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Improving replies: new-look feed and email notifications go live

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FutureLearn’s Social Lead, David Thair, explains the recent changes to how we handle replies to comments, including a redesigned feed and new email notifications.

FutureLearn launched to the public in beta late last year. At this point, basic social components were in place – the ability to leave comments, follow people you find interesting, and see recent conversations for a whole course in the activity feed – but since then we’ve added and refined several features, large and small.

1. Replies are now easier to find in the course navigation

An arrow pointing to the 'Replies' menu item in FutureLearn course navigation

Replies were originally a filter within the activity feed – now they’re a separate item in the navigation.

2. Redesigned replies feed

Most of us are used to seeing recent replies on our social networks and online communities, and so adding a notifications feed of this nature might seem straightforward.

But on FutureLearn it presented a particular challenge: our courses are structured to include comments in the ‘margin’ of almost any step, and a learner may participate in any number of different exchanges within it.

In addition, our principle that learners should be able to participate in the course at their own pace means that replies may be added quite some time after your original comment was left and you’d forgotten all about it.

So knowing specifically which comment a reply was responding to is crucial – there’s no ‘thread title’ to work off, just the step title. At the same time, we wanted to avoid a very busy interface that just replicates every exchange.

Our redesigned replies feed addresses this by using your own last comment or reply as the context, acting as a springboard back to the conversation to catch up, rather than trying to pull all the conversations into the replies feed itself:

An example of the replies feed showing links out to two recent conversations

3. Email notifications

In addition to the new-look replies feed, we’ve introduced another much-requested feature: email notifications. Now, if someone has replied to one of your comments, you’ll receive an email letting you know, which contains a link back to your replies feed for the course. You won’t get more than one of these from each course per day, so you don’t need to worry about having an inbox flooded with notifications if you’re one of our very social learners.

And you can of course turn this off easily from your FutureLearn settings, or by unsubscribing directly via one of the emails.

4. Just… one more thing

Some learners asked if there could be an easier way to find comments and conversations they’d been involved in on particular steps. Well, now there is! Just click on ‘My comments’, to filter the comments on a step and see only the conversations you’ve been involved in. You’ll also soon be able to filter comments and conversations by those that you follow.

As FutureLearn grows we’ll continue to refine and develop the social features. There’s plenty more in the pipeline, but for now if you have any feedback or suggestions, please submit them on our UserVoice forums – thanks to everyone who has so far.

Category Using FutureLearn