If you’re even a moderate gaming enthusiast, you’ve likely heard of Discord, a messaging app that prides itself on near-instant voice chat as well as the ability to communicate via text and instant messaging. If you don’t game, chances are you’re thinking “Discord, what?”
While the completely free app has somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million users, somehow, in the non-gaming community, it’s pretty much unknown. And that’s a bit of a shame because in terms of free voice/video/texting software, group collaboration tools, and ease of use, it’s hard to beat. In fact, even among paid messaging software, it stands up to all of the big boys.
Head to the Discord website, and you’ll have the opportunity to either access chat right through the web, or you can download a desktop app for machines running Windows 7 and up, or MacOS 10.10 (Yosemite) and up or Linux. Alternatively, you can download the mobile apps for iOS 10.0 and above at the Apple App Store or for Android 5 (Lollipop) and above at the Google Play store.
Once that’s accomplished, you’ll be asked to create a “server,” which is Discord’s name for a chat room. You can start from scratch or choose a template from categories including Gaming, Friends, or Study Group. After that, you’ll be asked for your email and a password if you’d like to access your different servers and the chats they contain even after you close the app.
Next comes the fun part: chatting. To do so in your own server, you’ll need to add or invite friends, which you can do using their individual “DiscordTags” (read: usernames). Easy navigation buttons on the left side allow you to create a new server, explore public servers, or download apps that plug into Discord.
Not just for gaming
If you choose to explore public servers, you’ll certainly get the impression that Discord is for gamers, as the main servers you’re presented with are for Minecraft, Fornite and other popular games. But choose from the categories on the left, and you’ll see just how many communities there are to get involved with using Discord. There’s everything from the TruckersFM station in the Music category, that provides music to drive with, to a “Stranger Things” server under the Movies & TV category.
Join a server and you’ll be asked to read over its rules, much like joining a subreddit in Reddit. Follow all instructions, and click the “Join” button at the top of the screen to get in on the action. Once you’ve either created or joined a server, you’ll see a list of possible chat threads (called “Channels”) on the left, much like you’ll find in Slack. Click one and you can start interacting with others who belong to the same server.
You can also follow a server to have its notifications sent to your own server.
One of the stand-out features that sets Discord apart from other collaborative apps like Slack, is that you can enter lounges where, if you leave access to your microphone enabled, you can have an ongoing conversation with everyone else on a server. It’s a bit like turning on a CB radio (remember those?) and listening in on conversations – and contributing when you want to.
Discord also lets you direct message other users for a more private chat. You can also change the permissions for users of your own servers so that you can control what they can see and participate in.
Summary and paid option
Discord is a lightweight install that offers an intuitive eye-catching design and the chance to dive into a range of communities for either business or fun. The free version of the app provides pretty much all you need to connect to friends who already use the service, or to make new friends in the public servers.
Discord’s paid option is called Nitro and costs either 9.99 per month or 99.99 for a year. This bumps up some features such as letting you increase file upload (yup, you can do that too) size from 8MB to 100MB, share your screen (that too) or stream other content at higher resolution, and enjoy some vanity features like animated avatars and emojis and creating a custom Discord tag. While those might be nice to have if you’re a power user, we think you’ll do just fine starting out with the free version.