Discourse as a front end for existing ASF mailing lists

I am interested in introducing Discourse as an alternative interface to the existing user list for the Apache Spark project. Apache Spark, like many other ASF projects, has a few associated mailing lists that are managed by a program called ezmlm-idx.

The ASF maintains these mailing lists and will likely not support any project wanting to move off of them. (It would be great if, for example, the Discourse team worked directly with the ASF on some kind of initiative to give all Apache projects the option to use Discourse for their user or dev lists. But that is not likely in the near term, I’m guessing.)

Is there a way one can deploy Discourse (perhaps with some loss of functionality) and bridge it to an existing mailing list managed elsewhere?

I’m looking for a way to give the community most of the neat functionality in Discourse without forcing existing mailing list users to do anything or asking the ASF to support anything other than a bridge between their mailing lists and Discourse.

There are many discussions on here about using Discourse as a mailing list or bridging to a mailing list (1, 2, 3, 4), but there is so much information scattered across all these threads that it’s not clear whether this is currently possible or planned. (Apologies if this new post is contributing to the problem; feel free to merge it in to another thread if appropriate/possible.) The About and FAQ pages also don’t have detailed information about the mailing list functionality.

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This really depends on the culture of the mailing list. Discourse has fairly robust email support (for notifications, and if configured, for replies and email-in to start new topics), but it is still fundamentally web-centric in the way that it views the world. There will be clashes for people who are 100% email-centric.

Do you have support from the “powers that be” at said mailing lists to make such a change? Are they asking for such a change? We are very open to working with a partner on migrating mailing lists and further enhancing the mailing list support in Discourse, but it very much requires solid support from the leadership and a significant part of the community.

There’s a lot of friction involved in changes for groups!

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At this time, no-one is asking for such a change (most likely because they’re simply unaware that something like Discourse exists), and the “powers that be” in the Apache Spark community are open to the idea but doubtful that it can be made to work within the ASF’s requirements.

My thought was to try selling the community on Discourse by offering a low-friction, low-commitment way to interact with it that still played nicely with the existing ASF-managed mailing list. Some kind of bridge between Discourse and a totally separate mailing list might just be the solution, but it’s probably too much to ask of Discourse at this point if such a thing doesn’t already exist.

It sounds like your recommendation is to not try this soft approach of offering a totally optional alternative and instead get buy-in directly from the leadership and community before trying anything.

Not exactly; any effort at changing the status quo generally does not succeed without community support and, most importantly, support from the powers that be as sponsors.

Fair enough. I’ll raise this issue directly with the community first, then the ASF, and then back here.

What I understood from this conversation is that it is technically feasible, or that the Discourse team is potentially interested in making it feasible, to bridge Discourse to an independent mailing list.

What is needed beforehand is community and leadership support.

For an organization like the Apache Software Foundation, I would hazard a guess that unless there is widespread resentment at the current solutions (which I am not seeing, though I am an outsider, I do follow the linux communities) then this change is socially impossible or suicidal.

Absolutely–A hard migration to Discourse is almost definitely socially impossible. That’s why I am interested in using Discourse as a new, third-party interface to the existing, ASF-managed mailing lists.

That is, people will still be able to use the mailing lists as-is, but if they so choose they can instead use Discourse and gain all the added functionality that Discourse offers. In the background, Discourse and the mailing lists will relay messages to each other via some bridge.

I think such an approach, given technical feasibility, is socially possible as it does not require the ASF to change the role of the mailing lists. The ASF will just need to support a two-way bridge between the mailing lists and Discourse.

In other words, the ASF is just providing a hook into its mailing lists for third-party services like Discourse to use. Apart from supporting that hook, the ASF doesn’t need to know about those external services. Similarly, mailing list users can continue to use the mailing list as-is if that’s what they prefer.

And the rest of us can use Discourse (perhaps with some restrictions on functionality) as a better interface to the same mailing lists.

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Hi I like the idea of creating a new front end for existing ML, without actually exporting all the messages, it would be a great way to extend the availability of the informations IMHO.
If somebody wants to implement such integration, I would be glad to help.

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