Discourse the software
I am reviving an old web MMO, and I enthusiastically switched our forums to Discourse 2 years ago with great results. A lot of great things come to mind but one of the most important ones for me is that it has helped us curb some serious problems we were having with toxicity.
It may seem like a small thing compared to all the technical and design stuff, but the soul of Discourse to me is reflected in something @codinghorror wrote when it launched:
The goal of the company we formed, Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., is exactly that – to raise the standard of civilized discourse on the Internet through seeding it with better discussion software:
Our jobs are already stressful enough without also having to deal with hostile users. Although it’s impossible to avoid entirely, Discourse has greatly improved the experience for our users and for me personally as an admin. Less stress, yes!
It’s not just that moderation tools work well to deter bad behavior, it’s that the entire experience promotes civil discourse. It’s fantastic.
Discourse the community
For Discourse as a community, it’s been almost as smooth, though not without some issues.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been my experience. While most of the time my conversations here have been positive, I have on more than one occasion come looking for support here on Meta and left feeling like a nuisance after having been talked down to and even belittled by more prominent community members, and unfortunately even staff. This is especially egregious given Discourse’s earlier mentioned goal.
I don’t say this to throw anybody under the bus or to bring down the mood but as an honest reply to this topic, I have a few times considered alternatives (namely, Flarum) as a result of support experiences here that I can only describe as condescending. If Discourse the software wasn’t so great I would have bailed awhile ago.
However, there is some good news in even this: awhile back I was lurking in #support and saw somebody else treated poorly while looking for help. It occurred to me that I was not sufficiently making use of the tools at our disposal (If You See a Problem, Flag It). Instead of offering my own assistance to reassure the asker that they weren’t being stupid for asking, I simply reported the questionable post and it was eventually dealt with.
This small interaction was hugely redeeming for me because it showed that even Discourse Meta isn’t above toxicity issues, and that just like my own users, we here in this community have the means to improve our own environment. The flagging mechanism itself isn’t the significant thing here; it’s the larger Discourse experience that really does feel like it is built for civilized discourse.
Discourse has been undeniably effective at accomplishing its goals and clearly still cares about their vision. There have been challenges here and there for the software and community alike, but that’s the nature of the beast.
What matters is how challenges are handled, and Discourse has done a great job. 5+ years after its launch, I am confident about where it is going.