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Discord is not an "everything app"

The news that Discord plans to introduce ads has prompted discussion on my social feeds about how the app is following the same trajectory as Skype. Another once-beloved instant messenger has become bloated and increasingly user-unfriendly. The "enshittification" of Discord is underway, and as the state of the app gets worse, I can't help but wonder what will happen to the information stored within if/when users leave for the next best thing.

Discord has become so ingrained in online gaming communities in particular that it is now treated as more than a chat app. For the past few years, it has increasingly been used to share fan wikis, mod documentation, and other information that really ought to be someplace visible and accessible to the broader web. I've frequently experienced this problem with FFXIV modding (shh, don't tell Square) where so many creators will require you to join their Discord server just to download a t-shirt or Reshade preset. Others will share crucial information about whether their plugin is working after a game update solely in their Discord servers, instead of posting that information somewhere public like social media or a website. I feel that this is a huge problem for a multitude of reasons.

To be clear, I don't think all creative uses of Discord are horrible. I have a private server where I am the only member which I use to send messages to myself, because it's a little faster than the classic method of emailing yourself. I use it to quickly jot down the name of a song to look up on YouTube later, or to transfer a meme from my phone to my desktop. Little things that are — and this part's crucial — not important.

I don't think that anything important should be stored in Discord. It was never built to be anything but a chat app, and once you start using it beyond that, you run the risk of encountering major problems down the line. For instance, many people once used Discord as an image hosting solution, because for a while, image URLs were static. This is no longer the case. Discord caught wind that people were using their app for free online image storage, which the platform was never intended for, and implemented changes to fix the issue. In the wake of this update, I've seen users scrambling to tell each other about their favourite Imgur alternatives — services that should have been used for hosting images in the first place.

Using Discord to host fan wikis, mod info, and so forth comes with a whole slew of issues. First of all, this information is not truly public, even if the server ostensibly is. You cannot use a web search engine to find an answer to your question in a Discord server. You have to create or sign in to a Discord account and then join the server, and you can only search for that information within the Discord app. This might not seem like a big deal to somebody who's always on Discord, but it's a huge inconvenience for anyone who doesn't regularly use it. And it's not just that finding the info is hard — so is referring back to it. As you join more servers, they begin to crowd up your sidebar, and then you put them in folders, and then the folders get crowded, and soon it's impossible to find anything anymore. (Compare that to the simplicity of bookmarking a web page!) Moreover, what if a user gets banned from the server? Now they can no longer access any of that information or any files. It might be easy to say, "Well, they probably deserved it," but what of power-tripping mods?

Actually, a rogue mod caused a major loss of information in the FFXIV modding community some time ago. There was a "WCIF" (Where Can I Find) server dedicated to users helping each other find specific outfits, hairstyles, etc. that they had seen in other people's screenshots. While I don't know the particulars of why it happened, I do know that one of the mods flipped their lid and deleted the entire server. All those answers to countless questions, gone overnight — because Discord servers aren't backed up to any of their members' machines. You don't have a local copy of those chatrooms on your computer. They exist on Discord's servers and can be wiped out by anyone who has the requisite permissions at any time. This is my biggest gripe with Discord out of all of them. Any platform that doesn't allow you to easily export all your data in a widely-used file format (such as Markdown or CSV) is NOT suitable to store information of any importance whatsoever. Your data should never be "married" to one service or backed up in a proprietary file format.

It feels especially ironic that Discord servers are being treated as the new "easy" way to share files and info when creating an actual, public web page, viewable by the masses regardless of whether they're signed into a service, is easier than ever. For those who aren't intimidated by code, there are free web hosting solutions such as Github Pages, Neocities, and Netlify. I feel that these are the best solutions because custom HTML pages can be made extremely lightweight and SEO-friendly.

But even if you don't know HTML, there are so many services that make sharing a document (or many) dead simple, with WYSIWYG-style editors. Notion is popular and well-suited for creating wikis — that's one of the intended uses of the app. You can publish any of your notes as a web page that can be accessed and bookmarked in a normal browser by anyone with the URL, no accounts required. Many modern notes apps have this same functionality; my app of choice, UpNote, also lets you publish to the web and could easily be used to share mod documentation or something similar. Hell, you can do this with a Google Doc. Even my older coworkers know how to share a Google Doc!1

Unless Discord gets its shit together, I don't doubt that there will someday be a newer, better chat app that supersedes it, just like Discord once superseded Skype. And when that happens, users will jump ship. What's going to happen to all that information within? Will users have to keep that old Discord app on their phone just to look up information about their favourite game? Or will those servers be abandoned entirely, and new users seeking to download a mod won't be able to because no one is there to approve their membership? Even in the best case scenario, you're going to have to painstakingly copy-paste all the information you had once saved in your Discord servers...because, I must emphasize this again, there is no easy, built-in way to export it! Even if a third-party service exists that performs this function, I wouldn't trust it to last forever. These services shut down all the time — sometimes forcibly, as was the case with certain music bots.2

There are ways you can get creative with your apps that can be useful. But in general, I think that services should be used for the thing they're meant for, because oftentimes the developers will remove unintended functionality down the line. It happened with Discord image hosting, and we have no idea what might happen to other functions. Many people use it to host their mod downloads in place of a service like MEGA or Google Drive, but what if Discord starts to crack down on file sharing too?

If you want to share information with the public, please don't do so through a Discord server. I urge you to make a website. Make a Notion wiki. Slap it onto Rentry, even. Do whatever you can to make it accessible from a browser. Let me bookmark it. Let anyone read it from any internet café. Let it exist somewhere that could be archived by the Wayback Machine and read in 30 years.

And always have backups. And backups of your backups. Let's see a mod who's too big for their britches try to delete those.

  1. But whatever you do, don't make a wiki using Fandom. It's a horrible, ad-bloated service and possibly the only option *worse* than making a Discord server.↩︎
  2. These are third-party services that you can add to your Discord server to play music from YouTube in a voice chat. YouTube caught wind and sent cease and desist letters to some of the more popular ones for copyright reasons.↩︎

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