The kids are on Discord
If you’re like me, until recently, you may have never heard of Discord. The short version is that it is another online chat app. Unlike most chat apps, Discord organizes itself around a concept of “Servers” (you can think of them like virtual rooms) where people can hang out and chat via text, voice, or video. These rooms can be public, but more often than not are invite-only, and have become the virtual treehouse for many kids and teens, who now spend on average 9 hours per day online (streaming video, listening to music, playing games, etc.)
True to the name, the visual interface for Discord can be a little…chaotic.
A lot of people use Discord
If you are feeling out of the loop, you just might be. Discord has grown from its launch in 2015 to 300 million registered users today, with about half them considered “active”:
- 2017: 10 million
- 2018: 45 million
- 2019: 56 million
- 2020: 100 million
- 2021: 140 million
This is a lot of growth, however, it is still small in comparison to Facebook (1.6 billion users globally), Instagram (1 billion users), and Whatsapp (2.6 billion users). What is very different is the average age on these platforms. The average age of a Facebook user is 40.5 years old, and while there are no statistics I can find on the average age of Discord users, I can definitively say it is quite a bit younger. Both of my kids (19 & 14) have been on Discord for a few years, and until I joined myself I really didn’t get it.
What is it for again?
The best way to describe Discord is a vast forest of virtual treehouses (currently 6.7 million). Anyone can create one, and if you do, you can set all kinds of rules: who can post, who can comment, what nicknames are… there are literally hundreds of settings. Within each treehouse (“Server”) you can also create rooms (“Channels”) that can allow some people in or out and have their own rules.
My Discord journey began with the rekindling of an old hobby, playing the game Dungeons & Dragons (this requires a future email to explain) during the COVID lockdown. I wanted to “get together” with my friends in a private digital space, and Discord was just the thing to make that happen.
But wait, there’s more
Describing Discord as a digital treehouse or a communication app is all accurate, but somewhat fails to capture its scope. From the beginning, Discord has been designed to be extensible. This means programmers everywhere can build applications (“Bots”) that extend Discord’s functionality in all sorts of interesting ways:
- Streaming YouTube videos or Twitch stream to watch with friends
- Looking up memes
- Gamifying interaction (posts get points)
- Moderating behavior
Like Servers, anyone can create a Bot. Back in 2020 Discord shared that 3 million Bots had been created and those bots had sent over 9.5 billion messages in a single year.
While it may seem frivolous, several large players are interested in tapping into what Discord offers. Back in April of this year, Discord was said to reject an offer from Microsoft to acquire it for $12 billion, and there is some talk of Twitter making a purchase offer for $15 to $18 billion.
There’s no question in my mind that Discord will continue to grow. For now, the kids are on Discord but don’t be surprised if someday in the not-too-distance future, you receive an email inviting you to join a Server of your very own.