If you ran an open source project in the 90s and wanted to provide a place for your users or contributors to discuss things, you most likely did the following:
Fast forward 20+ years, and the picture looks… mostly the same.
Of course, we have Stack Exchange – which is a great thing! – but more open-ended or intimate discussion for these open source communities, even new ones, is still predominantly conducted using these ancient tools.
- Fabric, a popular Python SSH orchestration tool and library, uses a mailing list and IRC.
- Homebrew, a popular package manager for OS X, uses a mailing list and IRC.
- boto, a popular Python library for interacting with Amazon Web Services, uses IRC.
- Phabricator, a code review tool (plus other things) originally developed at Facebook, uses IRC.
- The entire set of projects under the Apache Foundation, old and new, uses mailing lists for discussion.
These tools work well, and for some open source communities (e.g. Apache, which I discussed in a separate thread), moving off them is unlikely to happen. But for new projects, or existing communities willing to change their discussion tooling, Discourse should be a no-brainer. (I see, for example, that Docker knows where the good stuff is at. Good on them.)
What does the Discourse team think of positioning their product as the successor to the “mailing list + IRC channel” combo for open source projects? Perhaps by offering free hosting?
Obviously, this would be a strategic move with no short-term financial gain. Instead, targeting open source communities would win Discourse a couple of things over the long run:
- Capture mindshare with developers who run infrastructure at their companies and influence decisions about, for example, forum software to use.
- Grow on a community of users who are, as open source users/devs themselves, very well positioned to contribute back to Discourse.
What do you think?