Using Discord — Without Being Overwhelmed

There have been a number of posts recently expressing how difficult it can be to manage or otherwise integrate Discord into common usage without becoming overwhelmed by it all.

With no real barriers in creating a Discord server, it is easy to see how you might quickly find yourself awash in invites, too many servers and channels to ever possibly keep up with. Discord itself then becoming an overwhelming, gargantuan presence, easier by far to just not engage with at all.

But even with that risk — Discord is the one social platform I’ve continued to engage with day-in day-out for years. Even though I have been through those same sorts of feelings.

So inspired by those posts; today I’ll talk a little about my history with it and why that is — and perhaps more usefully further below, how.

My History with Discord

The Good

By and large I have a positive association with Discord. It almost single-handedly brought my longest standing guild back from the brink of extinction. The Kingdom of Eleador was formed for the purpose of playing Shadowbane together while that game was still very early into its development. Then — and more times between major game releases over the years — we spent a lot of time as a forum guild. We played a lot together too — don’t get me wrong, everything from Asheron’s Call to EVE — but a lot of our culture and longstanding identity were formed in those forums and the relationships built there.

But fast-forward from waiting for Shadowbane through to the end of 2015 (and, honestly, some years before), our existence was in pretty dire straights. Posts were intermittent, sometimes months apart. Outside of the forum, connections between people were piecemeal. Even Steam wasn’t a universal connector being that we had a largely MMO-focused group of players.

In a push to revitalise the guild again and bring us back together in the interminable wait for Crowfall; we decided to give the then soon-to-be-launched (in the West) Black Desert Online a try. As part of this endeavour, I went on a hunt. Originally just for another voice comms tool. It wasn’t yet in my mind to ‘replace’ the forums, that happened more organically. There is simply no way I could have known at the time how successful Discord would be for us. I remember imagining quite a struggle on my hands to cajole enough people to even try it to gain the critical mass necessary to sustain it.

Instead, we had a rush. It was the culmination of everything, apparently, we had been desiring. The real time messaging of IRC, with the persistent messaging and topic separation via channels of the forums and a free, pretty high quality, voice solution to boot. Add to that a widget we could add into the old forums announcing to any late comers where we were and who was around and it led to a continued grouping of our people — past and present — as those who might only check back in on the forums once a year or so found us and joined in too.

Finding out how much I enjoyed Discord from this experience, I created a group for my real life friends too. We had simply been using Skype group chats until that point.

Discord has been a part of my social gaming life ever since.

The Bad

As noted in the introduction — there is no barrier in creating your own server. This is an incredible strength of the platform, and I have no doubt one of the largest factors in its meteoric rise in popularity. But the downside is that everything and everyone imaginable, can, on a whim, create a new server and invite you to it.

It might be for a game. A guild. A hobby community. A group of friends. A slightly different grouping or sub-set of friends.

Heck it only takes one of those being super active with a high number of channels to become too much to keep up with, but add them all together?

It’s just too much. I felt many of the same sentiments the others have expressed for a time. To quote Belghast, “There are a few that I have focused on interacting with specifically, but even they overwhelm me as I never can seem to be truly “present” in any of them.”

I was an entrenched user though. Having my guild and friend groups come to life here saw to that.

So the only solution… was to find a solution.

The Solution

I suppose I should preface this by saying I am primarily a desktop app user. I have the mobile app too, but use it only rarely. The web interface, not at all.

However the advice here should apply largely across the board. Only the execution of the technical instructions (for the points this applies) may differ.

The first point however… Is most assuredly not technical in nature.

1) Recognise it’s OK to say ‘No’ to an invite

This isn’t the easiest thing to start doing — but it’s necessary, otherwise you will eventually find yourself right back where you started with too much on your plate and no way of being meaningfully present anywhere anyway.

I’ve had to start saying quite openly, ‘I’m sorry — I have too many servers to keep track of as it is. I can’t take on any more.’

So far this has been received quite well. I think there is a general understanding of the problem of too many servers. Although even if someone does respond negatively — this is still something you need to do to look after yourself.

2) Cast a critical eye over the servers you’re already on

Take a really tough look at each of the servers you’re already on — do you need to be on each and every one? Are there any you’ve neither given nor received any value to or from for a while?

Consider leaving them. Leave as many as you can bear to.

You might need to take an iterative approach to this, slicing just one or two here and there until you get down to a manageable level. I certainly did. It took me a fair while to get down my server numbers, making ever tougher calls along the way.

Some things which helped:

  • You don’t need to be in every server your friends are in.
    Or even necessarily any! Discord has a relatively robust friends setup. You can add those you want to keep contact with, regardless of shared servers, and still chat (either 1:1 or in groups), jump on voice together, or whatever else you might imagine.
  • If you’re struggling, server mute can be a good first step
    I’ll discuss more about muting further down — but in the context of this point; if you mute a server as a first step and confirm for yourself you’re not really interacting with it — it can make it mentally easier for you to remove it a little down the line.

3) Switch Discord from a Push-content experience to a Pull-content experience

Discord wants to be helpful. It wants you to know when and where the conversation is happening. But get into even a single active server and this can quickly become an annoyance.

So if you’d like to stop Discord being so in your face with what’s going on and just let you browse what’s happening at you leisure — there are a few things you can do.

  • Turn off the #$%^ing sound when a message comes in.
    Head into ‘User Settings’ (for PC app experience — it’s the cog icon near the bottom of the screen next your name).
    Head to the ‘Notifications’ option on the left, then scroll down to Sounds.
Turning just this one thing off has an immediate effect on quality of life.
  • (Optional) Turn off Desktop Notifications, Unread Message Badge and Taskbar Flashing.
    Of course — all of this is optional. But I mean to flag that you might want to actually leave these on, from this page. You can turn them off at a more granular level server by server (or even channel by channel). If you turn them off here they’re off everywhere.

    But if you want to go ‘full pull’ (that almost sounds rude) and have Discord never notify you of anything ever, they’re here — and can be turned off.
As you can see — I’ve left mine on. I’d say the most useful of these is the Unread Message Badge, particularly if you have some servers you’re interested in but know that the chat isn’t always active. Still — you can experiment and always come back and turn any combination of these back on again if you end up being frustrated by their absence.

4) Per server (and channel) notifications and mutes

Apply your mutes liberally. Don’t be afraid to. If you mute a server or channel — you’ll still be on it. You’ll still be able to chat interact with it in every way that you could before when you want to. You’ll still be able to read everything that goes on in it. So in short — the ‘mute’ label might be misleading, because certainly it doesn’t act as the more common usage in games might suggest. It isn’t a ‘block’.

So what does muting a server or channel do?

If — like me — you have left any of the ‘main’ notification options turned on, muting will turn them off for the server or channel in question. You’ll receive no desktop notifications. The taskbar won’t flash. The server won’t even get an unread messages badge. It will just sit there… waiting for you to come in and take a look for yourself.

Some potential uses:

  • Silencing channels you’re not interested in on a server you otherwise want to stay engaged with.
  • Silencing servers you’re considering leaving but can’t yet make that call on (as I noted earlier).
  • Silencing servers you don’t want to leave — but only have intermittent use for, e.g., an MMO or game specific discord.

How to do it?

Server Level:

For PC: Right-click on the server you wish to adjust and then go to ‘Notification Settings’. (There is a quick menu option for muting too which you can use later, but the full Notification Settings screen gives you a bit more control.)

For Mobile: Tap the three-bar menu in the top left to open the server list, tap on the server you wish to alter, tap on the three-dots menu in the top-right and then go to the ‘Notifications’ tab in the middle.)

With the Blaugust server, I have pretty liberal settings. Essentially everything will light up a to be read notification.

Starting from the top and working our way down:

The ‘Mute <Server Name>‘ option is your nuclear option. Nothing on the server will alert you in any fashion regardless of what your overall settings or even individual settings are.

If you are preparing to leave a server or just want to put a server to one side for a while — this is your quickest option.

Server Notification Settings give you a little more fine grained control. Setting ‘Nothing’ here is functionally the same as applying the server wide mute above — except that unlike with the Mute option, individual channel settings can override your server setting here.

So if you have a server with a high number of channels and you only want to hear from a few of them — you can set ‘Nothing’ as your server default notification setting and add an override for the channels you want. If the inverse is true — and you only want to mute a couple of channels, leave this on ‘All Messages’.

‘Only @mentions’ is your middle ground. By selecting this, if someone @’s you — you’ll get a notification for that. But general messages that don’t target you will slide by silently.

This is a setting I use for a good number of servers, often in conjunction with the next settings…

If I only want to get notifications when someone is talking to me specifically, I often don’t care to hear about more generalised @everyone, @here or role mentions and so turn suppression of those mentions on.

Channel Level:

As you can see in the screenshot above — you can manage the Notification Override settings from the main server Notification Settings page. Once you have a few setup and want to see what they are, that’s where you go.

But I find it easier by far, when setting up initially at least, to just right-click (or long-press on Mobile) the channel name directly and select ‘Mute Channel’ -> ‘Until I turn it back on again’ if I’m looking to turn it off completely.

If I’ve set the server as a whole to ‘Nothing’ and want to turn a particular channel back on then you right-click (or long-press) the channel name, go to ‘Notification Settings’ and then pick the desired option.

Concluding Thoughts

Discord can be overwhelming, no doubt. I find that true of most social media platforms though — and I think if I hadn’t been ‘locked in’ as it were by the strength of having my guild and friend group on the platform, I may have done what I do with most other such platforms:

Walked away and ignored it.

But there is also a lot of good that isn’t easily replicated by the other options. And as the above hopefully highlights — there are ways to turn down the ‘noise’ as it were and consume just the parts you personally value and in the way you prefer. Turning Discord into a notification-free entirely passive system that you jump in and out of at your whim is entirely possible.

I think I’ve covered off the main things that have helped me keep Discord up as a more or less permanent fixture on my desktop where even Twitter (my next preferred social platform) go largely ignored. But if anything here is unclear, or if you have other advice that has helped you — let me know! :)


Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

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