Threaded Vs Flat Discussions? What do users prefer?

4 Sep 2012 - 3:32pm
4 years ago
5 replies
4524 reads

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In our company we are building a Facebook-like social application for enterprises to collaborate and work efficiently. In this application, users can start a discussion or contribute an Idea/Issue or a file with their peers.

We are trying to find out if users prefer a Flat or threaded discussion?

Wikipedia definition of Flat Vs Threaded discussion:

1.       A flat forum is one where each message is added onto the end of the discussion, with no set relation to any prior messages (other than being on the same discussion topic — except in case of Off-Topic posting). But, there is normally a feature to 'quote' another user's post, to allow referencing back to other posts.


2.       A threaded forum is one where users can specify their message is a reply to an existing message. Threaded forums can display relationships between message topics and associated replies, such as by indenting replies and placing them below the post they reference. Threaded forums are most commonly used for discussions where individual messages tend to be short,



Examples of flat and threaded forums are attached below.

Which one do you use for your network and why?

Flat-Disc.jpg131.46 KB
threaded-dics.jpg170.1 KB


4 Sep 2012 - 4:48pm
Michael Trythall

We use threaded discussions on simply because threads, especially those related to brainstorming, can run very long. People go off on tangents, they need to discuss the details of specific replies, etc. They're just more flexible for longer, deeper conversations. It quickly becomes frustrating having to @ reply someone when you're in a lengthy discussion. Threads encourage longer discussions, flat discussions don't (IMO).

No data, just experience and lots usage :)

4 Sep 2012 - 7:54pm

Threaded discussions tend to be my preference simply for their organizational schemes.  The visual hierarchies they present makes it easier for users to follow and understand the flow of discussion.  Flat discussions are less revealing with regard to who is responding/talking to whom, which can cause confusion (e.g., responding to a message that appears 4 messages ahead of yours could easily look like you're responding the the message immediately above yours, since no hierarchy is used). The indentations signify relationships between messages and their subsequent responses, and that seems more user-friendly.

5 Sep 2012 - 7:26am

I would prefer threaded discussion. Simply because the conversation is like you were brainstorming with other member. Moreover, conversation didn't feel like boring.

5 Sep 2012 - 9:39am

I generally find that the problem with threaded discussions is that when the thread gets too deep, most interaces start to fail and are no longer really usable. In some case it's as simple as the column width getting too narrow, but there can be other flaws.

I generally prefer flat but I do think there are threaded models that can work. Some sites treat the original comment as the start of the three and all replies (even replies to replies to replies) as a second level. This more or less works, and can help to collapse the discussion effectively in a way that a "flat" discusssion doesn't.

5 Sep 2012 - 10:10am

We generally use flat unless there is some critical reason why threaded will be useful. Otherwise, flat is easier to read and follow, especially on mobile.

Deep threads give you that feeling of crawling down a hole and then back out again. For most commenting, flat works just fine and the comments are generally in response to the OP.

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