While working on a web-based business management tool, we're looking into adding forums.

Let's say a user has notifications turned on, for every time someone posts in a topic you've created or responded to. They get an email the very moment someone responds. (let's put aside for a moment the spamminess of this practice)

In that email, do you put:

  • The topic title, linking to the topic & post
  • The topic title, a teaser of the text inside the post, the link
  • The topic title, full text of the post, the link

Or, of course, anything I'm missing here.

The reason I'm asking is because I think it's important to get users to actually go to the site, because they might click around a bit and see other (new) topics, and be more likely to engage. Apart from that, there's some other functionality on the site (like personal messages, action lists etc) that will make the user stick around a bit longer once they're there.

For bonus points:

How would you approach the engagement question in general? Is the above way too forced? Should I just build everything with a usability-first mindset? At some point, does usability get trumped by the fact that you won't get content if people don't visit your site?

4 Answers 4


If it is site visits you are after, you can do that without annoying your users by making them click to see the entire message. (Assuming you take them directly to the message and not to their "inbox" where they would have to click again to read the message).

I would include the entire message, and to get people to visit my site, I would provide extra information that would pique their curiosity. You could for example include a list of new discussions, draw attention to an interesting (not necessarily new) blog post or article, advice them of upcoming events, etc.

In general: use the notification to provide information that would make it worth their while to visit your site, instead of coercing them to visit your site by withholding the content of what you are notifying them about.

  • This feels like the correct answer. It does both of what we should be doing. It'll take some changes in how we generate emails and might be another v1.1 type thing, but this is what we should work towards. Thank you.
    – Dirk v B
    Aug 12, 2013 at 22:48

I guess this would be guided by how badly you want people to visit your site.

For instance:

  1. If you care less about people visiting the site and are thinking purely in terms of the MOST content possible for new visitors/the community, perhaps think about sending the whole message, with the ability to reply via email (Basecamp does this quite well)

  2. Sends the first reply, with a snippet and a link. We opted for this on a Doctors only forum/social network we set up after we got a lot of complaints (and unsubscribes) from option 2 if a thread went off. Seemed to work for us and was a good balance between letting them know the discussion has moved on, and not spamming them.

  • Candidly; we're building for a dentist network ;) Cheers for the response. Hoping someone can throw some stats at these options, show which will be "better".
    – Dirk v B
    Aug 12, 2013 at 3:41

In some conditions getting the full message on email brings bad UX:

  • several new messages in email box are displayed in reverse chronological order (newest are first), so it could be hard to read thread dialog with email.
  • how do you manage the attachements, images, etc in email?
  • how does anti-spam software affect the messages?
  • how does user could reply to a message or cite it?

So the reasonable compromise between users goals and business goals (push users to visit site) could be option 2 (The topic title, a teaser of the text inside the post, the link). This allows user to have more control: he has enough information from teaser to make decision whether to visit site now or later.

The topic title, linking to the topic & post could be dissapointing for a user because he couldn't evaluate the importance of the message.

  • Thank you. All valid points to take into account while building this functionality. Spam software didn't even cross my mind.
    – Dirk v B
    Aug 12, 2013 at 4:43

You are building a professional community for people with busy lives and only moments of free time between patients. They'll only casually peek at their email, if at all, in short breaks, and maybe drop a line in reply. I think you have to acknowledge that and plan accordingly; my wish list would go like this:

  1. Full text emails (This shouldn't be a problem.)
  2. Thread title prominently in the subject (same)
  3. Post replies to the notification emails back into the forum. (This isn't a common feature.)
  4. Maybe a daily post-workhours digest of other forum activity.

Basically the way Discourse does things, although if possible on a forum solution that's got better support than that. :-) Failing that, a good old mailing list also works! It doesn't have to be a web site. Just prepare yourself for a mixture of awful quoting practices and resulting flamewars. (See whatever is your regional equivalent of the brilliant video "Ca★★one, ca★★one / impara a quotare" :-P)

  • Warning: italian, nsfw lyrics. youtu.be/kCscWlOiXd0
    – badp
    Aug 12, 2013 at 11:06
  • Some good points, some of which we've already looked into. Posting by email would be nice, but definitely a v1.1 feature due to limited resources. Cheers for the response.
    – Dirk v B
    Aug 12, 2013 at 22:47

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