Discord is taking aim at Discourse. How does Discourse remain unique and stand out from the crowd?

The folks over at Discord must’ve seen what CDCK was doing with Discourse Chat. They’re now implementing “forums” into the desktop client and mobile application.

There are some rather stark differences to Discourse, but it’s quite obviously in response to what CDCK is working on.


Ultimately, that just leaves me with one major question.

How does Discourse plan on remaining a viable alternative when popular chat platforms like Discord are building long-form methods of discussion into their core product? Just curious… :thinking:

I hope there can be a productive discussion about this. I’m not here to bash Discourse or anything like that. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. :heart:

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Here are a few guesses on how discourse will stay afloat. Cant be for sure on some since not all servers have access so I can’t test the moderation side of it.

Discourse probably has over discord:

  • More customizable options
  • Better moderation options
  • Shared drafts

Discourse does have over discord:

  • Custom SSO
  • Flags
  • Built-in trust system
  • Desensitized
  • Open source
  • More notification options per topic
  • Built-in badges
  • Built-in leader boards
  • Able to easily download everything and migrate to or from.
  • Still being a forum and not a forum and I.M. combined since the forums are basically just sub-channels.
  • Self-contained as in there are no other forums on the same website.
  • Easier to distinguish staff from people impersonating.

Because of all of this Discourse will probably survive for years to come.

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Indeed, being free software is an incomparable Discourse advantage.

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But free doesn’t pay the bills.

Discourse has paid managed hosting products to achieve that of course which does expose it more to competition from Discord.

What sets it apart imho particularly is:

  • you own your data
  • your own domain
  • exposure to search engines (is this something Discord plans to do?)

I’m sure Discord will add some (perhaps more limited) customisation options, but they will all be monetised :slight_smile: (whoop, developers get paid!)

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I was referring to free software not gratis software. AFAIK, Discord is freeware and “comes at no cost”, so it’s not a point of comparison with Discourse.

Software freedom has nothing to do with price, but with a way of producing software for the general interest of the community it serves. When it’s not free, like Discord, the community it serves is not its users, but its shareholders.

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I suppose Discourse is in a tight spot when it comes to choosing and implementing their own features for the chat functionality, since they have to prioritise people who are used to forums and probably don’t like chats (whereas Discord has all the chat-proficient users they could want to test and get feedback from; though Discord must be in a similar spot when it comes to making forum-like features, but more on that later). Most of Discourse’s own features could eventually be cloned through one of Discord’s countless user-made bots, save for one:

Coming from using Discord more than Discourse, it seems quite clear to me that the only truly fundamental point of difference between chats and forums at this point is how discoverable the content is and how long a conversation can persist (e.g. by being bumped; turned into another thread, etc.). If Discourse had a proper chat functionality already, I would put that front and centre as the first thing that a user interacts with when joining the community. As @erlend_sh describes in another thread:

Discourse has very little “over” Discord when it comes to this competition within the stack; people still struggle with losing users to Facebook groups, when Facebook is languishing like never before. Differentiation based on strict typological differences (“Discourse is a forum; Discord is a chat”) will become meaningless very soon, and thinking along those lines is already simply naive. It seems like Discord is close to solving their own “signal to noise ratio” problem that @codinghorror mentioned 9 years ago in his Discourse launch article:

At Stack Exchange, one of the tricky things we learned about Q&A is that if your goal is to have an excellent signal to noise ratio, you must suppress discussion. Stack Exchange only supports the absolute minimum amount of discussion necessary to produce great questions and great answers. That’s why answers get constantly re-ordered by votes, that’s why comments have limited formatting and length and only a few display, and so forth. Almost every design decision we made was informed by our desire to push discussion down, to inhibit it in every way we could. Spare us the long-winded diatribe, just answer the damn question already .

Discord seems like it’s about to do the same judo flip that Jeff used on the oldschool forum software he criticised, but to modern forums like Reddit, Facebook, and Discourse. What I think sets Discourse apart strategically from Discord at this juncture is that Discourse is currently a forum software, and Discord is currently a chat software. Discord is therefore leveraging how its chats work in order to branch out towards the most effective ways of integrating forum-like functionalities into their system (that they look like forums is incidental).

Discourse should do the same, and branch out based on what existing forums are already doing well. For example, it could be a killer feature if Discourse allowed users to create new chat contexts from existing forum posts, much like how Discord allows users to create “threads” from any existing message within the chat. Users could also take content from Discourse chat and turn them into new forum threads, or wiki articles. Add Discourse’s sophisticated, bottom-up moderation functionalities to this way of organically branching out discussions and you might get something so new that it can scarcely be recognised as a “forum”.

Discourse should consider pivoting to a chat-first app, at least as a mental exercise while they work on the chat.

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Discourse chat already has a feature where chat can be created from any topics, it’s available in the topic wrench menu “Enable Chat”.

Discourse chat messages can already be copied over to topics easily. It’s an action we use all the time internally and availiable on the chat message menu “Quote in Topic”.

You mean pivot a profitable business where we have a good and growing market share and go head first into one of the most crowded markets were a “race to the bottom” for “free as in beer” solutions are a plenty? That would be very risky.

We fully believe in our chat plugin, even ditching our own internal chat in favour of it last year and we are actively dog-fooding it, and also testing it with our customers.

Discord moving to provide long-term discussion is very good, as it shows that chat is not the end-all for communication on the internet, and I hope it’s a nice product for people that have no budget to have their own Discourse, a very small community or doesn’t care about data ownership and white labeling of their community.

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I’d love to chime in on this one.

Discourse has a HUGE advantage over discord as the content on everyone’s discourse instance is available on the open internet ( for Google and others to see ) - unless of course, they set their instance to private

You can check my post history for context but I’m working on getting a working JS version served to Googlebot for SEO purposes. Currently it’s about getting google to understand the menus. ( getting close )

As more and more content is being posted on closed ecosystems ( ie. FB, Discord etc ) you’ll find google is craving content coming from forums and the like.

Right now Discourse (no offense) serves Googlebot a glorified RSS feed :laughing:

I’m convinced there is an SEO issue with Discourse, as I’ve been working on my instance the past couple of months, I’ve never seen these SEO fluctuations ( from our main site, discourse is on the subdomain )

It’s a big advantage over Discord and the community should consider capitalizing on it. IMHO SEO needs to be much higher on the priority list.

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Yeah, I think the forums in Discord are a neat idea, but they really suffer from lack of features that are available in Discourse. I’m not too sure how far you can take it with bots, but I doubt there will be nearly as much customization as Discourse. Personally, I am using a mix of Discord and Discourse in my community, which seems to be a great balance. I think that my community could have existed entirely on Discourse, except the lack of a voice chat system, which I personally do not think is needed by Discourse or any forum software by any means. There’s definitely room for both to coexist, and unless Discord adds a lot of customization, I do not see communities with existing forums abandoning their existing forum just to use Discord’s “built-in” solution. Not to mention, if you wait and see how watered down the Discord forum experience is unless you are a tier 3 boosted server, I doubt they’d add a new feature without putting it behind a paywall of sorts or restricting most of the “cool” features.

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Yeah, a case of the internet trying to innovate but eventually finding out the solution was already out there (and for quite a while), just needed modernisation (ie Discourse!) :rocket:

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I forgot to mention 1 thing. It’s very hard or impossible to search for something in an I.M. compared to a forum. Even with the forums on discord it’s an IM in the form of a forum.

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Oddly this seems to matter less to many people than I would have thought. Especially in the Web3/anarcho-capitalist crypto crowd, I would have thought that Discord being a completely proprietary, corporate-owned thing with minimal ability to get your data, users/customers, etc. out would be a concern. But no, Discord is by far the most popular place for such people to create communities.

There is no doubt that open source, open data, self-hosting and data ownership, etc. matter to some people, but that segment of people is a far more constrained market than those that just want a good, easy to setup and use (and ideally free, let’s be honest) platform. I definitely think Discourse will survive, but will they continue to grow and get new customers at the same rate if many of the advantage of a forum are now integrated into a free/cheap, turnkey solution? For example the Obsidian community started on Discord but created a Discourse forum to handle long-form chat and long-term search/archival. If Discord had a forum with those advantages already built-in to it, would they have ever bothered to start the forum? It’s a 32k user forum, so it’s not massive, but it’s pretty good-sized.

I agree, and I hope that the already-useful and rapidly-progressing Discourse chat plugin ultimately becomes a deeply integrated part of the core experience and fully embraced by the entire Discourse team as a key feature of the product. The plugin still feels like an add-on, though that is reasonable at this stage, and this is a good way to start building it to be sure. Long-term I think chat and forum/topic content need to have equal weight and be equally easy to access and understand. So far chat is to my mind hard to navigate vs. e.g. Discord. Harmonizing the two is challenging, so I will be quite curious to see how Discord handles it. Discourse’s approach thus far still needs work IMO (I do plan to give some feedback in the chat plugin discussions soon).

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Sorta makes you wonder if all those people saying that crypto is just another ponzi scheme that pulls in a bunch of people who don’t understand it might be be right. :person_shrugging:

And fwiw I think that the notion that discord could possibly compete with discourse any time soon is far fetched.

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omg Jay, that is exactly what I was thinking earlier but didn’t dare write … spot on!!!

One has to wonder if Discord’s current level of success will be put at some risk by the current fall in popularity of crypto …

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That’s interesting, especially since Discourse has a couple of #web3 plug-ins (which cryptocurrency plays a large part in).

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I agree that crypto users may well be a flash in the pan. But I’d argue that Discord has actually already passed Discourse for popularity, size of user base, and profit. I’m not sure what other relevant metric you’d use to measure how well it “competes”? Maybe you just mean in terms of capabilities, or “quality” of communities? I don’t know, but as far as comparing actual numbers typically used to evaluate success and competition, well, it’s not even close.

A little more than a year ago Discourse had $10m ARR and 31,000 servers by their own figures. Discord has 6.7 million “servers” (several million considered “active” at any given time), granted not the same thing as Discourse instances, but another way to put it is it has an order of magnitude more individual communities implemented in. It also has 150m MAU, and 390m total signups. Although Discourse is not centralized and it’s impossible to know for exactly how close it comes to that figure, even if you assume 35k instances by now, each one would have to have on average more than 10,000 users (an incredibly generous estimate in my experience), to have the same user numbers. In practice the biggest instances I’ve seen are around 1m, and the average is more like 1000. And finally, Discord made $130 million in revenue in 2020, Discourse made $10m in 2021.

Now don’t get me wrong, I much prefer Discourse both as an interaction model and as a platform! But I think it would be foolish to disregard Discord’s success, reach, funding (nearly $1b to date), and revenue in considering whether it can or will compete with Discourse as they evolve their successful business to keep it successful. If Discord wants to throw resources at forum-izing things (or rather, capturing the market share they lose to more long-form and archive-friendly discussion models), then they certainly have a lot to put behind it. They’ve done a decent job evolving their platform to-date and I don’t see a good reason to assume they will not handle the addition of forum-type functions well, too. I hope Discourse prevails! But I also think they’ll need to really focus on major evolution of the platform to see it succeed long-term and more broadly.

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I don’t see it. Can any user do that?

Thanks, I didn’t know that.

It’s quite tucked away (hover → kebab button → select → quote in topic), kind of like how “Reply as linked Topic” is tucked away with no initial indication that it’s a feature at all (meatball menu → link button → new topic).

Is there a chance both of these could be surfaced so that you can do them with one click instead of 3-4? Letting people create new contexts for more focused communications with fewer actions is not only an accessibility issue but seems like a generally good idea for a forum (unless it is an intentional barrier against less experienced using the functionality at all, which I suppose is fair enough).

Alright, I will take that one back since I’m not an entrepreneur. But please do consider the thought experiment: what would be different if Discourse did decide to be a chat more than a forum? Consider @oshyan’s feedback about the chat:

Discourse seems well positioned to become a groundbreaking combination of chat and forum functionalities. We shouldn’t say that “Discourse is a forum software, so of course its chat isn’t as good as Discord.” And we especially shouldn’t follow that up with “Discord’s forum functionalities aren’t as good as Discourse’s, so it’s even.” That’s the kind of attitude the traditional forum software communities had about their own designs, which Discourse accurately diagnosed as “terrible” and out of touch, and then proceeded to eat alive.

This is out of touch. People talk about Discord as being the future of online communication. I haven’t seen the same sentiment about Discourse in years, even though I feel like it could be. Discourse should strive to actually be that. It seems like it’s onto something very close to it, with the decision to develop its own chat.

The one true leverage Discourse has is discoverability:

@stance455 is correct to point out that the Internet splintering into siloed communities provides Discourse with an opportunity. I don’t know how highly the SEO aspect is being prioritised (and it’s been pretty good so far in my experience) so I can’t comment on that, but his point is very good.

I wonder what unique content discoverability features are within reach for Discourse. Perhaps chats can have granular privacy settings so that more of the chat is discoverable by search, and even weaved into the thread; perhaps the chat-to-post functionality is promoted as the default workflow for participants, so that the best content is constantly surfaced from the chat.

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Only admins can I think. Mods may be able to do it as well as with TL4

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That’s a shame. It’s a red flag when “X already has Y” but also “most users can’t access Y”.

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100% this! And this reminds me of an earlier point I wanted to make. CDCK bills itself as:

the 100% open source discussion platform built for the next decade of the Internet.

It goes on to “qualify” that statement by saying it can be a forum, mailing list, or “long-form chat”, but that first sentence seems to be the essence, and the second can easily be added to. :grin: My point is that the mission is more broad than “make the best forum software”.

I imagine that CDCK staff might point out that the chat plugin is part of their efforts to make significant expansion, and that’s definitely true. I would just reiterate what I said above and hope that they hold in mind the broader goals and potential, and what can be done with the ethos and core feature set they have built. Particularly in the areas of writing, moderation, integration, etc. which are not so much about forum vs. other interaction modes and all of which can readily be adapted to many “next generation” interaction/discussion models. Discourse continues to have the opportunity to help define what comes next, just as it did 10 years ago. An incredible forum/chat hybrid might be a good next step.

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