I am trying to change the habits of forum users who are familiar with a really messy tree structure to the more common flat structure.

The forum is to get a relaunch but without shutting the old version down, so there are two completely different approaches to design and usability but they share the same database.

My problem is how to maintain the tree-like view/function but gently push the user into using the new flat structure. No more hundreds of child threads etc.

First ideas were something like number references between postings but this tends to be really confusing.

Any ideas? Or similar cases?

  • Will the new flat model eventually replace the tree version entirely
    – dennislees
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 16:39
  • maybe related: Q65239
    – Crissov
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 20:38

3 Answers 3


One option

Checkout DP Reviews's forums for an example of a threaded structure coexisting with flat. Sometimes threads load flat, sometimes threaded. It's a bit of a mess, but they pull it off.

They accomplish it with a simple "Flat View"/"Threaded view" link at the top of each discussion thread

Threaded View Flat View

You'd think, and I suggest, that the forum would default to each users chosen display method (if/when they make a choice). But theirs doesn't.

Another option

  • switch cold turkey to flat style threads
  • and force/default to quoting on reply
  • show that quoted text partially collapsed, with an "expand" interface button

This approach retains some of the contextual attributes of the tree view through the quotes --fully readable by those who want to-- but keeps readability somewhat reasonable by hiding most of that text by default. Later, the forced quote on reply can be relaxed to a traditional quote button once the user population is more accustomed to the flat style.

It also (hopefully) showcases the often important practice of quoting previous replies for users who are used to having that strict tree structure imposed on them, where context is explicit and (no quotes needed).


You can show the entire forum in the flat structure. In addition give them a button on the side saying view conversation tree. This button can produce a pop up with the tree structure (old format) showing just the immediate predecessor and successors in the hierarchy.

Ensuring that they have to click the button next to the comment every time to see it in the tree structure makes it a little cumbersome. So initially they would keep clicking the button to relate to the old format but gradually they would learn how the new format works.


How about sticking to the flat/linear structure and then for each entry have a button available to list replies to that thread? I imagine that this button would filter the posts so you only see the selected post and related replies (remember to provide a back button).

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