How Discord is Building the Future of Real-Time Communities

Aug 12, 2021By Subspace Team

Gaming creates strong online communities with a global reach, and the communication technology embedded in video games is what enables these relationships between players. Video games are using increasingly sophisticated cutting-edge technologies, like facial and voice recognition, high-definition displays, virtual reality, augmented reality, and wearables, all integrated into a single platform to create an experience for players. But in the end, the community is what keeps the game going and ultimately wins.

Part of that experience is communicating with other gamers and creating a community with one another, and that’s where Discord enters the scene. It’s an all-in-one chat and community platform and is growing quickly; this unicorn just rejected Microsoft’s $12 billion acquisition offer, among others. What makes Discord special is that information flows in real-time, through voice-chat channels. But what really stands out is how they’ve embraced their community.

Video games can be a very social activity as gamers talk to each other constantly as they play, no matter where in the world the other players are located. Eventually, the conversations move beyond video games as people get to know each other and develop friendships. It’s changing the way we communicate and bringing people together who have a common interest across the globe. Online communities are powerful tools, and being able to leverage these is a great way to market an idea or promote a business -- businesses can interact with their communities on different channels.

Discord is not just about building a community on one platform. Influencers will use the platform to engage with their followers, but they’ll also use Discord to build a following on Twitch, YouTube, or another social media platform. Growing a community on a branded channel helps influencers and companies interact with their communities to understand what they want, while playing the occasional video game...

The right tool is critical to building an online community that perseveres. Gamers didn’t always use Discord. At first, they used gamers would use platforms like TeamSpeak and Skype, and while these were the only available options to talk to each other in-game, they were not ideal. Gamers wanted the ability to chat with their friends without having to change platforms for every conversation.

That’s when the startup Hammer & Chisel saw an opportunity and reorganized its company to focus solely on the chat feature in its video game: Discord.

In 2015, Discord gained popularity because the platform provided easy to use voice chat servers allowing people to jump into group voice chats. Gamers started their own communities by setting up their own public or private servers, and then after playing with someone new a few times, they’d exchange their Discord IDs. The platform enabled people to grow their communities organically, and the platform offered exceptional performance to its users. So much so that Discord’s tagline was:

“It's time to ditch Skype and TeamSpeak.”

Today, Discord has over 150 million active monthly users and 13.5 million active servers. Built specifically for real-time communities, the platform has become an integral part of how these online communities evolve, whether or not the relationship was formed because of an interest in video games.

Now, Discord users have formed communities based on a variety of topics outside of gaming; active communities include topics like Harry Potter, musicians, and sneakers -- and users can join different servers and toggle between communities. Even though there’s still many communities focused on gaming, these communities can become a force for social good as people develop games that resemble their lives in different parts of the world to create a greater understanding of the broader world.

Discord works similarly to chat systems, but it contains the most popular features from other platforms-- by design. It has Slack’s ability to blend public channels with side-chats and a layout similar to the one used to explore Reddit-like niche communities in real-time. Discord users can add to the evolving conversations whenever they log into the platform too.

While social media platforms are starting to incorporate voice to compete with Clubhouse, Discord is ahead of the game. Along with written conversations like a forum, intimate DMs, and private chats, Discord offered audio drop-ins prior to Clubhouse and video chat a-la-HouseParty, Zoom, and Google Meets, all across multiple platforms. Today, Facebook and Twitter have begun exploring voice on their platforms after seeing how fast the popularity of Clubhouse grew.

As people have screen fatigue, voice is the next best way to encourage people to participate in communities, allowing them to jump into the conversation at any time. Discord has become “your place to talk” and offers a desktop app, as well as tools to enable community leaders to moderate the conversation and manage the community and its members. Voice channels are a great way of helping people connect to create a community.

Getting voice right is a challenge though, and how voice is used in platforms is constantly evolving. The aim should always be to find the most efficient means for people to communicate, adopt, and form communities. To do this though, you have to disrupt what you just disrupted to stay competitive. This is Discord’s real edge. They understand this space and have the most data, which puts them in a strong position to create a next-gen platform that uses voice to create a more connected experience for communities.

As Discord CEO Jason Citron said in an interview with Business Insider:

"We just feel like we are in a position to build one of the next-generation communication services."

Yeah, we have to agree.

Making Real-Time Drop-In Audio Sustainable

Real-time drop-in audio is nothing new for Discord, as 40% of its daily active users had already been using the small-group drop-in audio chat years before Clubhouse popped onto the scene (and way before Twitter and others launched their own versions).

While Clubhouse has had a massive valuation, the new social media platform has not been able to sustain its momentum, especially after having its share of issues. There have been problems with Clubhouse’s security, as users have been able to stay in rooms with their presence invisible to other chat participants and still contribute to discussions beyond a moderator’s control. There have been other security issues, like when one user found a way to stream feeds from multiple chat rooms because the platform’s data was not secure. Clubhouse continues to add features, but security and privacy have been issues for the platform from the beginning.

Discord, on the other hand, has the best chance to make drop-in audio happen, given the breadth of their offerings (audio, voice, text) and their experience in the space. They don’t have the same types of security issues and have more data and experience with drop-in chats. Platforms compete with each other for people’s time, so their experience has to be on point. We predict that if any platform becomes mainstream, they might be the only one with any type of staying power.

And maybe that’s because they leverage their users’ creativity.

Discord is Fueling the Rise of CaaS: Community as a Subscription

Membership communities are becoming increasingly popular. These often require a subscription fee for the enhanced experience, but many platforms are providing this option for the extra revenue as there’s a significant opportunity for monetization.

Discord’s add-on Nitro, for example, allows users to have an improved experience with additional features and capabilities for $9.99/month. This social platform is one of the first to offer a subscription model, aside from YouTube RED/Premium. Twitter is rolling out Twitter Blue, and there are rumors of an Instagram subscription in the works, too, as well as live audio rooms on Facebook.

As the CaaS subscription model gains in popularity, more networks are bound to try to tap into this model, which will make subscriptions for enhanced features more widespread. Eventually, though, the market may also become saturated as each platform looks to engage people in similar ways. This will likely lead people to gravitate to one platform at a time or not use some platforms at all.

Responsive Community Development Fuels the Platform

While some platforms delete social media bots, people started making bots for Discord organically. At first, Discord allowed it, then they embraced it and started building features specifically for bots. They’re developing the platform in coordination with their users, embracing new use cases and enabling them with dedicated features. Discord is looking for new ways for bots and applications to interact with the platform.

It’s hard not to compare Discord’s approach to Instagram’s 2017 bot reconning when Instagram shut down companies and integrations that leveraged automated activity for “undesired” uses. On some social media platforms, bots don’t help promote the platform but instead do things like gather information like user passwords or promote posts that otherwise wouldn’t be at the top of someone’s feed. Since some bots are bad actors, all are generally banned from a platform.

But being able to make choices is very powerful, and when users have a choice between a platform that listens to their desires and responds encouragingly OR one that ignores those requests and squashes attempts to innovate, there’s no doubt which they’ll choose.

This will put pressure on other platforms to listen and adapt or be left behind. The platforms that grow will be the ones that give users the experience and functionality that they want while providing them with a mechanism to interact with users in specific communities, whether human or bot.

Accelerating demand for low-latency community experiences

All of this moves us further into a world of social media that is real-time and increasingly interactive.

Users who are part of a community want to be able to access the community without any interruptions, latency, or spotty connections. Discord is selling low latency as a feature, promoting the speed and reliability of the connection. As more platforms with their own unique features enter into this space, users will better understand the importance of a quality infrastructure supporting real-time applications and will demand better networks.

See how Subspace can help you optimize and accelerate your real-time communication.


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