Topical is an experimental discussion platform that aims to avoid distracting extraneous signals and allow the user to focus on the content.

  • No votes or points. It is tempting to use these features to drive engagement and provide a rough signal of content quality, but they end up being gamed and optimized for. On the balance they may be detrimental to the discourse.
  • No dates. Less emphasis on chronological order, more on slow-moving and long-running discussions. Take your time when posting, come back to it later, there's less pressure to act quickly before the discussion solidifies or moves on. Good content can stay alive or resurface.
  • No names. Anonymous platforms often bring out the worst in people. Having a name (even a pseudonym) and a reputation to protect is an important part of our society for good reason, and knowing who wrote something can provide useful context and continuity. Still, there are downsides. When instinctively checking the author of a post, I often have a sinking feeling that it's not always for the right reasons. That I'm engaging in gossip, keeping track of who's who, following the drama as people gain and lose favor. I do get the sense that, for some types of discussions, it would be nice if the words could stand on their own. I don't want my interpretation to be biased by my preconceived notions of the author. At the same time, I don't wish to create a toxic cesspit. Getting this right is a major challenge. One strategy that could help - notably employed by the SomethingAwful forums - is to charge for posting access.


  • Clean UI. A two-column layout designed for efficient browsing and minimal clutter. Makes use of screen space without cramming things too close together.
  • App-like Design. New posts and comments are authored directly in the page for a smooth and consistent experience.
  • Topics. Somewhere between hashtags and subreddits. Users can subscribe to topics to build a feed. Each post can be tagged with up to three topics, creating a web of connections that exposes users to related topics.
  • Choose your own adventure. Large reply threads are collapsed by default, and long posts are limited to a preview of a few lines. The ordering may be shuffled a bit. This helps mitigate dominance of the discussion by a few posts/replies at the top, and encourages the user to preview multiple threads and choose which to explore further. One of the main ideals is to ask how we can improve interfaces for navigating large discussion trees.

Topical is still under development. Content in the screenshot has been imported from Hacker News for testing purposes only. Technologies used include React, mobX, Webpack, Node.js, Express, and Postgres.

james rowen 2021