How To: Interpreting the list of Topics

This is partly a how to and partly a statement of what I haven’t figured out yet. I’m going to talk from the perspective of a desktop/laptop computer rather than a mobile device, but I’ll point out some mobile specific things as I go.

When you look at any list of topics (nee threads) in a category (nee board) you’ll be presented with some info in columns. Desktops get the topic title, a handful of avatars (up to 5), the number of replies, the number of likes, the number of views, and something called “Activity”. Mobile devices get a subset of this info. They get a single user avatar, the topic title, a number (circled or not circled) and a time reference which is the desktop Activity column.

Topic Title: Pretty self explanatory. Grey means you have read (or at least scrolled to the bottom of) the entire topic. Black means there is something you haven’t read.

But there is one bit of added info there. If you have read some, but not all, of the posts, there will be a number circled in grey at the end of the Topic title. That generally bears some resemblance to the number of posts you haven’t read on the Topic. (There’s another unexplainable - why the resemblance and not always right?) A grey dot at the end of the Topic title means you have read none of the posts there.

Mobile users will see the gray circled number in the top right of the block for each topic. If there are no new posts to a topic you have looked at before, you will instead get the count of replies in that spot. (Explanation of that is below.) The gray dot indicating a new topic will be at the end of the topic title just like desktop users.

User Avatars: Desktop users will have up to five. The first one will be the person who started the topic. The last one will be the last poster on the topic. However, if the person who started the topic is also the most recent poster, you will instead see a fuzzy halo around their avatar in the first position. If there are less than 5 unique posters, all of their avatars will be shown, with the last poster on the right and older posters in age order as you move left. If one poster has more than one post in the last 4, their avatar will be in the position of their most recent post.

Most of the time. This isn’t hard and fast, and I can’t seem to figure out the reason for some alternate order. The only two that seem to be consistent are the thread starter (on the left) and the most recent poster (on the right).

Mobile users get only one avatar - that of the most recent poster.

Replies: You guessed it. The number of replies to the original post in the topic. Note that this is replies and not posts. It will always be one less than the number of posts because the OP is not a reply.

Mobile users sometimes get this and sometimes don’t. It will be in the top right corner of the topic’s info block. If there are unread replies in the topic, the count of unread replies will replace the count of total replies in that location. You can tell the difference by noting whether the number is in black (count of total replies) or white on a gray circle (count of unread replies).

Likes: The number of likes on the whole thread. (Darn it, topic. Yes, I’m going to keep every reference to the old terminology as I make them along with the correction.) Mobile users - sorry Charlie, only desktop users get this info. To read, or not to read, that is the decision. Mobile users will have to make that decision without the benefit of this bit of info.

Since this is the total number of likes on a topic, you’ll have to do some interpretation. Or long division, to get likes per post. And don’t forget to add 1 to the reply count to get the right number for the divisor. :rofl: Or you can drop the mathematical rigor and simply compare the likes to the replies on a more touchy-feely basis to decide whether to read or not. Keep in mind that one really well liked post in a long thread can get hidden with this kind of analysis. And that lots of likes in a long thread (TOPIC, Peter, topic) may or may not indicate quality. And it might help to compare “likes” to the next column, namely…

Views: Again, not too tough to decipher. Or is it? Is this the number of unique views? So if I read the topic today and then read it again tomorrow to see the new posts that would be 2 views? Or if I read it now, then move away and read it again 5 minutes from now, then move away and read it again after another 5 minutes can I rack up crazy number of views? I don’t know. If you do, please share. I haven’t done the testing.

One thing I do know is that mobile users don’t get this bit of info.

Activity: There are so many potential better names for this column. Last activity. Most recent post date. But we’ve got what we’ve got. And by making fun of the name you probably now know what it is. A time reference to the last post (I think post - I don’t think someone clicking on a like button changes the time stamp) on the thread. Most of the time you will see this data by age. 14m for 14 minutes ago. 3d for 3 days ago. After 30 days, it reverts to a simple day reference, e.g. Jun 23.

Desktop users can get more info by hovering over the data with your mouse. That will give you a pop up with the date and time (to the minute) of both the first and last posts in the topic. That date and time is also displayed in your local time zone. No more dealing strictly with US Eastern time. :clap: Sorry mobile users. No soup for you. You get the ordinary time reference but no hovering for details.

And that pretty well covers what I’ve been able to figure out. Corrections and additions welcomed, as long as they are cordial. Or come with a cordial. :wink:



Nice explainer!

To make things simple :wink: , seems to be a difference between having viewed or having read a topic/thread. A topic turns grey if you enter a topic and scroll all the way to the bottom.

I believe the unread count applies to “tracked” topics. By default, a topic changes to tracked if you spend more than 5 minutes inside, and you’ll notice “You will see a count of new replies because you read this topic” at the end of the thread/topic/threadopic.

I believe the dot means it’s a “new” topic that you haven’t viewed. By default, this means a topic created in the last 2 days. So this doesn’t necessarily include all topics you haven’t viewed. You can change this behavior by selecting “I haven’t viewed them yet” in Preferences → Notifications.


Yeah, it’s what we’ve got. You can use this approach if you want to get clear overview of topics in chronological order. Notice the ?order=created.

I’ve turned discobot into a my own customizable landing place for quick access to things like this. :slight_smile:

I’ve wondered about that. Why 5 minutes? Most new threads here can be read in just a minute or maybe two unless there are an awful lot of replies.



Because it’s Discourse? :wink: This one is something you can change in Preferences → Notifications. So you need to weigh amount of noise versus not noticing a reply in an interesting short thread you’ve “read” (i.e. viewed). Or you could go with “never” and try to make a habit of manually selecting tracked on everything of interest. Quickest way for that on desktop would be pressing ‘m’ followed by ‘t’.

I dunno. Just between you me and the fence post it’s still complicated as heck and surely doesn’t need to be. I keep going to “New”. There will be an indication of 4 messages or boards or categories or everything or whatever they call it but then when I go there instead of 4 there will be 38 messages/boards/categories/or whatever to read. Totally and unequivocally confusing and definitely not easy for sure. And to top it off some of the stuff folks are talking about would require a degree in advance Financial Analysis but I digress. What ever happened to the good old “boards” that had stuff you not only needed but could somewhat understand?



It’s simple. New is a subset of new. Unread is a subset of unread. :slight_smile:

The only thing that works sensibly is Latest, which shows you everything with the latest posts on top. That’s all I look at any more.


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If you wrote up a quick tutorial on that, I suspect plenty of folks would appreciate it. Myself included.


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Thanks, I had in mind write a post/topic about it if/when I find time to do so. But briefly:

It struck me that with the rich editing capabilities we now have, you can turn a post into just about anything. A diary, a collection of notes, links to relevant places etc. Here’s something resembling a part of the sidebar for example:


So all that’s needed is a post - kinda like a “page” - that you can edit, and a quick way to access it.

One way is to use the bookmarking feature. If you access your bookmarks via the drop-down menu you’ll notice that you can pin a bookmark. That will keep it on top in your list. Having done that, you’re never more than three clicks away from accessing it.

So, where can you create and edit a post without bothering anyone? :thinking: Discobot! Just message or write a reply to one of the threads and you’ll have a private post that you can edit and reshape as you wish. Discobot won’t mind.

I started exploring this today so this very much work in progress, but I hope you get the general idea. It’s not point and click but at least a way to create your own little place. And in principle, there’s no need for everyone to reinvent the wheel.

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I’d like to, but I need a little more of a step by step. I’m not even sure where to look to start learning. I haven’t stumbled across anything that resembles what you’re talking about.

Definitely no pressure, but if you can it would be great. I’d suggest a new topic for that.


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To start with thanks to Peter for taking the time to write all this up.

My eyes (maybe) aren’t as good as they used to be. And perhaps I don’t always read with enough light. Maybe others have the same issue. But I see the dot as a light blue and not grey (in the default color theme) And I “see” this as part of the “problem” many might have with the new format. There isn’t enough color contrast to make things stand out like they did on the old boards. To be fair there are some things with good contrast, like the REPLY button I’m going to click soon to send this post off. But so much of the screen seems to have been designed by a 25 year old on a 30" monitor with very good lighting.
Maybe this is something TMF can configure (or create new themes for) so some of these visual hints are more obvious. Things that are important for scanning lots of messages should stand out rather than just be a different tint of the same few colors.

I should note that back on week #1 I went to my Preferences, Interface and changed the color theme to dark mode, but it seemed to be broken because only part of the screen layout switched properly. I tried it again now and it seems to be fixed. But it seems I like dark mode for the list of posts but I prefer reading a thread in the default lighter mode.

Anyway, people might want to try the dark mode and see if it helps.



Thanks for the explanation, Peter. Is there anything like “Best of” so I can see posts that have more recs and not have to read everything?


Not that I’ve found. Individual posts are not really accessible here. Its the whole thread or nothing. I can help you find the most liked threads, but not the most liked posts.

The problem there is that a 50 post thread with 2 likes per post looks the same as a 2 post thread with 50 likes each. I definitely find one more valuable than the other. But the designer of this platform thinks they are both the same, so that’s what we get.



Thanks, Peter.

That makes my job harder. Posts that stimulate emotions, often political posts, tend to get a lot of recs. It will be harder to find them in the larger flow.

Also, I like to read posts from non-METAR boards when they are popular enough to get a lot of recs. The new system will make them harder to find.


Indeed. There have been a great number of complaints about this loss of functionality.



For what it’s worth I miss the message counts that accompanied the various boards (communities, categories, or whatever you call them), I had maybe 10 or 20 boards that I followed and if I needed help I certainly wouldn’t post in the board that had 1 post this past year I would rather post in the board that had 898,235 posts (exclude Saul’s prima donna site). That way I felt some assurance that my post would get wide coverage. Nowadays who knows?


You can see the activity at the Category/Tag level.

Dead - no activity in six months - Drip Investing - The Basics - Motley Fool Community

Active - six topics with activity this week - Living Below Your Means - Motley Fool Community

It’s more complicated than that:

  • If you sort a list of topics by likes, it will show you threads with the most number of likes.
  • If you use search and sort by likes, it will actually show you individual posts with the most number of likes.

Thanks Wendy and Peter for making me keep digging. Taken me like forever, but I may have found a way. Here’s a write-up:

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Probably had something to do with that the designer didn’t know how TMF boards worked and how people used them. I think that the underlying philosophy of Discourse is for broad range of categories which have categories that are frequent created and discussions that are shallow (few replies).

TMF kinda messed up when they carried over people’s (non-stock) favorite boards to the new “Categories” but didn’t carry over people’s STOCK/company favorites but left it for the users to figure out that they needed to add “Companies A-Z” and then tag the stocks that were n their favorites.

It’s almost like TMF made the decisions without having the slightest idea how people used the old boards.

In my job, we used to call this “make the users work for the ease of the system, rather than make the system work for the user.” Yeah, that always resulted in the users bailing.

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This system wasn’t designed specifically for TMF. It’s a commercial discussion board program that has been available for a while - much like the older vBulletin and phpBB platforms. TMF chose to use it and almost certainly paid a significant fee to the creators of the platform.


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