Circle.so vs Discourse

I suppose, I just don’t see massive instagram levels of circle.so adoption – some people prefer red, others prefer blue. There’s choice on the internet for a reason, otherwise everyone is stuck with the Facebook “company town” future, which is rather dystopian.

We’ve been doing this for 7 years, and over that time some of the the feedback feels rather… familiar. No one product can fit every single person’s needs, and that’s a good thing. If you want a truck, choose a truck. If you want a car, choose a car.

(Also the Teams product looks a lot like your screenshot, and that’s Yet Another Reskin, so I’m not certain you’ve tried that yet?)

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@codinghorror

but can I use discourse teams in a public facing format as a community vs. internal use?

That’s what I want to do.

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You can, if you get the right customizations and plugins!

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Yeah, I figured your response would be something like this. Clearly Discourse is successful and you are happy with the user base you have. This is a reasonable position to take, and you’re right to do so as long as those numbers stay strong. But of course you also need to anticipate and potentially address threats to your business.

What is today simply another niche, a car to Discourse’s truck, may tomorrow be the dominant player or approach. Who would have guessed the massive popularity of the SUV among people who almost never actually need to do anything “utility” with it? You wouldn’t want to be a car manufacturer without an SUV design ready to go in that market. Circle.so is not a strong threat yet, but it does represent an arguably untapped market.

If I look at the Discourse About page, I find a lot of material backing up the importance of paying attention to what’s happening with Circle and other platforms too.

Discourse is a from-scratch reboot, an attempt to reimagine what a modern Internet discussion forum should be today , in a world of ubiquitous smartphones, tablets, Facebook, and Twitter.

This, I think, should be an ongoing process. And indeed it has been, Discourse has evolved quite a lot from its beginnings, and to succeed in the future it will probably need to change much more as well. So the discussion around Circle is really just raising the question of whether its burgeoning success points to anything that Discourse could benefit from. Considering and adapting to new ways of doing things seems to be a core part of Discourse’s stated mission.

Simple. Modern. Fun.

Discourse pares all the complexity away and puts just the essential stuff on screen – the conversations you care most about, based on your participation.

This one is particularly interesting. I wonder how many users of Discourse (outside of Meta, as everyone here is likely beyond the level of a basic user) would describe it as “simple” or especially “fun” vs. Circle or other options. And if indeed it is seen as less simple or fun than other competing systems, shouldn’t that be of some concern, given these are some of the core stated aims of Discourse?

I’ll stop belaboring the point, your position is clear, and I understand it. I don’t claim to know better than you and the rest of the Discourse team. I’m just here to add my one voice to the overall consideration around how to make Discourse better, more accessible, and more fun. :wink:

I haven’t, but it doesn’t seem aimed at the kind of broad, public-facing communities I’m building. I’m also unclear from the website how well it actually addresses the design and accessibility concerns I’m raising re: Circle. But I do appreciate it as an example of diversification for Discourse, and I hope there is a little more of that in the future.

Thanks again for the dialog.

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Well, it’s open source, so you’re free to customize it as you see fit, and a ton can be done with basic HTML and CSS … if cloning Circle is an important goal for you, feel free to make it so! What’s stopping you?

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You left out a critical step.

Step 1A, learn basic html and css.
Step 1B, pay someone.
Step 2, make it so.

:slight_smile:

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Actually, no. You can’t. Discourse for Teams is private, log-in only. But you can take Discourse and set it up as you see fit for your team. Many communities use Discourse this way. @debryc is a great example of this with https://hub.youthpowercoalition.org/.

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I want to stop replying to this topic, I really do. Yet I keep feeling like my point is either being missed, or intentionally mischaracterized. :confused:

No, I do not want to “clone” Circle. If that’s the impression you or anyone got from everything I’ve said, I don’t know what else to say except that I’ve done my best to be as clear as possible: I want Discourse to learn from what Circle does well and for Discourse to become a better experience for more people as a result. That’s it. That does not seem like a controversial goal to me.

As to doing that work myself, yes of course it’s technically possible. Unfortunately I lack the necessary skills and knowledge (as apparently does @P2W). The turnkey options for Discourse hosting actually make it remarkably easy to start up a forum, even to the point of reasonable customization with existing themes, components, and plugins. A non-expert can do a lot, and that’s great! But there is an ironic gap where arguably those who have less expertise are also those more likely to have an audience who might be attracted to the “friendliness” of Circle, and so the need for customization may in fact be higher for those who are least well equipped to make it happen. That’s not necessarily your problem, of course, but it is a somewhat unfortunate corollary.

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It’s more desired formatting. I am sure I could hire a developer to give me the teams asthetic.

I am aware I can’t use the boxed solution for my application.

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Oshyan, I just read through this topic again and you have provided some great suggestions. Thank you! I in particular like the idea of simplifying the composer, as @codinghorror notes I have been talking about recently. I think we can get very far in making the composer easier to use without having to give up markdown.

I can see you want to help make Discourse better, and you’re welcome to contribute! I’d like to suggest that you start small and make concrete suggestions (with mockups) for some new feature or some other improvement, or join topics where people are already working together on something you care about. You will find many people have already been talking quite a bit about many of the things you touched on above.

Generally speaking, many of the differences you are describing between Discourse and other platforms are entirely intentional. We’re trying to get people to focus on the discussions and on making contributions that people want to read and participate in today and refer back to in the future.

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As I think I said somewhere in this topic. … I used to be a high school “computer teacher”, and after that I was a teacher educator. My wife is a teacher educator who studies . . . wait for it . . . discourse (not Discourse). I started using Discourse because I was using it to teach a set of technology course for masters students.

I’m intrigued by the notion of creating some teacher-friendly Discourse that I managed, set up, or hosted, especially if I could figure out how to do it as part of my business.

If you can tell me what an actual teacher/department/school needs that they can’t figure out and a budget, please contact jay@literatecomputing.com and let me know.

If what you want is some education-specific theme or plugin that you want to be free, then I’m still interested. I would love to again be involved in feeble attempts to make school suck less.

I’m working on a product that will automate Discourse tasks, one set of features could be to have it install and configure a set of themes and/or categories and groups.

I think I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t have a sense of a discrete set of problems that need to be solved. If you have specific things that you need to work for your specific situation, please contact me and I’ll see if I can help.

At a meta level, instead of “I wish discourse was more like Circle” a new topic with “I wish Discourse could do X” could be helpful.

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:heart_eyes_cat: :hugs:

My teacher spouse and tenth grade son will thank you. They are in zoom and google classroom purgatory these days, now in the next room from me for the foreseeable future, no less… I’d love to see a “Discourse for Classrooms” that I could pitch to them. May be worthy of a new topic in #community to brainstorm what it might look like?

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+1 to this comment.

My confusion (and enormous amounts of internal confusion) is due to feedback here that needs huge amounts of personal interpretation:

Discourse would be better if it had a wysiwig editor like circle

100% actionable, even if we decide not to do so.

Discourse should ship with a sidebar like it has in teams and like circle has, I find it easier to navigate

100% actionable, even if we decide against.

And so on…

Make Discourse feel less techy

Impossible to act on, requires huge amounts of interpretation.

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Yes, that’s exactly the problem with topics like this. However well intentioned they may be…

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You have my vote too! I would like to see it have integration with Google Classroom, Google Drive, and other Google services, along with Chrome OS and the like.

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Definitely understand this, and it’s tough to explain! I’ve approached this before by calling designs like theirs more “opinionated.” Circle does things like round corners on boxes and buttons… their icons contribute too… they’re rounder, softer. They use more whitespace within certain elements. A little can go a long way.

Messing around with CSS for 10 minutes can get some of that feeling in place (but yeah parts of it would need bigger structural changes, maybe even changes to how things are by default).

As far as I know you also can’t change any of that within Circle. They have a strong opinion of what the UI should look like and that’s what you get.

Discourse goes the other way… we want sites to be customized, sometimes very heavily, so we don’t have much of an aesthetic opinion by default; we get out of the way so you can theme. Early on Discourse had a stronger visual aesthetic with text shadows, rounded corners, etc… this made it much more difficult to theme because you had to “undo” all of these opinions if you didn’t want them.

Anyway, I think the difference in approach is something to keep in mind when comparing. Removing theming from Discourse would make my job a lot easier (we also build themes for our Enterprise customers), and we could be much more strict and opinionated about the default design because there are fewer considerations.

We’re always improving and reading feedback. We’ve been adding features like choosing a custom fonts and color palettes when you’re setting up a Discourse site… and I hope at some point this year admins will be able to choose a full theme when they’re setting up their site (and we’ll have more theme options for sure).

I can see the appeal of the sidebar, I’ve built a few sidebars for Discourse myself… and I’d say this is a difference in philosophy. We’re fairly protective of what gets added to topic pages because we don’t want to distract from reading. Circle chooses to carry the navigation everywhere and is therefore more consistent and quicker to navigate between categories. I think there are pros/cons of each approach… one pro for Circle is that at this point the 3-column layout is very familiar and has wormed its way into everyone’s brain (largely because of Facebook). Familiar feels friendly!

I agree that markdown and the side-by-side preview feels more complicated specifically for low-skill computer users (which IIRC is most people). It’s not the Facebook input box or a Microsoft Word document, so it’s uncharted territory for many. We’ve discussed some hybrid approaches where images and formatting would appear inline with markup in one window (github and some others do something similar), but it’s a big complex change with lots of pieces. I don’t think we’d ever go WYSIWYG, but there are WYSIWYG-ish things that could probably help.

Agree here too! I’d like this to be something we can improve on within the next year. We haven’t touched the profile summaries in quite a while, and there’s not much of an information hierarchy there… it’s a firehose of stats.

I’m not sure if it was the original intention, but I think the fun part is about participating with the community and not necessarily the software itself. Are parties fun? depends on the company you keep! I’m biased but I have fun talking to people on Discourse (and other discussion platforms too)… sometimes older/broken/buggy forum software detracts from that.

The simple question can be funny… we’ve gotten “too complicated” feedback from people who primarily use social media… and “too simple/too much whitespace” complaints from old school forum folks.

Simple depends on where you’re coming from. Is Circle simpler? Yep. Are we simple compared to legacy forum software? Yep. Could we be simpler? we’re always finding new ways… (and your feedback helps, thanks for taking the time!)

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Well it’s really not even comparable. The Circle community forums are dead, a post every few days and many post go untouched by anyone. Somewhat strange for a community platforms own platform to be so hollow. I do like general asthetic and specifically the simplicity.

I do like their showcase. Strangely i had to change my forking username here as it had my domain in it. Something about advertising. So finding community discourse iterations to draw inspiration from can be a pain. Not sure ive ever seen an open source or white labeling product with thay rule.

Whats rewarding here is the community is incredibly helpful, team or otherwise. Also doesnt hurt that discourse developers are generally very reasonable from a cost perspective.

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BitBucket also implemented this recently, and I have to say that I hate it. WYSIWYG in general is not my preferred approach for these kinds of programs (speaking as a technical user), but for me the hybrid approach isn’t any better. It adds so much noise to the post, with things becoming bold, italicized, formatted for code, etc. all inline. It’s particularly awkward when you are adding formatting during revision, as adding one backtick for example changes the formatting of everything to the right until you add the closing backtick (at least in BitBucket’s current implementation). I find the experience very jarring and unnecessary.

Personally, I prefer to see raw markdown in the editor, with a way to preview the formatted post before posting. The side by side implementation Discourse already has achieves this fine in my opinion, and explicit preview buttons like GitHub and BitBucket have are also fine.

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I couldn’t stand it, wrote. )

I don’t quite agree with this. They are for different purposes and it will be noticeable when there is a long thread of detailed conversations with photos, links, and code elements.

This is not a forum format. This is the social media model. Different behaviors and different purposes.

But I have to agree that it is this presentation of information that is more attractive to ordinary users. They look at Facebook, they look at it and they say it’s better! Because it’s just cleaner, less noise, easier.

I know that there is a desire for versatility, to mix different models, usually it all does not end well. Forum is good for one thing, social networks for another. In my humble opinion.

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Yeah, but the “noise” that Facebook hides is actually the signal. I’ve yet to find a conversation on Facebook that I want to read that I’m willing to read because it takes a zillion clicks to un-hide the messages and I can never tell—even in a single session–which messages I have seen and which I haven’t.

But maybe that’s what people want from a social platform.

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