’m here, what’s up?

Add that to the list of things about Discord that turned out to be unexpectedly powerful. In retrospect, of course, it feels obvious. Vishnevskiy describes it as feeling like “a neighborhood, or like a house where you can move between rooms,” which is a radically different thing than most online social tools. It had no gamification systems, no follower counts, no algorithmic timelines. “It created a place on your computer and on your phone,” Citron said, “where it felt like you friends were just around, and you could run into them and talk to them and [hang] out with them.” You open up Discord and see that a few of your friends are already in the voice channel; you can just hop in.

One of the problems with tools like Zoom is that it is designed for business. Discord on the other hand revolves around social needs. As a result it not only feels different, it produces different results.

WHEN THE PANDEMIC lockdowns began, everyone started flocking to Zoom. It makes sense. It’s easy to set up a meeting with any group of people, even if you’re not already connected with them on some other service. But for regular social groups—like my own circle of friends—Discord servers and their video chats have so completely replaced Zoom that it’s hard to imagine using anything else.

If you’re not already familiar with Discord, it can seem like there’s more of a learning curve than there really is. It’s a chat app that features text, and voice channels where members of a server can talk to each other and keep conversations organized by topic or event. The “server” and “channel” terminology can, in my experience, sometimes throw new users, but if you’ve ever used an app like Slack or Microsoft Teams, it’s not too different.

However, Discord has one very slight difference that makes it perfect for pandemic get-togethers: the ease with which members can hop in and out of a conversation. It’s a subtle feature, but it’s made my group’s social calendar that much easier to manage.

Discord’s success has been both subtle and profound. Make an effort to like this post if this is the first time you’ve heard of Discord. I’m curious how many of you this is.

Like a priming exercise, now that you know what it is, you’ll start seeing links or promos for Discord communities all over the place.

The company has found significant success this past year, resulting in a sizable investment and an even larger valuation.

The world of virtual communications continues to hold a central place in our socially-distanced lives, and today it looks like one of the companies reaping some of the spoils is also reaping some funding out of it. Discord, the chat and communications platform wildly popular with gamers and, increasingly, many others, has confirmed to us today that it has raised $100 million more in funding as it hits 140 million monthly active users, double the number it had a year ago.

We’ve confirmed with sources close to the company that the funding has come in at a $7 billion valuation, double its valuation just six months ago.

Earlier today, we reported that the company was in the process of raising up to $140 million in a Series H round, at a valuation that could be as high as $7 billion, according to paperwork filed by the company and unearthed by Prime Unicorn Index. That means the round is still open. We understand that this means that Discord could (and frankly, likely will) raise an additional $40 million in this round, but chose to go ahead and announce this part early.

This funding puts Discord into a strong position to further invest in the platform and product, while also expanding their user base.

Although, given the current climate around violent extremists, Discord has faced some past controversy over who uses the platform.

Discord, a platform popular with gamers, has shut down one of the largest servers used by followers of the anti-government “boogaloo” movement after it was exposed in a VICE News article.

“Boogaloo” is code for civil war — which is the ultimate goal of this insurgent movement that’s pulled in hardline libertarians, anti-government extremists, online shitposters and white nationalists. Adherents are often known as “Boogaloo Bois,” and they’ve been showing up to anti-lockdown and anti-police brutality protests clad in their uniform of Hawaiian shirts and tactical gear.

It wasn’t (and isn’t) just the Boogaloos, as the recent wave of platforms removing extremists also including Discord doing another round of enforcement.

Yet extremists were seeking ground on all platforms, and there’s nothing unique to Discord other than the same features that appeal to all users.

Especially users who want to collaborate and coordinate.

Although it’s not hacker cells or extremists that will help Discord grow into a part of our social fabric and culture.

It’s the way in which Discord is growing to become an engine of the cultural and creative industries.


This makes sense given the social isolation as well as the growing appetite for online content and connection. Artists need community and social interaction to do what they do. Discord helps foster both a platform for engagement but also a space for social interaction.

For example, Metaviews member John Mierau uses Discord as part of his relationship with his supporters.


Like other platforms Discord is free to use. However rather than an ad model, the company combines a premium (or freemium) approach with a combination of subscriptions and affiliate sales (of video games).

Primarily this involves their Nitro status, which is a subscription that users can pay for that gives them individual features, flare, and status, including the ability to “boost” servers that they like (or manage). For ten dollars a month a user can use their Nitro status on all the Discord servers they participate in. It’s also a clear means of showing they support the platform.

Server boosts are another revenue source. They expand the scale, quality, and capability of Discord servers, which can be important for communities that grow to become large and active.

Finally the platform also features video game sales, which generate an affiliate commission for the company when users purchase games via Discord.

Given the company’s ongoing growth and success, they’re expected to come up with new sources of revenues, especially given the sizable investment they’ve just received.

One important and crucial aspect of Discord is the ability to add bots and other (3rd party) applications. This is a subject we may revisit in a future issue, due to the depth and diversity of this growing ecosystem.

This isn’t a Future Tools issue, as Discord is not free and open source software. However just as we’ve been using Zoom (at least for now) to enable our weekly salons, we’ve also been using Discord for part of the production of our farm chores show.

Using Discord I’ve come to appreciate it’s potential, however I’ve mostly been lurking on other servers, rather than building ours.

 

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