THE COMMUNICATION PLATFORM Discord has expanded dramatically in the six years since it launched, growing from a humble bit of chat software into a juggernaut of the social internet. It’s for texting, voice calls, or video calls with friends or strangers with common interests. It’s like Zoom but more flexible and fun. It’s Slack, but without that feeling that your boss is continuously checking your online status. Facebook, but without an algorithm that prioritizes the types of posts that turned your aunt into a racist.
You can participate in Discord’s text, voice, or video chats on mobile devices or desktop computers. Your conversations will vary depending on your community, but generally, users tend to be more laid back than on other social media sites. Discord was originally built for gamers, and you’ll still find a lot of communities dedicated to gaming on the platform. But Discord has grown into a space where the conversations reach far outside gaming territory, into music, culture, politics, art, finance, and even dating. And since it’s a multimedia experience, you can use Discord to stream videos, play board games remotely with friends, listen to music together, and generally hang out. The platform is free, though you can pay for some premiums.
It’s also a little complicated. Discord is a sprawling, layered platform with many options and settings to wade through. So let’s start with the basics.
How do I Discord?
You can run Discord on your phone or your computer. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS. On a computer, you can run it in your web browser if you want to keep it simple or download a desktop client to use the more advanced features like game overlays. There are free downloads for Windows, macOS, or Linux.
The first thing you’ll have to do after opening the software chooses a username. It can be anything, even your real name, though most people tend to use pseudonyms. (Discord automatically attaches a random string of digits to the end of every username, so whatever you pick will be unique.) Then, you’ll have to link your username with an email and password later.
Next, it will prompt you to start or join a server. Servers are the main forums on Discord and are likely what you came to the platform for. Think of them as micro-communities with different users, rules, and in-jokes. Some are public, while others are private and require an invitation to join. There are servers for your favorite games, bands or music genres, political ideology, or just hubs for sharing some random memes. Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a Discord server for it.
We’ll learn how to manage your servers in a minute, but you’ll probably have more pressing questions when logging in.
What’s going on here?
For the uninitiated, the Discord interface can look a little chaotic. So here’s the lay of the land.
There are four main sections on the main Discord interface. On the far left side of your screen, you’ll see the servers you’re a part of. Each group has its icon. If you’re on mobile and don’t see your list of servers, tap the hamburger menu in the top left corner.
When you tap the name of a server, the screen will change. You’ll see a list of channels show up in the panel that appears on the right. These are all the chat rooms within the server, and each room is about a specific topic. This structure keeps everything from becoming a conversational free-for-all. Channels are separated into multiple dropdown menus called categories. So, for example, a “Movies” category might contain channels like “marvel-movies” and “Scorsese films.” Select a channel, and the main chat window will open up right in the middle of the Discord interface. You’ll see the conversation in the selected channel playing out in real-time. To switch to a different topic, click on another channel.
To the right of the main chat panel is a list of all the users on that server. In addition, you can see online users’ activity status (e.g., playing a game or listening to Spotify) if you’re on mobile and swipe side-to-side to switch between the panels.
The blue Discord logo at the top left is labeled “Home.” Click this to see your friends list and any DMs you’ve received.
I came here to talk smack. Let’s go
There are two main ways to communicate on Discord: Text and voice.
Text channels have a hashtag (#) symbol in front of them. These are the channels where you go for typing. When the name of a channel is in bold font, that means there are unread messages in the chat.
If you’ve been cryogenically frozen since the early ’90s and have never been on a message board before, note that the most recent messages are at the bottom. Some will have other people’s letters just above them in smaller font.