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

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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I absolutely agree. What Discourse promises to become is tantalising, yet it doesn’t come across as being committed to this radicalism.

Discourse is sometimes referred to as a “legacy platform” (e.g. this article from last year) in comparisons against modern platforms like Discord and Circle; and I can’t imagine searching “[keyword] Discourse” the way it’s normal to search “[keyword] Reddit”, even if this brought up Discourse forums in the results in the first place. One of the main reasons for this is that (for whatever reason) forums tend to become insular, and full of people who have never tried the new thing (and instead opt to argue on the forum about why they already know all about the new thing). That’s a far worse kind of noise than the noise typical of chats.

Fast-moving, topic-agnostic communication is a powerful counter against this trend towards decay in online communities. People can go do other stuff outside of the platform, come back with thoughts and links, and people who don’t keep up don’t get to participate because the discourse moves on.

@codinghorror gives a good explanation of why chats are good for forums here, even within the context of a single forum:

But it’s worrying that he even had to explain chats are not antithetical to “quality content, or with content at all”. It sounds like Facebook-exclusive users describing TikTok without having used it themselves to get how it works. As a discussion about how to design a “discussion platform built for the next decade of the Internet”, that’s a non-starter. And it’s getting pretty close to a decade since the initial release.

The new generation of community software that embraces that ambiguity of platform design are “simple, modern, and fun”. What was “simple, modern, fun” a decade ago isn’t simple, modern, fun today. For example, see how similar the UI designs are between modern community platforms and modern chats. Chats promote speed and novelty, and the attendant UI designs support this feature. Speed and terseness is a good thing most of the time, especially when there’s a way to readily pursue depth as appropriate (i.e. chat-to-forum features). It’s fundamentally misguided to think that speed and novelty are opposed to serious and meaningful conversations.

I think we have to be careful here when thinking about what it means for the solution to have “already existed”. That being said, I’m inclined to say something similar about federation, and think that Discourse could benefit massively from federated chats and forums. Maybe only the chats could be federated, but help to bridge Discourse instances indirectly.

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That’s interesting. I’ve never ONCE searched “[keyword] Reddit”, even prior to my interest in Discourse. Fashions like that scare me to some extent, as they take away from the open nature of the web (Obsession with Facebook or Instagram are other examples, but that’s for another time …) Given Reddit is such an awkward platform to use (worst of all, the “click to expand conversation” dynamic), it’s surprising that it’s taken hold so much. Perhaps it filled a gap?

I would hope the SEO of my sites are strong enough to attract clicks without the word “Discourse” being included in the search.

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People use the old.reddit.com subdomain when they want to have all the conversations already expanded, and there’s extensions that enable things like that.

I think it’s more that subreddits can be rigidly focuses on a single topic in a way that reduces off-topic conversations, and aggressively sorts posts based on upvotes/downvotes. How it organises threaded conversations hierarchically is better than Discourse for conversations that don’t require the full context (i.e. the kind that users look for on Google and read without any intention of participating in the conversation themselves).

It’s interesting to consider how people use and contribute to Stack Overflow, since that feels more like the half-way between anonymous visitors to Reddit and community members on a Discourse forum. I wonder where a Discourse forum with a chat would fall.

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Perhaps. I’ve been an Open Source Zealot and evangelist for several decades now, and have (almost?) never used Discord. So there are plenty of reasons to discount my knee-jerk reactions here.

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For me it wouldn’t be so much for a fashion reason but more so for a predictable format. For example, if I’m around a table with 10 people and ask them “What’s your favorite food?” The reddit format would be then asking people to write down their favorite food on a piece of paper and everyone to hand me their piece of paper, allowing many independent answers. The Discourse format would be to have each person answer aloud one by one, going around the table. In short, reddit and other threaded formats often allow answers in parallel whereas Discourse (without plugins) focuses on answers in series. I don’t think one is inherently better than the other, just better for different purposes.

In that context, if I’m looking for a conversation-in-series, I may want to search for ‘[keyword] Discourse’ to find some of the best ones on the internet because I think Discourse does that roundtable format better than most.

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Yeah this is filling a gap Google created. SEO blogspam is so prevalent that if you’re searching for a product, the first page is often filled with sponsored content. Adding reddit to a search will increase your odds of getting results that at least appear to be a discussion between real people.

Reddit benefits from this quite a lot as a centralized platform. Discourse isn’t centralized and is whitelabeled more often than not, so it’s more likely that searching “[product] forum” is going to get you Discourse results… which seems healthier for the web.

Brave is working on adding discussion-focused search to their search engine… which seems to align better with our approach and can benefit everyone:

Google specifically removed their own “discussion” search filter years ago. Maybe it’ll make a comeback.

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You could very well be right.

Also, there’s an extension for Google Chrome that appears to bring it back.

Personally, I’d be thrilled if Google puts discussions front and center. It could help revive forums as a whole.

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If you try searching “[keyword] forum” you can see it’s no good for this case either, because it brings up forums related to the keyword topic (which is actually great if you’re looking for a forum; not so much if your search is granular).

Google isn’t even serving their own Google Groups properly. Hoping Google will align with what’s “healthier for the web” (unclear what that means; more indieweb sites?) doesn’t sound like an approach at all… unless there’s federation features planned that will shift the balance?

Also, “discourse” as a name has is really hard to use as a keyword (everybody from Twitter political commentators to academics use it):
image

I wonder how well search engines handle treating discussions as a single set like they might do with domains, when putting pages onto a subdomain will worsen the SEO for them compared to putting them all onto one domain. Brave’s Discussions feature doesn’t work well right now, but of course it’s only been a week since launch.

These turned out to be for ads, not discussions. You have to wonder what Google thinks when they hear “discussions” (consider that this no longer means “forums”), and what they actually want out of displaying discussions in the search results. It looks like a way to cut into feed-based sites’ market (which display sponsored content within the same context as discussions). I have a feeling they’ll start testing YouTube Shorts in the search results, since they’ve just started rolling out ads inside YouTube shorts.

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Lol. Did they say that about Slack at some point? I’m sure they did.

Discord is great, but the future of communication is not throw-away ephemeral, forgettable noise.

The problem Discord has is at some point people will cotton onto the fact they are losing control of their data. Once a business gets big enough they will want to consider their options.

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They did! And it grew like crazy and was acquired for $27 billion. So whether it was or wasn’t, it sure made an impact. I think in particular their approach to integrations and treating chat as an interaction model for taking a variety of actions was actually fairly clever and forward-thinking. That’s now being adopted by many other tools.

I don’t really understand comments like this. Discord is a tool which, like Discourse, can be used in many ways, with varying degrees of quality. Go read through the Obsidian Discord where they’re having super in-depth and valuable conversations about knowledge management, productivity workflows, etc. and see if you still feel like it’s all “forgettable noise”. I’ll grant that the way the platform works does bias it towards “forgettable” at the least (“noise” is a needlessly uncharitable and factually inaccurate descriptor IMO), and I do wish people would use less inherently-ephemeral platforms (e.g. Discourse). But that doesn’t change the fact that people do use Discord for some very valuable and interesting purposes. Again, not my favorite tool, but neither is Slack, and Slack runs the daily interaction of 1000s of valuable companies…

I sure hope so! But what I’ve found, disappointingly, is that too few people really care about data ownership. More people care about “privacy”, hence the recent Facebook backlash, but I really don’t think that’s about data ownership as much as “not wanting big companies to have my data and sell it” (which is a far more relatable and visceral motivation for most). So, while again I agree with you, I wouldn’t count on this happening…

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This is not a fair comparison (as you point out).

How about the number of enterprise customers or their combined market cap?

Discord has minimised the entry barrier and perfected the spin up in a millisecond workflow. The barrier is so low, there’s no need to think about creating one or making sure it has a meaningful existence. Many of these “servers” are tiny and dead. My friend told me he created one the other day. I have no idea if anyone actually goes “there”, I’ve never used it, I have no need, I just DM him.

A subset of chat channels is in no way comparable to the utility of a full unix VPS with web app, database and a completely customisable set of functionality. Discourse is a platform, not a set of chat addresses.

No doubt Discords scalability and architecture are admirable and a beautiful thing to conceive. As a solution for people to have audio meetings or take part in shared experiences online it is fantastic.

Discord has also set the web back: there are support communities on there answering the same questions over and over and over. What a terrible waste of manpower, so inefficient. (The only thing worse is a proof of work algorithm … but I digress)

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Agreed. Our recently-retained SEO folk have pointed this out as well, especially since Google sometimes docks main sites for behaviour of subdomains (which is so braindead of them, but whatever).

I happen to agree though - I think there’s a real opportunity for Discourse to provide value where discord never could in the fact that discussions are open to the internet and, in theory, could be well-indexed in search engines.

Additionally, I wonder if Discourse could benefit from it being easier to start a community? I get the feeling that Discord is popular in large part because it takes about 5 minutes to start a community there, for free, with no server investment, and it happens to have a bazillion integrations with so many platforms that themselves don’t have good community building tools.

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Sure, fair enough. So set aside the number of servers and focus on MAU then, i.e. actual active people using the service for some purpose they feel is of benefit to them. Do you think Discourse is anywhere near 150m MAU across every instance? I’d be deeply shocked if it is, though I know there is no way to know for sure.

You’re right, they have different purposes, serve (somewhat) different markets, have different hosting and distribution and profit models. But in my experience there is a lot of overlap in certain areas of their respective markets, and if one or the other were to do a better job of integrating the value prop of the other service, many would likely consolidate for convenience, efficiency, etc. Hopefully Discourse becomes that consolidation point and not Discord, but that’s what this whole conversation is about: is CDCK doing enough to make that happen? Do they even want that? If so, what’s their vision to accomplish it besides adding a chat component?

There is no “could” about it IMHO, it is definitely a yes, it would benefit. That said, to-date this is not within Discourse/CDCK’s business model, and due to its hosting requirements (Docker, min 2GB RAM, etc.), it seems unlikely to become anyone else’s either. Communiteq does a great job of making it at least more affordable, but there’s still a big gap between $20/mo and free. And I think it becomes a fair question then of whether Discourse even wants to try to compete with free. I do think efforts to make Discourse cheaper and easier to setup, host, and maintain should be taken quite seriously, at the least. “Free” does not need to be the goal, but “reasonably affordable and easy” should. Digital Ocean on a $10/mo droplet is serviceable, but the knowledge and effort gaps from “Free Discord server setup” to “Setting up and understanding Digital Ocean and then setting up and understanding Discourse” is pretty significant. Maybe that can be narrowed…

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Well I’m surprised you really compare both products on just the “chat” / text feature…

For my community, we use both. And Discord it useful because of the AUDIO chat & video streaming features. The chat is better now but it took years to get there AND the thread feature is a joke, even our core users never see one unless they are invited in it…

To be clear, anything worth more than 2 lines of text will move to discourse. And our moderation do help to achieve that. We also try to minimize the community fragmentation by redirecting new users to the forum if needed.

Discord is very much like IRC: everything before the last hour is dead (much less on busy servers) and offers NO value to your community. And everything is owned by discord anyway. If people want to make the Facebook Group mistake AGAIN, let them have fun.

The new “forum” stuff will be very interesting for 100% Discord communities, online streamers with 0 web presence (that’s stupid but that’s another story), etc.

Yes but what is the balance? Spoiler alert: discord never made a dollar yet. That’s why they are pushing HARD their “premium” services and almost were bought by Microsoft last year. The day they force ppl to pay or are bought by a megacorp with a poor image is the day they start to die.

In fact, I’ll argue that Discord is under MUCH more pressure than Discourse. They need to turn a profit fast, and there is alternatives growing on their market (like Guilded.gg owned by the super-toxic Roblox makers, again, a story for another time).

As a user, I’m very happy with the dev. pace of Discourse and I really don’t think they need to overreact. And knowing the MASTER of the product, he will shrug this whole conversation, as he should. :wink:

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I think there’s a huge difference in philosophy of course.

Discourse gives you the freedom to walk away, create your own brand, keep your own data, be independently discoverable by anyone on the internet …

AND STILL you get free upgrades from the same core team (and some plugin providers like ourselves)!

How is that not really amazing?

OK there’s still significant work involved and some cost to run your own instance, but they have a hosted solution for those people who need it.

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