This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://blog.discourse.org/2021/08/discourse-series-a
Not before time I might add
Wow, that’s big, congratulations!
I hope we will see much more of this being driven by this new funding. I’m not sure what your own user data (interviews, etc.) say, but I have not known many people who would describe using Discourse as “fun”. Frictionless? Maybe, for some subset of users. “Simplest”? Mm, again, not so sure about that. Certainly not simplest to setup/install (I recognize that, given the tech stack, it may already be about as simple as it can be). But even from a user perspective you can see plenty of people here in Meta - and elsewhere - talking about Discourse seeming more “techie”, or even “complicated”, than some other related platforms/tools with similar goals to Discourse.
Now I know that specific suggestions around these broader topics and concerns are the best way to advocate for change (or at least the easiest for the team to engage with). And I will continue to try to do that as time and brainpower allow. But I also think it is reasonable to ask that a company of your size, with deep expertise in its problem domain, be more clearly responsible for translating general examples of user need or concerns into more specific features and other changes.
Ideally this would be not just through dialog here in the forums (which already happens, though with some concerns), but also through direct user (and prospective user/admin!) interviews with open and experientially-oriented questions (i.e. classic user interviews). I imagine you already do that give your size and experience, but if so, I think bringing some of that more open approach into Meta would be good. I.e. more of the Discourse team visibly doing the job of translating user sentiment and behavior into features and other changes based on openly expressed feedback.
By “visibly” I mean fewer responses from the team that put the responsibility on the user to make some specific suggestion and more of e.g. asking “What if there was X feature, would that help with your need?”
This, I think, is particularly exciting, and also relies heavily on addressing the concerns I mentioned above.
You know, of course, that my comments are meant respectfully and that I want the best for Discourse. And I also do not mean to suggest that you do not do user interviews, or that you don’t do any of the work of breaking down more general ideas and needs into feature requests, etc. In fact, I think there are visible improvements in these areas here across Meta over the last year or two at the least (I haven’t been around longer than that). Still, as an end user and administrator of several Discourse forums, my lived experience here in the forums trying to advocate for changes often seems to be met with “You’re not being specific enough” or “do a mockup” (which can easily be seen, depending on the level of capability and understanding of the requester, as “please do some of the development work for us”). You benefit from a high level of user skill here in Meta, certainly, but you cannot take that for granted, especially if you hope to “reach totally new audiences”.
I hope you don’t mind me raising those concerns here. I don’t mean to “steal your thunder”, but these concerns do seem relevant to this big increase in resources for the team. Thank you for listening.
Overall all I think Discourse is doing a great job. It’s an excellent product, with a thoughtful and capable team behind it, and this latest funding is well-deserved!
Congratulations on funding and double congratulations on finding the right investors…
coincidentally there has been a discussion on HN about discourse, as usual there are love letters and people who like few changes
This is fantastic - congrats to all the DC team
We recently migrated a forum to DC (from vB) and it helped breathe life back into the old dog, with user engagement up significantly (over 10K posts a week). We did lose a fair few members (which is always expected) but the ones that stuck with it are posting more and love the update. There are a few things I can share about the switch that might help the DC team but I’ll do that late as I don’t want to derail this thread, just wanted to say that DC is the best forum platform out there and the support you get here is on par if not better than what you get on forums where you have to pay an annual licence fee.
Well done everyone involved and I can’t wait to see where DC does next!
Congratulation. Love to see discourse white labeled all over the place these days. Well earned and cheers to your continued growth.
In an excited and respectful way, I gently second the points raised in this comment.
Where can i send my resume tooooo ?
Well, sure, but this gets into “I really don’t care for country and western music.” That’s fine. Not everybody likes every style of music.
But for me, personally, I absolutely do have a ton of fun using Discourse, and significantly less fun using XenForo, vBulletin, SMF, Reddit, Twitter, email, and … gosh… there’s very little I use online that gives me the same real time, topic based, paragraph-based reasoned discussion, intelligent notification satisfaction of Discourse. Naturally, I’m biased, but I think our growth over the last 9 years, and others being willing to invest vast sums in what we’re doing, speaks for itself.
But it’s also true that there are plenty of other types of music than country and western, and the world is better for that diversity – it’s perfectly fine to prefer a different sound, a different experience. And you can possibly mash up country and western with other genres like rock or even rap – it’s been done! I would never say, like Facebook, that there should be Only One Thing that every person uses. That’s anathema to me.
You’re right – we’ve been at this for 8 years now, and there’s a massive list of topics on meta documenting tons of changes we’ve made as a direct result of user feedback, though we do tend to prioritize feedback from our hosted customers because that is essential to our survival as a business. Just take a look at a screenshot of Discourse from 2013 and compare it with today. So different!
I think open source requires a bit more patience than other closed source products, though I’m curious if there are other products you use where you’ve had lunch with a founder, on them, with gifts? I’d say that’s quite an indication of how willing we are to listen.
I’m glad you’ve found investors who understand what you’ve built so far, and what you’re looking to build in the future. Not an easy thing. I hope those relationships continue to grow.
As someone who as transitioned from user, forum admin and feature requester, to developer, and founder of another business that uses Discourse I’ve seen both sides of this equation. I understand what you’re saying here but I would add a bit more context that may change the complexion a bit.
When you’re building open source software you get many requests from all quarters, on a regular basis. Some are very thorough and thought through, others are not. In fact, sometimes the level of attention to detail is inversely proportional to the level of insistence from the person requesting the thing. No matter how willing you are to engage with users you don’t have inifinite time or patience.
What invariably happens is that you’ll develop a system of prioritization, and standard answers to certain questions. When you add to this picture the fact that you’re either running or part of an organisation that wants to stay financially viable so it can give it’s workers a decent wage, avoid burnout and continue to grow, one way you can prioritise things is by whether the person requesting something is a client.
Now, the prioritization of paying cients is not axiomatic, or the same in all cases. Different organisational structures produce different incentives in this respect (which is part of the reason why Pavilion is a cooperative, not a traditional business). However it is entirely natural and understandable. The vast majority of viable businesses do this every day. And in most cases people accept this as standard practice in a market economy. In fact, in other contexts, people would find it strange if a business started to adapt its practices based on the feedback of anyone who happened to rock up (and didn’t purchase anything).
What has impressed me over the years working with Discourse is the extent to which the Discourse founders, its team, and the Discourse code itself, goes out of its way to go beyond those standard incentives. I’ve been running Discourse fourms, making feature requests, making PRs, building plugins and themes and making other contributions to the Discourse community for over 6 years without being a paying customer. I have been extremely gratified with the level of support and feedback I’ve got in return.
Yes, it’s not the only such open source project in existence, but there are relatively few paired with a successful business model. That model means you can reasonably expect it to be viable for another decade, which is not true of some of the other options out there. As Discourse continues to grow that model, what we should ask ourselves as part of the community of users, communities and businesses that use it is how we can continue to build and incentivise the non-standard aspects of it which we’ve all benefited from, and will continue to for years to come.
When businesses grow what often happens is that questions of efficiency come more to the fore, particularly economic efficiency. This is also a natural part of a business operating in a market economy. I’m not saying this is axiomatic in the case of Discourse, but that’s the natural, and understandable, progression of a business model. You may feel like Discourse getting bigger means that now they’ll have more staff to spend more time on open source feature requests. Perhaps. But that will be balanced against the realities of running a business.
As Discourse gets bigger, the question I’d be asking (and am asking myself), is what can I do to continue to build those relatively rare aspects of Discourse that go beyond the standard business incentives. Those parts of Discourse are inherently reciprocal. The health of any community is not just dependent on the folks who run it, it’s also dependent on the approach of its members.
Yes, lets keep making feature requests, raising PRs and advocating for changes we believe would be beneificial. Let’s do that as diligently as possible, and even more so. Keeping that spirit alive is just as much on us as it is on Discourse.org.
We believe the ecosystem around Discourse is just as important as Discourse itself. Building up others who build on discourse is one of the pillars of what we wish to accomplish with these new resources. It’s a big tent and there is room for everyone to help us make it even bigger.
Good news. Can you share your long-term plans for improving the platform with the community? What positive changes can occur in discourse?
Congrats on the investment! Fantastic. It’s great to see the platform growing.
I think that what @oshyan is getting at is more the user experience / user difficulty of Discourse. If you are a non-coder, the initial set up is very challenging (I did it, eventually, but it wasn’t the simplest experience). I almost posted the “easy” set up guide to Genius so I could annotate it as I went.
And there are user issues that make the platform complex for non-technical customers. As just one instance, see my reply to @oshyan elsewhere on this thread “In an excited and respectful way…”. It’s quite subtle to figure out, visually, which comment I am responding to. Yes, I can click on the image and be taken to the original comment, but my older customers might not spot that. And when a thread gets heated, people start to feel dismayed that they might have replied to the wrong person.
It is frustrating to see entrepreneurs in my field praising other, more limited and more expensive community platforms than Discourse! I want Discourse to be more appealing to more people.
Congrats. Every time that I’m visiting a website and there is a link to the website’s community I expect it to be a Discourse community, especially if is something related to tech (like Julia lang for example), and most of the time it is a Discourse community
I’m not a big fan of forums, but with Discourse I feel is much easier to just participate in any forum.
I can’t agree more, about this! Every time I have to learn a new software, I get excited when I find out that they use Discourse for their online community. I look forward to jumping in the new community, and actively engaging, when it’s Discourse!
This tranche of venture capital funding now noted on wikipedia: Discourse (software) - Wikipedia
Please edit further as required. HTH, R
Thanks @robbie.morrison! Only edit I’ve made was to point the URL toward the blog vs. here on Meta.
Just wanna chime in with @codinghorror and @jord8on in support of Discourse being fun and not just frictionless or simple. I’m a heavy user of 4 forums on the same health topic.
Frictionless: Those not using Discourse irritate me considerably for a number of reasons like general navigation (finding new threads, new posts etc.), allowed editing time, no composer preview, no drafts, less formating or how slowly their emojis often open (if they have any at all). It may be “subtle to figure out … which comment I am responding to”, but the only forum-software of the 4 that does this more than Discourse makes it almost impossible to find the latest post.
(Not frictionless: On one other forum searching is easier because the phrase snip is more relevant. I’ve given up searching for certain posts on the other 2 - or use a search engine.)
Simple: Only very slight problems for myself, I can’t imagine others having less problems with the other 3.
Fun: OK, I do have a fast learning curve for this sort of stuff, but it’s built up so logically, so many possibilities directly under the surface, I can “work” fast (incl. keyboard shortcuts), editing, drafts, linking is easy, loads of additional functions, formating, hiding details etc. do really make it fun for me, which is one reason I’ve chosen that forum for writing my blog as opposed to the others (the 2nd being the people there are nicer than everywhere else too… - wdnt be surprised if that were somehow magically or psychologically connected too)…
Error messages reinterpreted as fun trophies: As Discourse promises the world and the version that forum uses “only” trades in a continent it whets appetite for trying to do more than it can, so I get error messages like others get trophies, which the mods often can’t explain, like when editing too much or too quickly or the “429 no reason phrase”… I reinterpret this as fun too, altho I may be stumped a bit till I find a workaround…
I see this sentiment from time to time, but I really don’t understand it. I’m not a coder. I’m not an IT professional of any type. But I really don’t understand how it’s challenging to do:
git clone https://github.com/discourse/discourse_docker.git /var/discourse cd /var/discourse ./discourse-setup
You don’t have to guess at any of those commands, you don’t have to adapt them to your environment, etc.–just copy and paste from the docs. It certainly isn’t any more challenging than the “normal” forum setup of “download tarball, extract, create database, configure PHP app to connect to database”. It’s different, but if anything, it’s less challenging–especially since you don’t already need to have a webserver, PHP, and a database all up and running first.
I mean this in the most polite, respectful way, but your reply – and I’m being 100% chill and friendly here – proves my point better than I ever could.
My claim is simple: there are thousands of people out there who would love the results that Discourse can offer: moms with shopping blogs, fishermen trying to run a Facebook group, authors who want to build a street team… in my mind, this is the “wider audience” previously referred to – but most of them would find Discourse far too “difficult” to use.
I just think it’s a missed opportunity.
I promise you that 99 out of 100 online community builders have no idea what this means. Paste where? Into Github? Into the browser? Into a Discourse app of some kind?
These people have never opened Terminal once in their lives.
Every year, I earn something close to the average US salary selling digital products, and I’ve been online, in some fashion, for decades. I literally have no idea what tarball is.
I’m not saying this to be snarky or hate on Discourse. I run my own community with it!
And for every example I can offer, I also know that you can do some searching, asking around, and find the answer. That’s what I did
My point is, rather, that there seems to be a pervasive mis-judgement around here of how tech savvy most online community builders are. And when someone mentions this – as you say, it’s not just me – there is a tone of incredulousness, even disbelief.
That vibe makes posting on this forum somewhat less enjoyable for me than I would like.
Of course, I’m a grown up, so it’s not a big deal. But what most of those people I mentioned will actually do is move on, and end up paying for Circle.so, or buy some Wordpress plugin, or start a FB group. Even thought Discourse is a better solution.
Anyway. I’ve said my piece. Maybe I’m wrong! This is all I’m going to post on the topic – I don’t want to keep complaining on a page announcing a great success. Very happy for the team, and I hope the platform goes from strength to strength.