Figuring out Discourse notification options

A few people have asked questions about how to configure Discourse notifications, and I haven’t been able to answer well because I’ve been too busy on main site bugs to explore Discourse much. So I want to share a bit of what I do know, and encourage those who are more familiar with Discourse like @jzw to chime in with answers to questions that others post here.

First off, some terminology. Categories are the major collections in Discourse, and there are only a few here right now: #comments, #site-feedback, and #tidbits-talk. (If you type a # sign, Discourse gives you a list from which it will auto-complete and make the resulting text into a live link.) You can see and select from a list of categories in the gray box at the top. (Clearly, I need to add a description for the Article Comments category.)

Categories contain topics, which correspond to a thread in a mailing list — a single subject and all the posts under it should be on that topic. (One super welcome feature for my inner compulsive is the fact that I can move topics to different categories, and move posts to different topics.) So, categories contain topics and topics contain posts. Got it?

By default, Discourse likes you to visit the site, and it keeps track of what you’ve read and what’s new to you. It gives you a summary everything you’ve done and notifications on categories and topics you’re watching (more on that in a minute) if you click your avatar in the upper right. Also, as you’re reading, it mentions that there are new topics and replies to existing topics in a line at the bottom of the screen. It also shows you a list of those topics; if a topic is bold, it has new traffic; if it’s grey, you’ve read it all.

Categories have five options: Watching, Tracking, Watching First Post, Normal, and Muted. I won’t reiterate what the screenshot says but will just note that you get to this dialog by clicking the exclamation point button in the upper-right when you’re looking at a category.

Topics have four of the same five categories: Watching, Tracking, Normal, and Muted. Again, you get to this dialog by clicking the blue exclamation point button, but it’s at the bottom of the topic’s timeline on the right now.

Needless to say, although it’s fine to change the settings for each category, since there are only three, you don’t necessarily want to twiddle these settings manually for every topic. Discourse knows that, so in Preferences > Notifications, you can set a bunch of options that define when topics are new, when you should start tracking topic you enter, if you should watch or track topics you post in, and if you want notifications when your posts are liked. You can even enable desktop notifications, which is probably too much for most people. :slight_smile:

Go down to Preferences > Notifications > Categories and you can set what you want to happen to all topics in particular categories. I need to see everything at this point, so I’m watching all categories (including some private ones that aren’t yet in use internally). I don’t really have a feel for what the difference between watching and tracking will be like. Try watching a category and see if it’s annoying. If so, knock it down to tracking. And if that’s still more notification than you want, go down to normal.

Email is where it gets really complicated. Go to Preferences > Emails. There are a ton of options here, and again, I don’t really know what’s best for any given person. You might start with a lot of the checkboxes selected and then uncheck them if the email seems excessive. Note the Activity Summar, @aliamm — it may be as close as you can get to a Mailman-style digest. If you select Mailing List Mode, I think you’ll get an email for every post in watched categories.

OK, so that’s roughly what I know now. Questions and comments?

cheers… -Adam

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Thans, Adam. Really appreciate the detailed explanations. Almost like a tutorial.

The one question I have remaining is how I tell it to send me an email when a new post is made to a thread topic that I’m watching. There’s the email checkbox for “when someone quotes me, replies to my post,…” but that doesn’t sound quite like what I’m looking for. I see no other email checkboxes that sound more suitable. Is this something that can be configured on the server side?

Of course I could periodically log on to see if anything new has been posted to a topic I’m interested in, but it feels like it’s quite obvious you’d prefer to get email notification instead of having to manually poll the website for new posts.

I can perhaps also add something to Adam’s guide. In case not everybody has figured this out, you can go to a list of all threads topics you’re watching. A little symbol will indicate if there are new posts (since your last visit I guess) and if so, how many. Clicking on the topic will the open the topic and go to the new post.
The link for that list is
There are similar listings for other categories.

More than happy to help where I can. I’m not an expert, but have spent a couple of years as a regular Discourse user. I have to admit I have little experience with the email options and haven’t really played with them. I find the Discourse web interface really good on both desktop and mobile and so haven’t been tempted to use it via email (though I’m told you can).

Is there no “Digest” mode? (I much prefer push than pull, but wouldn’t be happy with individual emails for every single response.)

Sorry but I hate how intrusive this software gets - with pop ups on my phone, etc. that just tell me I missed something but not telling me what it is.

For example, I received two “badges” and three messages just for logging in - none of which I can delete.

I’d love a simple guide to turn everything OFF except for an email digest - i.e. replicate the current email system.

If that’s not possible then I’m afraid I’ll wish you luck and cancel my connection.

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I’ve looked into this and we’ll be installing a plugin that says it will provide that feature.

In general, and this has always been true, digests are trouble for mailing lists because replies to them usually break threads/topics. I don’t know how Discourse will handle this yet, but the answer may be that if you want to reply to a particular topic, you’ll need to come to the site.

With individual messages, the suggestion has long been to filter them to a separate mailbox so you can read them all together (and individual posts within a Discourse topic will combine together into a conversation in Apple Mail or Gmail). And then you can reply via email too, since the message can be tracked back to a topic here.

If you really want everything in email and don’t mind individual messages, select Mailing List Mode in the Emails preference. I recommend turning OFF the “Include an excerpt of replied to post in emails” checkbox to reduce the repetition of text you’ve already seen.

We’ll see how the digest plugin works once Eli gets it installed.

Hmm, that’s interesting — I’m not getting any notifications on my iPhone, and I even have the Discourse app installed there. What are the notifications coming from, Safari or the Discourse app? If it’s Safari, you can navigate to the Notifications preferences and disable Desktop Notifications, I think. If it’s the Discourse app, you’ll want to shut it down in Settings > Notifications > Discourse.