Discourse as a Conference App (in person, virtual, or hybrid)

I recently spent some time discussing with a Discourse client in the UK how they might run a Virtual Conference using Discourse.

As we discussed what they needed it became apparent how well Discourse can do this, but you need a confident and knowledgeable Discourse team to get all the right features in place.

Here are some of the ideas we came up with, which I thought I would share here, since there actually isn’t any other topic on Virtual Conferences yet (which surprised me actually!)


  • Category Banner Theme Component - to add better visuals to the various sections. (NB you can use CSS to insert background images in the banner rather than a plain colour)

  • In an established Discourse community, where the conference is not the only thing the Discourse instance exists for, you can advertise the conference with a Global Pinned Topic.

  • Create an overall Category for the Conference (unless the Discourse instance only exists for the conference, in which case you might use the top level for the overall conference and subcategories for each track)


  • You could use Topic Voting to decide on which presentations should be selected from the presentations submitted as part of a Call for Presentations

  • Navigating the conference: Make a Pinned Topic with the Conference Programme in the conference Category, and link from each programme item in your Programme list to the Topic in which that presentation will be placed.

  • Use one Topic per presentation - discussion about each session will follow in the replies after the first post.

  • YouTube and Vimeo can be embedded in posts, this is a standard feature of Discourse

  • Zoom Webinar Plugin - integrates Zoom webinars tightly with Discourse

  • Jitsi Video/Audio calling Plugin

  • Polls for use during sessions - we can use as we use Sli.do

Delegates and Participation

  • Delegates can be given access to the Conference area selectively - ie perhaps if not all members of the Discourse community are attending the conference, or if it is a paid conference with ticketing. (Worth mentioning that the Tickets Plugin is about ‘work tickets’ not the kind of tickets we’re talking about here)

  • Use Badges extensively, for gamification and rewards for attendees/delegates/sponsors/exhibitors

  • use Tags to help guide delegates to conference content that is interesting to them

  • Use Groups and Categories to manage who can see what parts (eg restricting access for exhibitors and attendees)

  • You could consider adding chat integration, particularly if your community already uses a chat platform. This enables you to link as much of the conference conversation to the Discourse instance as possible.

Sponsors and Exhibitors

  • Create a Sponsors/Supplier area (perhaps as a Subcategory of the conference category)

  • Use Avatar flair for Sponsors and Exhibitors with their branding

  • Sponsors and Exhibitors staff can have accounts - ideally use own names rather than company-name accounts, but can be grouped and titled/biographied to reflect their company affiliatiation, with avatar flair, title, etc

  • Set up all delegates as a Group on Discourse and Group Owners can Group Private Message the delegates before, during, and after the conference

Hopefully this might be of some use to someone out there, especially given that basically every conference in the world is going to be virtual for at least a few more months!

I’m happy for people to suggest other ideas in the replies, and we could even maybe Wikify this post so that people can add and improve.

Shameless Plug: While I’m here I should say that if you are considering running a virtual conference using Discourse, and need help with any aspect - consider us at thepavilion.io


With a slight twist of title name I find these ideas could be useful for sites that support training from time to time. The site I am from is for Prolog, which is a programming language if you didn’t know, and one of our members does training classes about once a year and these ideas would dovetail nicely with that.


Thanks so much for these suggestions, this is something I am working on for an international education conference (in November) that has made the decision early to run online this year.

I’ve been helping been starting a discourse community for the organization. We felt that having each session as a topic was a great format to provide the session materials and host discussions.

I’m curious to find an examples of conferences that have tried hosting their sessions and interactions in discourse.


Just for completitude, I am doing my own process with discourse as a platform for webinars here.

I am writing a guide for my team within apc.org to be able to host events using discourse not only as a space for getting informed about events, but also to encourage participation in the platform through it.

Would love to hear your thoughts about it (you can either reply here or comment on the pad): Workflow for holding online spaces on discourse - HackMD


Hi @nicopace! This is an interesting thought experiment you are doing, and helpful when considering what to do next with 🗓 Discourse Event.

I’ve looked into what you’re trying to do for the Global Legal Empowerment Network where I was community manager until last year. Back then we used a mix of other tools to hold online events and Discourse as the place to invite the community and share info before events and then to report back and follow up afterwards. We used GoToWebinar for handling event registration, reminder emails and follow-up emails, and of course for hosting the actual event.

Discourse functionality has improved quite a bit since even then and I’d love to see it grow to support this use csae even more. There are some other features you can look at. One that I especially like is Discourse Shared Edits. We also recently greatly improved the invite system so it’s easy to invite people to join a Discourse, and give them added privileges instantly, just by creating a link and sharing it.

(I am glad to see APC is thriving as an organization - I’ve known it since the early days when I was running Kabissa (long since retired as an org), and even before that when looking to use Fidonet to connect orgs in Africa, with GreenNet in the UK, and even before THAT with Amnesty International and IGC. )


Hello @tobiaseigen ! thanks for your response!

The text is a thought experiment that would like to put in practice in the upcoming weeks.
The idea behind is is to be able to boost the multiple community spaces created with each other, with conversations prior, during, and post webinar happening within the forum.

There are still some rough edges, like how to organize the questions so there is some logic with the rest of the life of the forum, how RSVP will happen for non-users, how the forum experience doesn’t get on the way of the discussion (mostly for newcomers).

I want to streamline the experience so organizing events for staff (and later for members of the site) is straightforward.

The Shared Edits functionality looks very useful for collective note taking, for documenting a certain part of the body of knowledge… though I should put more thought in seeking usecases as I haven’t tried it before.

APC has been a strong force for internet access and digital rights since the early ages. Nice to see the website of your org still accesible through the wayback machine: The Kabissa Legacy - Kabissa Legacy - Kabissa Legacy


Cool! I can see Discourse being a great addition to APC. Feel free to invite me to your instance if you have one for your community. And feel free to report back here as you figure things out or when you have questions about specific Discourse features or to share ideas about ways to improve Discourse to support your use case.

Whoa thanks for pointing out that https://kabissa.org was not redirecting correctly to https://kabissalegacy.kb2.org. I think I’ve fixed that now. It’s a vanilla discourse site and I add to it from time to time to capture some of my favorite memories. Also using it to help former members who have yet to move their domain names from Kabissa. Almost done with that process…


Has anyone had much success with utilising Discourse in the role of a conference ‘app’? I ask as my own experience of existing conference apps has been pretty disappointing.

In my mind, the best use case would be for a physical or hybrid event which is run exclusively for an online community which is already using Discourse.

Chat & chat threads have a lot of promise on this front, as does the subscription plugin (if it is successfully adapted to be more flexible with how payments work).

Also, the maturity of iOS (finally) so that a true app / notification experience this year really opens up the usefulness of Discourse as a conference ‘app’.

Unfortunately, it is hard to really rock this idea with the current Events plugins - they would need some work in order to be truly useful for this.


I think it is possible, the way I see it, a good angle to start would be describing the conference experience and then matching Discourse features (including plugin features) to it.

It may require some 3rd party integrations for maybe video, but I vaguely recall a Jitsi integration being available at some time in the past, maybe it is more mature now or something else is available now.

Also, using Discourse this way will require a lot of customising to make the UX of it make sense to the end user. While this is obvious, I say this because when I tried to use Discourse for my own projects, it would feel and look good for me, but the end users are confused.


Yeah, I’ve experienced this phenomenon too. It is easy to forget one’s comfort with a platform and underestimate the required learning curve of others.

To pull this off properly, it would really need a proper plugin which could represent a collection of events that made sense to a typical conference attendee - and allow interaction with these. That would be a lot of work to make.


I wouldn’t say a whole new plugin is needed immediately, instead I’d look at it from a lean MVP POV. Where when I say a lean MVP, I mean something that just barely works.

It would definitely have issues as people use it, but it can still do the job. Then from there, making it more efficient part by part would reduce what is needed to be added to Discourse to make it work.

Discourse to me is like the UNIX or Linux OS, it is powerful and it works well, but it is all this only to power users.


We’ve been working on making Discourse easier to learn and use. If you can provide specific examples of areas in the interface that people find confusing or improvements you think would help, let us know! This is a broader question than just this topic of course, but it is especially important that people who come use discourse for a short term event like a conference have a good experience. It should at least be easy to use and reasonably closely match their experience with other similar platforms.

Yeah, it can be hard to please and effectively support both power users and people who are not interested in becoming power users, and we have to find a balance. Right now a focus is on improving staff-experience so non-technical people who are interested in e.g. spinning up a discourse site for a small, private community find it easy to do.


Feedback from the people who say this is never a case of items listed, it is usually more unclear. I just take it and try to guide them by hand on what to do to make it better. So sorry I don’t have specifics.

I shared that to give Nathan some encouragement more or less.