When the communications platform Discord was founded in 2015, its users were mainly bonding over their shared interest in video games. But during the pandemic, the app became more than just a place to play games with friends.
According to Discord cofounder and CEO Jason Citron, Discord saw a major spike in sign-ups as users increasingly turned to the platform to connect with others. Something as simple as discussing shared hobbies became a vital resource.
“Participating behavior is really at the core of what we’re about,” Citron says. “When people ask me if Discord is social media, my answer is no—we’re a communications platform. I use the words ‘participate’ and ‘talk’ a lot. Social media has turned our social lives into entertainment media—scrolling and looking at pictures and laughing at videos—which is fun, and it does help you feel like you have other people in your life, but it is very different than sitting in a room having deep conversation and laughing and joking and playing with your friends. And that’s what Discord is about.”
On this week’s episode of the Leaders in Innovation podcast, Citron shares how the platform is planning to improve its connective capabilities through new technologies like AI. The platform might have a headstart in adapting to those advances, considering that its users tend to already be tech-savvy. Citron says the passion for gaming shared by many Discord users often serves as a prelude to more serious ideas.
“I think especially with video games, they tend to be at the forefront of new technology. A lot of times, new technology seems like a toy. If you think about graphics processing units, they were invented to draw triangles on the screen so you could play high resolution video games, and now they’re driving our cars. It turns out that it’s the same technology, and now it powers this AI revolution and it started in gaming,” Citron says.
Discord is using AI in a number of ways to boost in-app experiences. On the trust and safety side, it’s training AI to understand community guidelines. Currently, Discord’s AI tools can flag potentially harmful posts to chat moderators, and they might also be able to issue warnings directly in the future. On the productivity and fun side, the platform is rolling out an AI feature that can help summarize lengthy chat conversations, as well as another new tool that lets users create AI-generated Midjourney images together.
Citron imagines that AI might someday make it possible for Discord’s video and audio chats to be translated to different languages in real time. And while he acknowledges the arguments against AI, he also sees a future where its positive attributes outweigh the negatives.
“People are worried about AI creating all this crazy stuff, and I think that’s going to happen. So the question is, can we overwhelm it with good stuff and can we have AI defenses to push back against that?” Citron says. “The genie’s out of the bottle. So I’m really excited to see what all happens with it. For us at Discord, we’re not actively building the AI technology—we’re looking to see what the world comes up with and how we can apply it to helping people build better friendships.”
Listen to the full conversation between Jason Citron and James Vincent on this week’s Leaders in Innovation podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.