by Brandon Butler
David Pierce on the history and future of Discord 10/31/2020

David Pierce for Protocol, ‘How Discord (somewhat accidentally) invented the future of the internet‘:

And then that extremely Silicon Valley thing happened: Citron and his team realized that the best thing about their game was the chat feature. (Not a great sign for the game, but you get the point.) This was circa 2014, when everyone was still using TeamSpeak or Skype and everyone still hated TeamSpeak or Skype. Citron and the Hammer & Chisel team knew they could do better and decided they wanted to try.

It was a painful transition. Hammer & Chisel shut down its game development team, laid off a third of the company, shifted a lot of people to new roles and spent about six months reorienting the company and its culture. It wasn’t obvious its new idea was going to work, either. “When we decided to go all in on Discord, we had maybe 10 users,” Citron said. There was one group playing League of Legends, one WoW guild and not much else. “We would show it to our friends, and they’d be like, ‘This is cool!’ and then they’d never use it.”

After talking to users and seeing the data, the team realized its problem: Discord was better than Skype, certainly, but it still wasn’t very good. Calls would fail; quality would waver. Why would people drop a tool they hated for another tool they’d learn to hate? The Discord team ended up completely rebuilding its voice technology three times in the first few months of the app’s life. Around the same time, it also launched a feature that let users moderate, ban and give roles and permissions to others in their server. That was when people who tested Discord started to immediately notice it was better. And tell their friends about it.

It’s funny how history kind of repeats itself. Thirty years ago I was on IRC; today it’s Discord. The difference¬†is going from an open and fairly anonymous protocol to a data collecting, self contained app. Of course, IRC is still out there as an open protocol; I wonder if we’ll be able to say the same of Discord in thirty years?