Are forums limited to gamers and tech communities?

(Jason Wojo) #1

I’m hoping others have good examples of Discourse or similar programs being used in communities for women or other groups that fall outside “techy” types.

I work mainly in the nonprofit and political sector and e-mail lists are still king, despite all their problems and Facebook is probably where most new communities are started. Some are starting up new communities on Slack, but adoption hasn’t been great as there starts to be a Slack overload.

I find Discourse far superior for meaningful discussion and institutional knowledge, but I haven’t seen examples of success in the sector. It seems that there is a cultural type (often gamers and tech community) who are used to the modes of conversation in Discourse and link sharing. They spend time on Reddit, Hacker News, Stack Overflow, and have been on various forums for years.

Many of the Facebook groups and email lists to which I belong are usually sharing links with a comment. I and others have attempted Reddit clones (like Telescope), which are amazing tools, but lose users.

One simple UX example, every user in testing was confused by links from the homepage taking them to an external site (the actual home of the link). They couldn’t fathom why that would be the standard behavior instead of taking the user to the full link description and comments. Of course, this is standard for Reddit and Hacker News, those users would be annoyed if they didn’t get to chose whether to open the external link in a new browser or if clicking the title on the homepage just took them deeper in Reddit. A simple, standard user behavior for many of us is massively confusing for everyone else.

I’m wondering if there are similar examples within Discourse that could be having a similar effect on new user adoption.

My testing, of course, isn’t extensive and this is just my observation, but I’d love to see examples of thriving Discourse communities that fall outside the boundaries of the norm and have diverse user bases.

I’m curious what others who interrogate these issues more deeply and consistently think.

And please don’t take this as a slight in any way to the amazing work of the Discourse team and contributors. I just want to see more communities benefit from it and keep their conversations about sensitive activism out of corporate hands when possible.

(Jeff Atwood) #2

Sorry, I don’t understand what you are asking? You want Discourse to work like Disqus for on page commenting?

As for audiences, see examples at Discourse customers | Discourse - Civilized Discussion

(Jason Wojo) #3

Not at all. I was giving one usability example just to highlight how UX that we all find obvious is very confusing to others, and that example is from Telescope/Reddit/Hacker News. From that example, I am questioning if there are similar UX issues in Discourse causing high adoption of by tech types, gamers, etc. and low adoption by others.

With the exception of Common Dreams, these examples add weight to my point – gaming communities and techies.

I’ve worked within the UN and big NGOs as well as politics for years. We’ve gone through tons of systems trying to build community, some with volunteers and activists, others with coalitions. In the NGO world your days are spent on conference calls and E-mail lists, trying to build coalitions and coordinate. Discourse should be an obvious solution, but in my experience it’s not.

This could be do to many factors, but I’m wondering if there are aspects that make Discourse popular to techies (big umbrella I know) and not intuitive for others. People who chose Jekyll or Ghost for blogging will feel right at home in Discourse as one example, those outside that scope may be intimidated.

How do we close this gap? Or, is my observation entirely off base?

(Eli the Bearded) #4

Did you scroll all the way to the bottom? The media, associations, and other groupings are not as gaming/techie heavy.

(Jeff Atwood) #5

I don’t think you looked at the complete list. Maybe our UI for grouping the sites is confusing? Click the grouping links at the top.

By our records based on version pings there are about 10k active Discourse instances out there. I doubt all of them are gaming related or for “techies”.

(Jason Wojo) #6

That’s great. Can you tell how active they are: total users, active users?

I would love to learn how non-techie communities have fostered strong adoption. Like I said, I only have my observations and those of a few in my space who have faced similar issues, but maybe we aren’t representative.

(Eli the Bearded) #8

The imgur instance, at is largely non-techy, but they tend to be younger crowd who have grown up with the Internet.

There’s also the Car Talk one, which frequently gets pointed out for how to use tags instead of many categories. That’s a good example of feature I consider difficult to explain to non-techies getting a lot of use.

And I’ve never even looked at it, but I know there is a huge forum for Jaguar (car) lovers. That started out as a mailing list and migrated, so the community existed prior to being a Discourse instance, but has survived the transition.

There’s also a list of sites here to consider:

(Jason Wojo) #9

You sent me there. And I assume you would choose to showcase top communities.

Yes, there are a few associations, but majority are gaming and tech.

I don’t have numbers, so this may be a stereotype, but it seems that there is a common thread between Reddit, Hacker News, Stack Overflow and Discourse users. Obviously, developers are a major part of that, but developers make software like this and it’s possible there are usability blindspots where what is common in our world doesn’t translate.

(Jeff Atwood) #10

I mean, maybe, but there is a lot of data (aka live sites) contradicting your hypothesis.

(Jason Wojo) #11

It’s hard to say without knowing more about those live sites and if they are active. Maybe 9000 are dormant communities that prove my hypothesis.

My title was changed, and maybe for the better. I didn’t realize what I was saying was all that controversial, so I didn’t dive into the actual diversity issues in the first post.

Let me put it this way: I was just perusing the all-time top users here on Meta, It’s imperfect because usernames don’t tell you gender, but I counted to 84 before I found a user I was certain was a woman. I’d estimate there are 3-6 women in the top 100 users on Meta, which must correlate to who is developing Discourse. Is it possible that lack of diversity has an impact on the product and the type of communities that ultimately thrive in Discourse?

(Jeff Atwood) #12

Discourse is completely free software; I can’t think of any reason it would be limited to any particular audience or use. If you find Discourse is not working for you, can you indicate specifically why, with concrete real world examples?

You’ve seen our diverse customer list. Our hosting sales are doubling every year and have been for a while, and we recently reached 10k active Discourse instances (1k in 2014, 5k in 2015). So if there is some systemic problem that would inhibit growth, none of the metrics we track are showing that.

Is Discourse so perfect that it cannot be improved? Of course not! We love feedback from active communities and customers, and complaint driven development is my favorite way to build software.

There is unfortunately nothing to act on in this topic at the moment; certainly the main premise that “forums only work for gamers and techies” isn’t substantiated by our customer page, much less the 10k live instances on the internet.

So. If you find Discourse is not working for you, can you indicate specifically why, with concrete real world examples?

(Andrew Waugh) #13

Based on my limited experience with Discourse I would say you might be kicking the wrong cat.

Our user base ( is technical in a certain way, but not particularly computer literate - Our average user age at migration to Discourse was probably 55-60, and the custom UX on our old platform had stayed unchanged since the late '90s.

Some of our users were unhappy with the new UX. Many thought it too “facebooky”, but the root problem was just that the buttons were now in a different place. The feature set is much better (you couldn’t include pictures in a post, searching left much to be desired, and the posts were all ascii 80 chars so most URLs needed tinyurl, there was no PM functionality), and we didn’t drop any features going to Discourse. Once people are used to doing things in a certain way they often reject change.

We found that there was an initial period where some users grumbled “Who moved my hammer? I’ve kept it in the same drawer for 20 years and I don’t appreciate not finding it”, but that even the staunchest grumblers accepted the change after about 2-3 months, most even embraced it once they got used to it.

After the initial period of familiarization the vast majority of our users had settled in. Composing some user guides pitched specifically at your user base and implementation will make a difference to how smooth the transition is (User Guides and How-Tos - Jag-lovers Forums). Interestingly, many of those user guides are now not strictly accurate as Discourse has evolved since they were composed. Very few users have complained of that. To me this means one of two things:

The users are now familiar with how to work with discourse and just get on with it.
The guides were a bit of a hand holding exercise while people adapted to change.

(sujato) #14

Hi Jason,

I set up a Discourse community some time ago to discuss Buddhist texts:

This was a new forum, so it doesn’t encounter some of the issues you mentioned. In addition, we deliberately chose this approach because we want a “loose coupling” with the main site, which hosts texts and translations. We’ve done this by building our own custom plugin that links the forum with the main site.

However, the basic problem of encouraging diversity is still an issue. I raised the issue some time ago, specifically when it comes to encouraging gender diversity:

Despite starting a conversation on the issue, we haven’t seen much progress.

We have also been in communication with the Buddhist trans community, and have implemented some of their suggestions, such as an ability to define your own gender and form of address when signing up.

Still, I think it is a very real and ongoing problem, for us, and I suspect for forums generally. I’m not sure if Discourse is any better or worse than others in this respect. But I do think it is something that should be taken seriously, as we’d all love to see Discourse succeed broadly.


You missed me. :slight_smile:
I don’t state my gender because I don’t think I need to.

I’ve worked with communities for ~10 years now, mostly in the tech startup space. Community has an interesting dynamic – while tech is still dominated by men, community professionals are more likely to be women.

As community practitioners, forum managers, and community members we have a responsibility for encouraging diversity within our communities, but I don’t see any correlation between a lack of diversity and the platform.

The beauty of Discourse is that it can be used in many ways. You can use it out of the box. You can use it as a mailing list. You can customise in any way necessary to encourage your target audience.

Successful communities rely the ability of the CM to effect behaviour change – regardless of platform.

Here are some examples of non-tech / gaming communities that I’m aware of:

(ljpp) #16

Our site is totally non-tech. What we have is a support/fan community for a professional ice hockey club. Our userbase is rather diverse in terms of age, but dominantly male. And on a national scale (Finland), we are big.

After intial confusion the Discourse UX has served us very well. We have been booming for the last 1.5 years. Our biggest concern is platfrom volatility and there are more bugs than we like to see (non-techs have a hard time understading why). In that sense the Discourse is still somewhat premature.

(Chris Beach) #17

My (non-technical) local community site is used by all kinds of people, although is probably about 70:30 male:female.

We did a survey of ages and found the following:

(Jay Pfaffman) #18

Maybe you want to ask over at

Edit: oh, this for covered pretty well here.

(Jerry Jaz) #19

Long time lurker, first time poster, here. I was keen on reading the response to Jason’s post and disappointed by the defensive comments.

Perhaps after struggling with the mechanics of accomplishing this wonderful feat, building Discourse, to have someone question core functionality in a way not considered before may feel like enemy action.

Usability is always be affected by perception and cultural bias. An excellent fork may not find much marketplace traction in Asia. Does this imply the fork is wrong for eating? Is the intended client in need of education?

For myself, the fact that a billion people use chopsticks like they were the most natural way in the world to deal with food doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable when I accidentally flick my tofu across the table.

Hopefully Discourse development will always be a place to discover how that feeling / new skill could be dealt with in a better and better way. I like forks and why wouldn’t I? I am a white, male, caucasian raised in California and New York.

How can we explore this conversation without feeling like it is encroaching on one’s personal space? Should we try?

(Sam Saffron) #20

I think the best way it try and provide some constructive feedback.

Page X is unwelcoming cause of Y, if we changed it to do Z it would make it easier for XYZ community.

There is little actionable in this feedback here which raises the frustration levels for all involved.

(Neil Lalonde) #21

I don’t think defensive is the correct word. There are many examples of non-tech/games communities that are very active on Discourse. Health, bodybuilding, music fans, pop culture, roofers, makers, etc. So the hypothesis here seems wrong. But figuring out why some people can’t figure out Discourse (and forums in general?) is worth exploring. Why do some groups choose Facebook or Slack instead of forum software that might be better solutions for what they’re trying to do?