Discord's newish Stage Channels are a nice addition to the chat software. Normal Discord voice channels are usually free-for-alls in which anyone can speak, whereas in Stage Channels, mods can more easily designate speakers and call on audience members for panels and Q&As. They're similar to Twitter Spaces—Silicon Valley types love moderated voice rooms right now—and they're sticking around and getting new features, such as event scheduling. A related Discord feature that is not sticking around, however, is Stage Discovery, which publicly showcases active Stage Channels from around Discord's enormous network.
Discord only kind of explains why Stage Discovery is being axed on October 4.
"In listening to our communities and admins directly, we've learned that we still have work to do in regards to server onboarding and moderation," the company said in a blog post today. "...We're going to take some time to rethink the Discovery aspect of Stages and how we can better build a place that best connects people to the communities most relevant to them."
The "relevant to them" bit there is key, and taking a look at Stage Discovery makes things much clearer. Here are some of the Stage Channels it's currently showing me:
- DEBATE: God does not exist
- Is there more than two genders?
- SPEED DATING (anyone can participate) (PG-13)
- Confess Your Secrets 😳
Based on that sampling, it seems pretty obvious why Discord has reconsidered surfacing what goes on in other people's servers.
"Thank God, was a useless addition," said Reddit user ElP4drino in response to the news that Stage Discovery is being dropped. "Just filled with every talent show known to man, and a bunch of questionable debate topics."
That's been my experience, too, but not everyone is happy to see the feature go. Chris, a member of the Animal Rights Advocate Discord server who goes by Helleth on the platform, tells PC Gamer that Stage Discovery has been a "boon for reaching out and speaking to people across the world about the issue of animal exploitation and the harm of factory farming."
The server runs Stage Channels with provocative titles such as "paying for meat is paying for animal abuse," and while the tactic attracts conflict, Chris says that it has "grown the community significantly."
"I know for those in our community it will be sad to see this feature go," Chris said. "With Covid still in full swing in large parts of the world, this feature truly gave us an outlet for activism."
I haven't personally seen anything that might be called activism on Stage Discovery, and it's not surprising that what I have seen, whether distasteful or not, hasn't been of interest to me. If you take whatever teenagers and young adults happen to be talking about in the wilds of 1,000 to 30,000-person servers and show it to a Rocket League player in his mid-30s who uses Discord to talk to friends about how the weather is where they live, you're unlikely to find a good match—and you might create trouble.
When I talked to Discord about privacy in 2019, it said that, for the most part, it doesn't proactively monitor what people are doing in servers. If you and your friends like to have vulgar discussions that would go too far for others, Discord agents aren't going to burst through the door with mod badges unless someone in your server invites them by filing a report, and even then nothing may happen. If it stays within your server's walls, it's yours to moderate with few exceptions. But with Stage Discovery, communities can project their messages to the public. It's a useful tool for friendly vegan provocateurs, but in the worst cases, the things Stage Discovery surfaces may hurt, disgust, or anger the people who come across them. Discord has faced past criticism over what goes on in private servers; it may be inclined to err on the side of caution here.
Still, curious about what I'd been missing by not using this soon-to-be dead Discord feature, I entered Memepalooza2, which seemed like the Stage Channel in which I was least likely to overhear something I'd regret overhearing. The discussion was a bit hard to follow, but it was clearly about getting rich with NFTs. I should've known that's what it would be.
Putting aside the cryptolords and the obvious technological improvements, Discord continues to remind me of my teenage experiences in unmoderated, frequently trolled Yahoo! chat rooms in the late '90s and early aughts. The only other big difference between then and now is that people don't use "^_^" much anymore.
In today's Discord blog post, you can read a little more about the decision to get rid of Stage Discovery. The company also briefly mentions some new Discord features on the way, including "more screening functionality so you can get the right members into your community easily and securely."
This article was updated after publishing to add another perspective on Stage Discovery.