Discussions vs Conversations vs Chat vs Messenger - Differences, Pros & Cons

We are often asked which communication app for UNA is right for a certain idea and what is the difference. It may seem like the distinction between them is very subtle, but making the right choice may, in fact, determine the long-term success of communication within your network. Apart from the four specific UNA apps discussed here, you'd find thousands of alternatives, yet most would fall in one of these categories - DiscussionsConversationsChat and Messenger

Each of them may often do the job for another, just like you can use a tip-truck to buy groceries or an "SUV" to carry construction rubble, but they could be that much more efficient if you use the right tool for the right job. 

 

 

Discussions

Discussions can be alternatively called Discussions Boards, Message Boards or Forums. Messages in Discussions are often longer than one line of text, and exchange is expected to be asynchronous - immediate replies are not expected. Also, depending on the access level of a user or the site set-up a discussion forum may have hierarchical structure or categories of topics. Categories are pre-defined by the site admin, creating the thematic context for new topics. 

Similar to Conversations, but generally public and categorized.

Pros:

  • Posts are organised, easy to browse and reference.
  • Context is clear and the requirement for staying on-topic may be strictly enforced.  
  • Anyone within the group specified by site permissions may join a discussion. 
  • Public discussions can form high-quality content, generating organic search engine traffic. 
  • Asynchronous posting reduces peak server load.

Cons:

  • Private conversations with specific users are not possible. 
  • Spontaneous deviation from the topic may disrupt the discussion. 
  • May take too long for users to post follow-up messages, rendering some discussions obsolete. 
  • Participants are not directly addressed and may fail to follow-up when needed. 

Best for:

  • Communities focused on specific subject, where public discussion is preferred.
  • Free public customer support, where answers can be useful for other users.
  • Content-centric sites, relying on organic search engine traffic and accessible content archives.
  • Large communities, with active participants willing to reply to new topics.

UNA Discussions is a CoreApp available for free download. We use it here at UNA.IO to power UNA community forums, which you are most welcome to join.

 

 

Conversations

More commonly known as Site Mailbox or InMail. Conversations app in UNA powers asynchronous exchange of messages. While there is no limit or requirement on the message length, the format encourages long-form posts, forming potentially lengthy, detailed exchange. 

Conversations are always private - visible only to the usera specified by the original poster. Opening post is treated as a "subject" and participants generally try to focus on it. Additional participants may be added at any stage, though common etiquette is to ask participants for permission to do so. 

Similar to Email threads, but contained within the site and controlled by original poster.

Pros:

  • Clearly identified privacy.
  • No expectation of immediate reply.
  • Old messages are easily accessible for later reference.
  • Participants may choose to stay focused on original post or deviate from it.
  • Longer posts may cover more details and more topics.
  • Not visible to search engines, protecting privacy.

Cons:

  • Conversations can be slow and tedious.
  • Messages can be too long.
  • Interruption by short-form or casual messages is not welcome.
  • Not generating public content for search engine traffic.
  • Can not be used as knowledge base for wider community.

Best for:

  • Communities requiring in-depth, unhurried, private conversations.
  • Exchange of sensitive private information, documents, technical, requirements, reports, etc.
  • Direct conversions with customers, vendors, partners, friends, etc.
  • Formal, business, educational sites where being regularly "online" is not expected.
  • Technical support "tickets".

UNA Conversations is a CoreApp available for free download. We use it here at UNA.IO to discuss project requirements and technical issues with clients. Feel free to start a conversation with anyone from UNA Team

 

Rocket.Chat

We use Rocket.Chat integration for a classic Chat module option in UNA. Essentially being a Slack clone, Rocket.Chat offers real-time community chat functionality based on channels (rooms) or direct (private) chats.

Updates in channels signal need for attention on issues of certain pre-determined type. Chats can't branch out and everyone has to stay with the flow of discussion or risk being unheard. While extra features like threads serve as a sub-talk, they can't evolve on-par with main flow, which limits their usefulness.

Due to potentially high number of messages participants are expected to closely monitor the channel or risk overlooking some posts. 

Pros:

  • Highly engaging.
  • Real-time updates.
  • Real-time audio/video calls. 
  • Screen sharing.
  • User activity status monitoring.

Cons:

  • Critical information may be overlooked.
  • Not indexable by search engines.
  • Higher server load and more complex hosting requirement.
  • Difficult to find older information by browsing.
  • No way to effectively branch out conversations within one channel.
  • Users are required to be present online to engage with the group.
  • Requires active established community to maintain activity and engagement.
  • Large number of participants within one channel may lead to chaotic discussion.

Best for:

  • Team or group meetings, where everyone knows each other (i.e. Agile/SCRUM meetings).
  • Educational seminars, satsangs, workshops.
  • Free-form talks during Events.
  • Status reporting and emergency response.

Rocket.Chat for UNA is a PowerApp, requiring $50/year fee for automatic updates and direct support. UNA Cloud hosting servers support instant deployment of Rocket.Chat.

 

JOT Messenger

Any Messenger app typically creates ad-hoc conversations, based on combination of participants. They can be treated as both synchronous or asynchronous.  Similar to real-life personal conversation, which can change subject frequently. Messenger updates usually trigger push notifications.

Conventional messengers feature private conversations and group channels that must be joined to view. JOT Messenger in UNA offers additional option to "embed" a conversation on any public or private UNA page, where it inherits the page visibility settings. Embedded talks work as on-page comments and show in individual Messengers of users that choose to follow or take part in an embedded talk.   

Pros:

  • Effective for community of any scale.
  • High engagement.
  • User activity status monitoring.
  • Real-time or asynchronous.
  • Embedded talks can be used to inform and engage wider community. 
  • Widely popular communication tool. 

Cons:

  • Potentially overwhelming number of talks.
  • Some talks may become long, making old messages difficult to browse.

Best for:

  • Community of any scale allowing spontaneous private and group talks.
  • In-place discussion of website content. 
  • Private messaging with some urgency, but no expectation of immediate reply.

JOT Messenger for UNA is a PowerApp, requiring $50/year fee for automatic updates and direct support. UNA Cloud hosting servers support instant deployment of Jot Messenger.

 

Choose Wisely

As a community website operator you don't have to stick to only one of these communication apps. It is perfectly fine to combine two or more, but make sure to clearly explain the purpose and difference to your users. Any confusion may result in disrupted conversations and missed opportunities. 

Messenger is almost always a safe bet, unless you want to prevent any private contact. Chat is best to be activated when you already have enough people ready to use it. Discussions is a must when public content generation is required. Conversations feel safest and work best for "serious" talks. 

 

Info
Category:
Created:
Updated:
754
Comments (5)
  • I like JOT Messenger but one thing I'd like to see it do is not be a full page with it being able to stay in a smaller window so I can keep browsing but not lose the conversation as I browse.

    I works well but would like to not have it as a full page.

    Right now, it also doesn't instantly show the notifications by the icon. It does push notifications to my computer but the notifications need to show up also and then also disappear after I look at the message.
    • Thank you!

      You can display it within a block (not full page) if you want, but when we first set it up this way we noticed that scrolling messages within a page that also scrolls is a nightmare on mobile devices and not so good on desktop. Also note that Jot Messenger is not entirely full-screen - it still shows site header and navigation (side menu in Decorous).

      I guess you may be referring to messages in popup tabs that show anywhere on site? Yes that would be great and is planned.

      As for notifications - you should receive browser push notifications. If you aren't receiving them - try to clear cache, turn off notifications for your site in browser and visit again to receive notifications authorisation request.

      The red notifications alert bubble in user menu will soon receive a significant update to make it more "real-time". :)
    • Conversations and discussions: These two have thier own significance and free of cost.
      In the remaining two, rocket chat and jot: I prefer jot because of its looks and the way it got integrated with other modules of the website like events, groups etc. If it has RT voice and video calls, it will be good.

    • Nice work synthesis, thank you for taking the time to do it.