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Help: Working with Discord

From The Shoulders of Giants
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About Discord

What is Discord?

Discord is a text, voice, and video communication platform similar to Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, etc. Although Discord was originally developed with online gaming communities in mind, it has since seen adoption in a wide range of other markets, including education and business. Communication within Discord is organized by "server" (e.g. the TSoG Discord server, which we often abbreviate to "the TSoG Discord" when talking about it), each of which can have anywhere from a handful to thousands of members (individual Discord accounts). Communication within a Discord server is further organized into categories and channels (both text and voice).

Discord servers can be either open (anyone can join) or private (membership is by invitation only). Membership in the TSoG Discord server effectively a hybrid private server managed by a combination of an automated Python application (referred to at the "TSoG Bot") and human administrators. To ensure the safety of all of our members, membership is restricted to users who have completed the official application on this site and have agreed to TSoG's Terms of Service.

Why Discord?

As mentioned above, there are a number of alternative communication platforms available, which leads some people to ask us: "Why Discord?" The short answer is that Discord, as a communication platform, suits our needs very nicely. A more detailed list of reasons we chose it over other alternatives is as follows:

  1. It is free for any number of users. We do "boost" our server (which unlocks a few extra features and better performance), but this is a flat monthly cost that does not scale with server size. Many other platforms charge on a per-user basis, which does not scale well for us.
  2. It has generally good performance and is under very active development. New features that benefit us are added frequently and appear to keep up with advances in technology.
  3. It has a very robust "roles" and "permissions" framework. Each channel on our server has a distinct set of permissions that controls who can view and send messages within it (text channels) or who can listen to and participate in calls (voice channels). This is easily managed by assigning users to specific roles which these permissions refer to. This is much more manageable for us and the way we structure communication within the organization than platforms that handle channel permissions on a user-by-user basis.
  4. It is API (application programming interface) driven. Much of our Discord administration is automated. This would not be possible without a way for our software to interface with Discord and its features. The Discord API is thorough and well-documented, allowing our automated "Bot" account to perform all of the actions that a human user would.
  5. Many of our students are already familiar with the platform. Since Discord was built for gaming, it is very widely adopted among a younger demographic as compared to more "business oriented" communication platforms like Slack.

How to Join the TSoG Discord Server

Becoming a Member

Once you have created your account and confirmed your email address, you should a notification appear at the top of all pages similar to the one shown below:

Discord Notification.png


The Discord authorization screen seen when joining the TSoG Discord server.

Click on the link in the notification and you will be taken to an authorization page via discord.com. This authorization process is what will allow the TSoG Bot to add your Discord account as a member of the TSoG Discord server. If you already have a Discord account, you will log in to it here using your email and password. If you do not have a Discord account, you can click the "Register" link below the Login button to create one.

Once you have logged in or created your new account, you will be prompted to allow The Shoulders of Giants to access your account. The Discord authorization interface will let you know that you are allowing The Shoulders of Giants to:

Access your username and avatar

Join servers for you

The comedy option (e.g. "Buy you a nice seafood dinner")


Click "Authorize" and you will be redirected back to your TSoG Dashboard. A message should be displayed that tells you that you were successfully added to the TSoG Discord server.

Technical Note

This authorization process is part of an industry-standard framework known as OAuth 2.0. Many online services use this workflow to allow third-party software temporary or permanent access to some or all of your account's features. In this case, we are requesting very limited access to your Discord account - only the bare-minimum features we need to identify you and add you to the TSoG Discord server. Once you have been added to our server, these credentials are destroyed for your safety and security, meaning we no longer have any form of access to your Discord account. If you ever leave the TSoG Discord server, you will have to go through the authorization process again to rejoin.


Installing the App

While you can access Discord via a web browser, it is highly recommended that you install the Discord app on whatever device(s) you use most. This will not only make it easier for you to check back for updates more often, but will also allow you to receive notifications and do things like connect to voice channels more easily if you enable a few features that aren't available in the browser version.

On Windows:

Go to https://www.discord.com and click the "Download for Windows" button to download the installation (.exe) file. Once the file has downloaded, click on the file to launch the installer. You will be prompted to login to your Discord account once the installation has completed.

On macOS:

Go to https://www.discord.com and click the "Download for macOS" button to download the installation (.dmg) file. Once the file has downloaded, double click on the file to launch the installer. You will be prompted to login to your Discord account once the installation has completed.

On Mobile:

Open the App Store (iOS) or Play Store (Android) and search for "Discord". Tap the download / install button to install the app. Once installation has completed, open the Discord app and log in to your Discord account.

Becoming Part of the Community

An example of the Discord lefthand sidebar (desktop) / hamburger menu (mobile) that new community members should see.

Once you have been added to the TSoG Discord server as a member, it will show up on your list of servers, which appears on the left hand sidebar of the Discord app on desktop, or on the hamburger menu () on mobile. Click on the TSoG logo, and you should see a short list of channels that includes #new-members-chat. Click on this channel and you should see a message from the TSoG Bot welcoming you to the server and instructing you on what to do next - namely, to say "hello" to the community. Leave a message in #new-members-chat to a) introduce yourself to the community, and b) trigger the next stage of your Discord enrollment process: receiving a Discord role that will allow you to see more channels in the TSoG Discord. This is handled automatically by the TSoG Bot - you should see your channel list populate within a few seconds of sending your first message.

Discord Communication Basics

While some of our users have been using Discord or other similar platforms for most of their lives, this kind of online communication is new to many of us. This section is here to help those users learn the most essential of Discord basics. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask (in Discord, of course!).

Text Channels

Sending Text Messages

To send a text message, select a channel, then type your message into the text input at the bottom of the channel's display. Press enter (desktop) or tap the send (Discord Send.png) button (mobile). If you want to enter a multi-line message on desktop, hold shift while pressing the enter key to start a new line.

@ Mentioning Other Members

Mentioning is a great way to get peoples' attention, since it sends a notification to that user even if they have not enabled notifications for that specific channel (unless they have deliberately muted that channel entirely). To mention another community member directly, simply type the "@" symbol followed by the first few letters in their name. As you continue to type, Discord will update a menu listing all of the members whose names start with those letters. Once you see the member you want to mention, click / tap on their name to have Discord autocomplete the rest of their name for you.

It is also possible to @ mention certain Discord roles, which sends notifications to all members of that role. Please only do this if you have a very good reason to (e.g. you want to send an update to one of your project teams, so you @ mention your team role).

Sending Links

You can send a link by simply typing or pasting it into a text message. In order for that link to be clickable by other users, it must start with either "http://" or "https://", e.g. "Here is our website: https://www.tsogiants.org" would contain a clickable link, but "Here is our website: www.tsogiants.org" would not be on Discord.

Embedding Images

You can copy and paste images from your clipboard (desktop), add images from your device's storage (desktop and mobile), or add photos directly from your camera (mobile) to any Discord text message. Click the plus (After you have selected the file, you have the option to add a comment. The thumbnail of your image will be embedded in your text message with a link allowing users to open a full-size version of the image by clicking / tapping on it.

Attaching Files

You can attach files on desktop just like you embed images. Click the button next to the text input and select the file from your computer to attach it. A link to download the file will be included in your message.

Adding Reactions

Adding reactions to messages on Discord is a fun way to let other community members know you enjoyed their comment even if you don't have anything to say yourself. Hover over a message (desktop) or tap and hold on a message (mobile) and click / tap the Add Reaction (Discord Add Reaction.png) icon to open the emojis menu. Once you select an emoji, it will be added to the original message with a number showing how many times that message received that emoji as a reaction. If you see a reaction on a message you agree with, click / tap on it to add your own reaction to it and increase its count. It might seem silly if you aren't familiar with the communication style, but adding a niceĀ :+1: reaction (Discord Thumbs Up.png) to a message is a nice way to say a simple "thank you" to another community member without cluttering up the channel.

Voice / Video Channels

Your A/V Setup

Since voice and video communication is a major part of how we collaborate on projects, it would be a good idea to take the time to configure your primary device for quality audio input and output. While many members prefer accessing Discord primarily on their mobile devices for convenience, it is not always the most convenient platform for voice / video calls, since you will not be able to share your screen. We recommend that your primary "meeting" set up be on a laptop or desktop computer if possible.

We recommend always wearing headphones or earbuds on all calls to avoid feedback from your speakers. You can use a built-in microphone on your laptop, microphone attached to your headphone or earbuds, or a microphone on your webcam if you have one as an input. Although a standalone microphone is best for high-quality audio, it is not necessary for having effective calls.

A webcam is nice to have to be able to allow other members to see you when you are participating in meetings. The front-facing camera on most laptops works reasonably well, although the camera angle does not always make it easy to share video and see your screen at the same time while sitting at a comfortable distance. We are happy to provide recommendations at your request.

Software Voice and Video Settings

Click on the gear (Discord Gear.png) icon in the bottom left hand corner of the Discord window (desktop) or open the hamburger () menu and tap your avatar to open user settings. Once your settings are open, select the "Voice & Video" menu option. Select the input (microphone) and output (headphones) devices you want to use and click the "Let's Check" button (desktop) or "Test my Microphone" button (mobile) to do a mic check (say a few words and you'll hear them echoed back to you. If you can hear yourself, adjust your volume settings appropriately. If not, try selecting different input / output devices until you find the settings that work for you.

On desktop, we recommend that you set your input mode to "Voice Activity". This will allow other participants in a call to hear you whenever you speak (as long as you are un-muted) rather than your having to press a key every time you want to speak ("Push to Talk").

If you have a webcam (desktop), please select it on the Voice & Video menu as well before closing your User Settings menu.

Joining Calls

Click on a voice channel (desktop) or tap on a voice channel, then tap the "Connect to Voice" button (mobile) to connect to an audio call. At the bottom of the screen (bottom left on desktop), you will find buttons to share your video (desktop and mobile) and share your screen (desktop only). Under these (desktop) or beside these (mobile), you will find buttons to mute your microphone ( "Mute") or mute your speakers ( "Deafen"). We recommend that you mute yourself when you aren't going to be speaking for a while so that any background noise doesn't interfere with the call.

Disconnecting from Calls

To disconnect from a call, simply click / tap the "Disconnect" (Discord Disconnect.png) icon. If you are inactive in a call for too long without disconnecting, Discord will automatically move you to the special "afk" (away from keyboard) channel.

Configuring Notifications

By default, only the bare minimum notifications (@mentions only) are enabled for TSoG Discord channels. This section will focus on helping you make the most of your TSoG Discord experience by enabling all notifications for channels that interest you.

Server Global Notification Settings

To change your notification settings for the entire TSoG Discord server (not recommended), click the server name ("The Shoulders of Giants") in the top left corner of the screen (desktop) or tap the server name at the top of the hamburger () menu (mobile). Select "Notification Settings" from the menu that pops up to configure your server-wide notification settings.

By default, the TSoG Discord server is set to "Only @mentions" (you will only receive notifications if you or a role you have applied to you are directly mentioned by another user). Setting this to "All Messages" is generally very overwhelming, as you will receive notifications for all messages on the server (there are a lot, and they happen at all hours of the day).

We recommend enabling mobile push notifications if you have Discord installed on a mobile device.

We highly recommend *not* muting the server or suppressing any role mentions. We use role mentions very sparingly and for important business like organization announcements - suppressing these makes it very likely you will miss messages and end up out of the loop.

Channel Notification Settings

It is also possible to override global notification settings on a per-channel basis. To do this, right click (control click on macOS) a channel name (desktop) or tap and hold a channel name (mobile), then select "Notification Settings" from the menu that pops up.

Just like your global notification settings, you can select "All Messages", "Only @mentions", and "Nothing" (mute channel) as override values for each specific channel. Here are our recommendations:

  • Set #announcements and #new-members-chat to "All Messages".
  • If you are involved in any projects, make sure you set those project channels to "All Messages".
  • If you are looking for new projects, you should set #project-ideas and #upcoming-projects to "All Messages".
  • Browse through the server channels (detailed below) and pick a few channels that interest you to set to "All Messages" as well.

Other Notification Settings

Although these are the only notification options available within Discord itself, you may want to configure additional settings for push notification on your mobile device as well for convenience. TSoG is a global community, with activity happening 24 hours a day. This could potentially result in notifications going off in the middle of the night, which can be very frustrating.

Most mobile device operating systems have a "do not disturb" or equivalent setting that can be set to a timer. We recommend setting this up to turn on automatically during hours you are usually asleep so that our active community does not disrupt your sleep schedule.

TSoG Discord Channels

Since Discord is our primary method of communication, understanding how our server is organized will greatly impact your productivity and engagement with other members throughout the organization.

Channels of Interest

There are many channels within the TSoG Discord server, some of which may be more relevant to some users than others. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some of the channels you might want to pay attention to:

An example of the populated list of TSoG Discord channels you should be able to see once you send a message in #new-members-chat.

#announcements

A text channel used by TSoG leadership to announce news and upcoming events. General users can read and react to messages in this channel, but cannot post here.

#new-members-chat

A text channel to welcome new members. We greatly appreciate when existing members of our community chime in and make our new members feel at home.

#general

A text channel used for topics of general interest to the TSoG community. Science and engineering news articles, interesting STEM-related videos, and links to open competitions would all be good examples of content you are welcome to post here.

#patron-chat

Our most in-depth text channel for news and organizational discussion. This is usually where our most important updates are announced first. This channel is only available to our monthly donors.

#copernicus

A text channel used for general discussion related to our Core Courses.

#personal-projects

A great place to discuss projects you are completing outside of TSoG - whether they are for work, for school, or purely for fun, all project-related discussion is welcome here.

#collaboration-requests

Looking for someone to work with on a project? Let the community know in this text channel.

#homework-help

Stumped on a homework problem? Discuss it with the community here. Open to students of any age / academic level (including university / graduate school).

#outreach

A text channel dedicated to discussions related to K-12 educational outreach. A great channel for potential volunteers to let us know your interests!

General Calls

A voice / video channel that can be used by community members interested in discussing personal projects, outreach, or just about anything else STEM-related.

#project-ideas

If you have a project proposal for TSoG to tackle, post it in this text channel.

#upcoming-projects

A text channel for discussing official TSoG projects that are scheduled but not yet active.

Project Calls

A voice / video channel used for calls related to upcoming and proposed TSoG projects.

#tsogtv-chat

Used to communicate with hosts and other community members during TSoG.tv live streams. Any communication that happens outside TSoGtv Discord channels (especially YouTube chat) will most likely be ignored during live streams.

TSoGtv Calls

A voice / video channel used for calls with TSoG.tv hosts.

#random (or whatever its name is at the time)

A text channel used for any and all off-topic discussion (keep it clean, please). This channel sits at the top of our "OFF-TOPIC" category in Discord and is known for having its name changed frequently to match the current topic of discussion.

#tsog-gaming

A text channel used for discussing everything from tabletop RPGs, board games, and video games. If any of these things interest you, let us know in this channel! We host game nights from time to time...

Other Channels

You may notice additional channels coming and going, particularly within the Project Channels category. These channels are related to TSoG Sponsored Projects, which may request up to 4 dedicated text channels and 1 dedicated voice / video channel.

There are other channels that are only available to members with certain roles - for example, #content-creators-chat (only available to Content Creators, i.e. people who have expressed interest in creating / editing course content), #project-leaders-chat (only available to technical mentors of sponsored TSoG projects), and #how-to-requests (only available to patrons at the $15/mo and up levels - used to request custom How To... videos). If you do not have access to these channels, they will not show up in your TSoG Discord channel directory.