The recent reddit upheaval (which follows the twitter upheaval) reminds us that centralized platforms, while convenient (and popular though network effects) can develop in ways that alienate large parts of online communities and ultimately may waste decades of content creation.
The fediverse is touted as an alternative design that can mitigate this risk (though still many efforts are in a nascent stage). There is, for example, lemmy that aims to be a federated “reddit” forum replica.
On the other hand famously the web is already decentralized and there is e.g. the wordpress activitypub plugin and the discourse activitypub plugin that start “connecting the dots” between all these servers in more interesting ways than RSS.
The question is whether one could get a more integrated discourse based forum universe “on the cheap”. Right now even a list of all disource instances is not easy to find. One could imagine a more complete such list that is not merely an enumeration of URL’s. Rather think of a sort of live “front page” or entry into a discourse based forum universe that queries instances for summary updates, searchable by topic and other attributes.
The idea is to facilitate and rationalize the discovery of discourse instances, where each instance functions as a sort of subreddit. There are ofcourse major differences between instances, not least the user does not have a relation with a central party but each instance’s admins/mods. One could possibly even imagine SSO for some subset of more tightly coupled instances.
I would imagine that this concept has been brainstormed before but maybe it takes new relevance in light of the developments around online platforms.
I was thinking about a much less ambitious design. The way mastodon (activitypub) servers work, global and local feeds are a feature that each server has in-principle available (though the global feed can be individually disabled) and there is no need for a “portal” as such. I imagine discourse could well develop in this direction but it would be a very substantial project.
Stitching together an entry point into the collection of publicly available discourse servers without, e.g. featuring a global feed should be much easier to implement. Come to think of it, it doesnt even have to be a separate project, it could be a plugin that each instance can use to fake a “front page” into the discourse universe. So a rather loosely coupled design which nevertheless might be quite usable.
It’s not quite what you’re looking for, but an even less ambitious approach would be to create a mini Reddit-like site on a single Discourse instance. I’m far from a Reddit expert, but my understanding is that a subreddit has essentially the same functionality as a Discourse category - with category moderators and possibly one or more Discourse groups associated with the category.
The easiest approach I can think of would be to connect a Discourse site to a WordPress site with the WP Discourse plugin. That would allow users to create new communities (categories) from the WordPress site via the API. An option could be given to allow users to subscribe to a category. That would give category moderators the chance to make some money for their work, and also generate some revenue for hosting the forum. DiscourseConnect could be used to assign users to the appropriate groups based on their subscriptions.
With the single forum approach, the unifying idea could be the site’s guidelines/tos.
An obvious issue with this approach is that a single Discourse instance can’t support an infinite number of categories. I’m not sure that everything on the web needs to be infinitely scalable though. UI issues caused by having lots of categories could be dealt with by having all categories muted by default.
Yes, that would be quite practical for small communities. It may come with some limitations, e.g. is it possible to style/brand different categories individually? That is quite important psychologically and is probably not too difficult technically (it is standard reddit functionality).
Thanks for the wordpress discourse plugin pointer. Was not aware of it so now need to evaluate what sort of possibilities it opens up more generally
The discovery of different communities would remain unresolved though. I think one of reddit’s key attractions is that it combines the forum / specialized domain focus with the ability to quickly discover and “join” a flexible collection of such forums (so each user has a portfolio of forums they participate). This creates a customized feed.