If you’re a big gamer–or have a gamer in the family–you’ve probably heard of Discord. The app/service has shot to popularity in recent years thanks to its ability to serve as a central communications hub for people spread across the globe.

But though gamers like to use Discord, the platform isn’t actually associated with any gaming companies–like Microsoft or Sony. And Discord most definitely isn’t only for gaming. Matter of fact, there are almost as many uses for Discord as there are users of it. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Discord?

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At its heart, Discord is a VOIP communications platform. Let’s break that down:

VOIP: or voice over internet protocol. This essentially describes an app that uses the internet to transfer audio or video. The most recognizable VOIP app in the world is Skype, but there are plenty of others: WhatsApp, Slack, WeTalk, and more.

Communications platform: this is the backbone of the service–the thing the VOIP runs on. If you want to be a member of a communications platform, you must join it before being able to send messages on it. As a communications platform, Discord is all-encompassing, offering video chat, voice chat, direct messages, group messages, and chat rooms.

Another way to think of Discord is that it combines a communication platform and a social media network. Though Discord is not technically a social media network (like Facebook) it has elements of it. That’s because Discord has open public groups any Discord user can join. However, much of the time it is used for member-based groups.

How Is Discord Different Than Other Chat Apps?

Most consumer chat apps–iMessage, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, WeChat–are designed for individual person-to-person communication or small group communication. Discord can be used for such communication, but it’s really designed to facilitate communication between medium-to-large groups of people.

And there are already plenty of other apps designed for medium-to-large groups, but these are mostly apps that cater to business needs, like Slack and Microsoft Teams. Yet Slack and Microsoft Teams resemble Discord in terms of use more than individual messaging apps do. Another way to think of Discord is it’s Slack for everyone.

Who Uses Discord?

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A lot of people use Discord. As of 2019, the service boasted 250 million users, 14 million of whom log in every single day.

Discord really got its start in the gaming sphere, allowing gamers to connect and form communities where they could chat about similar interests. However, since Discord’s rise in 2015, plenty of other people besides gamers have found the platform useful.

There are Discord groups for everything nowadays: gaming, comic books, movies, gadgets, sports–even porn. Unfortunately, Discord is also home to some less than savory communities as well, like far-right extremists.

Is Discord Safe?

It’s the last two types of groups which have some parents worried about Discord. That concern only grew after a Wall Street Journal article in 2019 by Julie Jargon about the ease of finding porn and hate groups on the service. In the article, Jargon wrote:

I signed up for Discord to see it for myself. There was no prompt to enter my age or date of birth. It took only about 15 minutes to find porn and Nazi memes, without specifically searching for them. I easily entered invite-only servers without a prior invitation. Once inside, I could access adult content by simply clicking a button saying I was at least 18.

While Discord isn’t unique on the internet in providing ready access to content like this, it differs from Google’s YouTube and Facebook Inc.’s Instagram—also popular with teens—in its level of content policing.

And it’s true, Discord isn’t moderated to the level other platforms are. So common sense should always apply: make sure you talk to your kids about online safety if they are using the service. You can read more about Discord’s safety principles here.

What Platforms Is Discord Available On?

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Discord supports every major mobile and desktop platform including:

  • Windows
  • macOS
  • Linux
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Web browsers

How Do You Set Up A Discord Account?

Getting set up on Discord is a little more convoluted than on traditional chat apps. That’s because you not only need to create a user account, but you have to decide if you want to create a community or join one. Finding communities could be easier too. All-in-all, getting Discord set up and joining your first community could take up to 20 minutes.

Discord has instructions on how to get started here.