For years, gamers have sworn up and down that Discord—not Slack—is the best desktop chat app. But like with any great thing, there’s room for improvement. Enter BetterDiscord.
BetterDiscord allows users to tailor Discord’s desktop app to their own personal aesthetic and UX preferences, and introduces other quality-of-life improvements major and minor. Just download and install the free software, and then pick and choose plug-ins and skins from BetterDiscord’s database. Other changes automatically appear, like a button for perusing a list of user-submitted servers and a new emote layout. (The software doesn’t work with the mobile app or in the browser.) Your Discord window background can be the face of your favorite anime waifu and you can delete that pesky “gift” button to the right of the text box. You can make Discord look like it did three years ago or add in a Google Translate option.
The experience recalls an earlier internet era, when black-and-green terminal-style Winamp skins were popular, and everything downloaded online was customizable—officially or not. BetterDiscord is not an officially sanctioned app; and likely it breaks Discord’s terms of service, which prohibits modifying Discord. But the software has been installed more than 5.3 million times since 2015, and its developers say they have not seen Discord take action against users for modifying the client.
BetterDiscord is the work of a loose group of volunteer devs, led by a 27-year-old full-time firmware engineer named Zack Rauen. The project began just months after Discord launched in 2015. At first, BetterDiscord was patching small holes in the chat app and adding new features like search. Rauen, who hopped onto the project in 2016, said he started off making a plug-in that let users with different “roles” in a server choose different colors for their names and text. Later, he coded in the ability to disregard Discord’s minimum window size requirement, and to remove annoying buttons he never used.
Since then, the project has expanded. And although Discord has officially integrated in some features formerly only accessible through BetterDiscord, BetterDiscord is still one step ahead. Dozens of users have submitted skins and plug-ins, for example, detailing who “reacted” to a message, determining how many friends are online, displaying server member counts or blurring NSFW posts. BetterDiscord’s top three plug-ins have each been downloaded from its website more than 100,000 times. Among its best-trafficked: one that adds in a Spotify control panel, another that shows how much time you’ve been in a voice call, and a third that displays all of a server’s hidden channels.
“We’ve seen new users come in because they like the visual customization of themes, and we’ve seen them come in because they like the functional changes that plug-ins can provide,” says Rauen. Since so much content is user-submitted, he and others perform manual security reviews of everything that comes their way, looking for malicious code. They also plan to launch an in-app store for BetterDiscord sometime this year, which will let users browse, download, and install add-ins from inside their Discord window.
Features like that could be particularly useful to newer Discord users—and there are many more of those now than there were just a year or two ago. Originally an edgelord group-chat platform for gamers, Discord rocketed into the mainstream over 2020, when the very and not-very online alike were searching for ways to stay in touch. People use the chat app to watch movies together with its screen-share functionality, to share memes (without logging into Facebook), and even to teach college courses. By last summer, Discord jettisoned its “for gamers” branding and adopted a new tagline: “Your place to talk.” This year, it added a Clubhouse-like feature called “Stages.” Today it has more than 300 million users, whose interests go beyond video games to things like knitting, metal music, tabletop games, beloved YouTubers, and more.
As Discord shifts more and more into “something for everybody,” BetterDiscord brings out the spirit of an earlier internet era, helping Discord users express themselves, unfettered by what one company thinks is best.
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