A note on political forums

This is a note on my failed experience at trying to build a political forum, it might be of interest to someone who tries to do the same. It’s also a goodbye note since, with a very sad and broken heart, I had to shut down my forum after 3 years of hard but vane dedication.

Back in the 2020 my country, Argentina, was completely lost and desperately looking for a viable political horizon that could allow for a union strong enough to replace the tyrannic socialist government, which had been in power for decades solely due to a lack of minimally viable alternatives that could be, at least, not worse.
Thankfully that turmoil culminated last year with the historical victory of Javier Milei, a libertarian that was able to finally build such a union, a feat that was impossible for nearly a century.

But before the appearance of the black swan event that Milei was, everything, at every level and by any means, was uncertain. Truly desperate, I tried to collaborate in the buildup of an alternative by getting involved in the libertarian movement, but it was an absolute mess of 24/7 discord that was going nowhere and that somehow was managing to be each day a little less that what it was the day before.

In my naive mind, due to being completely new in the political arena, I thought that what was causing such an inability to coordinate the mass of people was the lack of a proper communication structure. Which in part was true, since the first attempts people made to form new parties was to put, I kid you not, thousands of people in a single whatsapp group. Communication was of course impossible, ideas and initiatives were quickly and permanently lost, it was impossible to follow a single conversation and every single day everyone’s phone was saturated with ~2500 unread messages (all of which, as I explain at the end, I learned was on purpose, for coordination of work wasn’t needed, only monolithic coordination of will).

Being already an adept to the open-source philosophy, I thought: why not to try to build a party in the exact same way that any successful big scale open-source project is made? I know for a fact that it’s not only entirely possible to coordinate mass scale movements of a completely volunteer army of thousands, without funds and without tight central control, but I also know that it works exceedingly well.

So, I embarked in a quest to try to replicate the open-source method into the political arena, in an attempt to help to bring order in what was by the time an increasingly obscure situation.

The first thing I thought was: to be able to coordinate people in a rather decentralized manner, that is, to form a community, a forum is THE tool, and it will also finally solve the hell that whatsapp groups are for this kind of organizations. So, for 3 years, I spent 20 USD a month for the server (that’s a prohibitive amount of money to spend for a non essential service here), and devoted hours and hours of investigation to build the perfect forum for the task. The community here at Discourse was wonderful all along, and you were my sole companion along such a long walk through the desert.

For three years straight I was unable to draw any attention to the forum like if it was a law strict as gravity. And I was no stranger: I was heavily involved in the libertarian movement to the point that I ended up being directly responsible for 40% of the elections oversight efforts in my state (that is, I was a reference for thousands of volunteers). I made myself a name to the point that some people was to ask for my permission before doing something (an actually scary side-effect of my involvement which I always promptly dissolved), when I had no kind of authority over anything, not even unofficially.

So, I had the contacts, the numbers, the predisposition (thousands of people who were also active volunteers, so they had minimal initiative), the structure, the image, the respect, the words, the fully working solution to an actual and current problem, etc. Yet, despite my permanent insistence and demonstrations on how the forum could solve a lot of current burdens, strictly as a law I was unable to ever get a single soul, from thousands, involved in the forum. I mean, I permanently used the forum to help with interactive display of much needed information, which people thus did used, hundreds of them, and yet always fell atom-scale-short from there.

After 3 years, my experience in politics finally brought me to a conclusion after such a long time, that helped me to explain such a strict phenomenon: while I made the forum under the childish delusion that it was the lack of work cohesion the one responsible for the lame estate of a party, I found out at the end that it was never actually needed for a simple and pragmatic reason: what consumes a party time is the cohesion of will, not work. In three years I was never able to start working on initiatives and was never going to, that was my fatal projection error. I thought the internal fights would stop at some point and we could start working as an institution from there. It never did because a party uses its time dealing with will, not work. That’s why the focus is solely devoted to internal fights in disregard of how much damage it causes to the party as an institution. It just doesn’t matter at all, for power do not comes from the cohesion of work of the community (within a party), but solely from the cohesion of will. And that’s it, it’s a structural phenomenon, not a moral one: the current structure of politics forces that behavior as a completely natural and mechanical decay, and the fact that parties subsist in that current estate is proof that it’s indeed a successful strategy. So my attempt was ill fated from the start due to the current rules of the game. I have to admit, that was a hell of a learning curve, but one I’m glad I walked through.

I’m now, finally, and with a very heavy heart, shutting down my forum for good. I hope any of this might be insightful for anyone, and I’m deeply thankful and in debt with this awesome community who was always there for me whenever I needed it.

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Do you think you could have drawn attention to a blog post? I’m wondering if part of the difficulty with a forum is that it’s asking people to join something. A blog post with a comment form is just asking people to login/register and respond with whatever’s at the top of their mind at the moment. It’s a subtle difference, but…

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Absolutely, that would and does work! During the chaos era that preceded Milei triumph a myriad of young political influencers raised to prominence that way, many of them to the point of making a living out of their content. But, besides not being a content creator, I was focusing on building a party foundation from the ground up through the development of a conscious affiliate base in the form of a community just like the Discourse community for example, for (ideally) the mission is similar: you build the current form and vision of the community mission through a decentralized and collaborative environment, which is the open-source way. I wanted indeed to develop “open-source politics”, and from there, “open-source governance”. And, just like with any open-source project, only a forum provides an optimal platform for collaboration.

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That’s what I figured. Maybe blog comment systems could be used to seed some types of forums. The only real technical requirement would be that the blogs were on open platforms. WordPress, Ghost… anything that lets developers access the back end.

Probably this topic isn’t the place to get into it though. I’m sorry your (initial) attempt didn’t work out.

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Thank you for your kind words simon :slight_smile:
Unfortunately what I learned is that the problem lies deep down below any superficial technical aspect, like forms and formats. It lies in the current rules of politics, which make any attempt like mine pointless, regardless of form. It’s like trying to figure out if there’s a way to throw something up so that it doesn’t falls back down. Like with nature itself, it all boils down to core laws. So it can’t be done until laws are changed.

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Tbh your intended purpose is quite admirable. I think your being too hard on yourself. Community building is not easy. A political community can often be even more difficult.

I would say what you have is a learning experience. Which with sharing as you have can help with future projects for everyone involved.

Already some great discussions occuring already.

As there is often very diverse opposing view points. One idea is to create groups. Each group in differing ideas. Each forms a group of similar minded ppl. There each group chooses a leader/presenter. They brainstorm and refine their idea proposal exploring pros and cons of the idea

Once each side is ready or maybe on a scheduled frequency the presenters report on their groups progress on the idea. Some one so to speak neutral acts as a chair to keep both sides in track. You might have more than 2. Using category and group settings you can create a fairly diverse structured environment. But it needs a group to support as going alone will risk burnout.

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Thank you Dan for your words and your insight :slight_smile:

Indeed, a result from this learning experience was a conclusion on the lines of what you are saying, with a further twitch: in my attempt to help to build a political alternative, I realized that the root problem wasn’t a lack of a common ground (whose generation was the forum intent), but a lack of a proper foundation to even get started. Libertarianism has of course an abundant and comprehensive bibliography, but in my experience I realized that it lacked completely the “manifesto” and “cosmological” traits that socialism haves, which are fundamental to set the moral compass of people before attempting to build any kind of organization on top of it. That is, I found out that all of my problems where yet a level deeper from where I was focusing my attention, and now I have shifted my efforts to trying to build such core philosophical structures. That will also serve to make more transparent to people not only what the real problem is with the system (its current rules, a basic reasoning that’s currently not even abstractable for most people), but also how to solve it (so that they do not recreate the same rules back again). All of this reasoning was indeed part of my learning process, so while I’m really sad for all of the wasted effort, I did arrived to the end of that journey with a full baggage that I now have to unpack and process, for I kept a complete journal of the entire experience. Sadly my initial work is not useful for this new path (which is why I’m shutting down the forum), but the journal is, so I will keep on my quest from there.

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This post alerted me! I wanted to create something like that mi hermano, but I understood too soon that and discusses n’ base-work are very different today I’m focused on Discourse just to create my “own” space to talk with people the safe way because politics is just speech even on my ideology Nice try with this project, and carry on to another passion.

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Thank you Sammy for your words and for sharing your experience on this topic :slight_smile:

Interesting to see that what I’m reporting was your situation too, but I’m glad you realized before wasting massive efforts :see_no_evil:

I agree with your conclusion too. It’s too soon for what I attempted to do, a prior groundwork is needed in the form of more centrist spaces (i.e. more personal expressions). Pretty much like bitcoin itself started before becoming decentralized. I think it’s very telling that the same concept applies as much to politics as to purely technical endeavors. It all starts with a primigenial vision, usually from one person, where the “crowd” effect comes from the fact that said person has built his unique vision by standing on previous work from other people. So to start, instead of a forum, a web effect is needed for the groundwork, and the forum is optimal once a direction as been more or less defined. Indeed, pretty much like any open-source project arises. When I started, I indeed failed to see how bad the situation was regarding the absence of a primigenial common ground (both philosophical and legal), but I could only realize by direct involvement, so I again do not repent, even more since said involvement gave me an idea (in my vision) on how to fill the void. So as simon suggested I might turn to blogging, for which I’m aiming for Nostr, insane technology and potential (I think Discourse has uncanny potential there too!).

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In my experience, internet communities form around content. An analogy I like to use:

If you go to a concert, you probably come for music, not the audience. That’s what happens with online communities too. If anything, other people must be endured. Once the venue stops hosting music you care about, you’ll think nothing of doing something else with your evening. It’s all about content.

But you might notice other people who seem to have a different, or maybe deeper, draw. The couple a row or two in front of you flag down a friend finding their way to their seat. The guy behind you knows all the lyrics to every song and proves it by singing (badly) into your ear. You see tour shirts from other continents. This is the part of the community that, in a sense, transcends the content, which is the only way a community can sustain itself.

This is a perfectly workable foundation for a community. The line between open-source movements and political movements is indeed thin. One difference, however, is that a contribution to an open-source project has immediate impact. If I can fix a bug for myself, that’s satisfying. If I can fix it for every other user of the software, that’s empowering. There’s hardly anything like that in politics.

My son recently got involved in local politics. He advocated for a bus-friendly change to a busy road in our city. At the city council meeting he had 3 minutes to make his case. Other people (some for and some against) the change made their statements and the council voted for a version of the change. This is probably the best case scenario for having influence in politics and the change will take several years to be completed.That’s if all goes according to plan.


Discourse is a fine option for political discussions. A few years ago I set up a private category for a very active community that loved to talk about politics. Moving these (often contentious) topics to a private category was a key factor in the community’s renewal. Discourse’s tools for moderating allow us to keep the discussion relatively civil. Starting an online community from scratch is just a lot harder than moderating an already mature community.

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Thank you Jon for your outlining this observations :slight_smile:

I did tried to fill the forum with as much useful content as I could, and said content was repeatedly used for reference. I wrote 138 articles in the forum, all of them with useful, completely detailed, periodically revisited and thoroughly developed content. And every time I shared those publications they were well received. I even made personal entries in the form of identity-badges that were very appreciated by some members. The forum was always well acknowledged actually. The problem was, as I noted in the post, that we were permanently absorbed by problems dealing with the cohesion of will, not work. So the forum was really never needed because it allowed to do something we where never going to start doing, i.e. actual work within a political party.

As for your son, I’m very glad he’s worrying about local politics, that’s the new general culture that needs to blossom. And I’m glad he is having his first experience within such a democratic system, that do not exists here for now. If he involves himself further, however, he is going to start dealing with a political party reality, and there his struggle is going to start, for he will find himself spending his entire time dealing with cohesion of will rather than with cohesion of work. When I say “cohesion of will” I do not mean will for a decision, but will for the sake of will alone. It’s sadly the same reality pretty much anywhere, for now. To change that, which I realized I had to do first, is what I’m focusing on now.

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this is one of the reasons I got a cheap mini PC. it’s relatively cheap, but has 16gb of ram and I use cloudflare to make it available from behind my ISP cgnat and dynamic IP

memory is annoying expensive on cloud offers yet

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That’s absolutely the way to go. The very first thing I looked for was to host for as cheap as possible, but after researching I realized that self hosting was beyond my technical knowledge and comprehension (specially if any problem was to arise) and I just wanted to be sure that the thing was going to work and didn’t want technical subtleties to get in the way, for I had a lot of work already just configuring the forum for the purpose and filling in content. Also, back when I made it the arena was hot so I rushed to make it as quickly as possible (alas, in vane). I reserved the possibility of self hosting as you describe for when the forum had gained traction, to justify the time to learn all the technical aspects (specially dealing with errors that could crash the forum). But again, at the end, it wasn’t even needed, so optimal costs were actually zero :see_no_evil:

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After reading almost all the above, I also wish to say something here.

In 2017, I was almost broke. But I was adamant to build some online community for my local district (Bathinda, Punjab, India). Before that, I ran a successful and very clean WhatsApp group of nearly 300 members.

So even in the time of some financial crunch, I started building a website based on this wonderful software - Discourse. But learning it for me wasn’t easy. I was 48 in 2017, and my memory was, and is, very very very poor. I can’t dial a number on my mobile after reading it from the computer screen in one go. I’ve to read the 10-digit number at least two times to be 100% sure that I’m dialing correctly.

So despite these two huge problems, financial crunch (that includes my need to provide for our family of four), and memory issues, I kept on learning to keep it working. And soon I realized that I’ve spent nearly two years just to make this website of mine run properly and on its own. I.e., for a full two years, I kept tuning it and learning it. Before this, I had never heard of cloud computing or knew what a VPS was, although I was a Power User of Windows and knew local networking concepts.

And now after seven years, my website is still running, and without a single rupee’s earning, I’m spending INR 1000 (USD 13) on it every month! But I’m 100% sure, one day it’ll get traction. Maybe that will take another 5-7 years.

Note: My financial position improved a bit after 2021 after my unmarried daughter got a government job, and she managed to fund me for a retail cycle shop, which I’m running right now (Bobby Cycles).

P.S. Perhaps I would have quit learning to build a Discourse-based website in 2019 or 2020, had there not been two people around/helping users in the community: @pfaffman and @itsbhanusharma (he’s much nearer to me geographically).

Ps2: Today I’ve just under 1k daily page views (crawlers excluded). And I do believe that one day this website will be as famous in my local district/city as I think it should be.

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Thank you @Bathinda for sharing your experience, I can truly feel your struggle an the impending feeling of obligation you had to build your site from the heartfelt conviction that it was the right thing to do for your community :people_hugging:

I’m glad you are in a better position now to keep your quest forward, I do think that your chances will improve with time. If it helps, remember that your site can be “installed” in the phone, which makes it feel like a native app. That, plus the fact that you can configure the chat channels to be the first thing shown when accessing from the phone, might help you to replicate your whatsapp group success.

About not quitting because this community was so helpful: you… you are right!! … they… they are the ones to blame for keeping our delusions alive!!.. you monsters!!! DX
(just kidding I love you all)

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