Free Hosted Option?


(greggman) #1

Sorry not sure what topic this belongs under. but…

Have you considered a free hosted option? I know they are not quite the same thing but I’ve been using disqus.com for comments on my blog. It’s awesome, they host it. That means they deal with spam issues, they deal with upgrades to the system. Of course there are tradeoffs

They have 1 login for all sites: Good: less hassle to use, track all threads from one place, reputation carries (not a spammer on one site assumes not a spammer on others) Bad: less granularity

They probably plan to mine for data: Good: can tell trends, etc. Bad: privacy

Sure I could host my own discourse installation but what I’ve found running a blog for 12 years now is it’s no fun to do it myself. Sooner or later the spammers find a way in and I have hours of cleanup to do. Even if they never find a way in I have hours of maintenance. Disqus is mostly install and forget. Even cooler for wordpress it’s pretty much risk free because it manages to insert the comments back into the wordpress database so if I ever quit disqus I don’t lose my comments.

$49 a month is way too much for discourse for a personal blog that might only see 25-250 forum messages a year. Seeing as how facebook comments are free and disqus comments are free it seems like you might want to consider this as an option. Maybe the free option you reserve the right to insert some ads or something.


Becoming the new standard discussion tool for open source projects
(Jeff Atwood) #2

No, there will never be a free hosted option from us.

It is 100% free open source software, so others can certainly operate such a service.


(greggman) #3

Is that it, end of discussion?

I assume you just don’t want to be in that business which is fine. But, looking at the success of say Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest those seem a lot bigger than PHPBB or SmartMachines or Vanilla or VBulletin etc… Seems like you’d reach more people and hence change the world more.

Just a thought


(Kevin P. Fleming) #4

All of those are ‘free as in beer’, but that’s it. Usage of those services requires giving up some measure of control over the information you post there for commercial gain by the service; @codinghorror is stating that he and the other members of the Discourse team have no plans (and probably no desire) to profit from the information posted on Discourse sites.


(greggman) #5

Yes, and running discourse on 1000s of sites individually means your data is used in 1000 different ways with 1000 different use policies.

If the point of discourse is to help internet discourse than reaching as large an audience as possible seems like it fits that goal more than “here’s some free software, do whatever you want with it”.


(Jeff Atwood) #6

I dunno, that worked pretty well for the Internet. And WordPress.


(greggman) #7

Nice snarky reply that didn’t consider at all the point :frowning:

The internet includes all the examples I gave. Wordpress used to be the bees knees but since Facebook, Tumblr, etc… the masses no longer use wordpress. Serious bloggers use it (I do) but the masses are fine using free services.

So yea, if you want to be the next wordpress (ie, a small fish in a big world) that’s fine. I was just hoping you were shooting for a larger influence.


(Jeff Atwood) #8

It only takes 1 person to make a great Tumblr, so free can make sense there.

The same is not true of forums. People who can muster an audience, which is what you need for a forum to work, are basically famous to start with.

Every person I know who ran a low-cost forum hosting service had horror stories to tell me about it, and the first thing they will tell anyone is not to do low-cost forum hosting. But I dunno, maybe you know more than they do, right? :wink:


(Sjors) #9

I was also hoping there would be a free hosted option like subdomain.wordpress.com. You could think of numerous ways how to profit from this. Just a few out of my head:

  • Ability to embed advertising with revenue share (many blogging platforms do this)
  • Ability to install (paid) plugins and themes
  • Have them upgrade when their free community reaches a certain degree of traffic/posts.

It has already been mentioned that you would target a much greater audience with a ‘limited’ free option, and the open source hosted version would gain more attention this way.

That said, I’m no expert in hosting this kind of scale and there would be spam issues to deal with. Neither do I know if it would ultimately be profitable, but it feels like it should. I do understand that this can be a challenge.


(Michael - DiscourseHosting.com) #10

Let’s take the topic starter as an example: a forum with 25-250 forum messages a year. Assuming a normal reader/poster ratio, that will make between $0.01 and $0.10 of advertising income. There will never be an upgrade and there will never be a paid plugin or theme install. If the forum owner himself doesn’t even see a business case for his forum, then how can someone else?

The problem with RoR/Postgres applications using multiple databases, is that they scale by what is configured, not by how they’re used. The amount of Postgres processes on the server is equal to the amount of application server (thin, unicorn) processes times the amount of databases (in this case, virtual hosts). This means that virtual host configurations like Discourse has, take up quite some resources, even when they’re hardly seeing any traffic. Where you can put hundreds of thousands of Wordpress instances on one host, with Discourse (or any multitenant database RoR app) you just can’t.

At DiscourseHosting.com we have dropped our initial freemium strategy because of this. Especially given the fact that with SaaS applications cost always comes before revenue, which gets amplified by running a growing SaaS company, which gets worse by running a freemium marketing strategy.

Another reason not to go for the free option is that we want to offer good service to our customers, and with free hosting, we just can’t do that.

If something is free, then you are the product.


Optimizing discourse for creating a free host
(greggman) #11

If the forum owner himself doesn’t even see a business case for his forum, then how can someone else?

The owner isn’t in it for money.

If I understand your argument any system that’s free that provides services for millions of websites can’t be profitable. So I guess Facebook comments must be unprofitable. Youtube as well. Disqus we don’t know if they are profitable but they’re running comments on > 1 million websites.

If something is free, then you are the product.

I don’t have a problem with that. I can choose the free version and be the product or I can chose the paid version and not be the product.


(Michael - DiscourseHosting.com) #12

I’m sorry, then you do not understand my argument. I clearly gave some technical conditions, and within those conditions, it’s very hard to provide free services for millions (or even thousands) of websites and being profitable at the same time.

And again, you cannot compare social networks to multitenant hosted applications.

Maybe someday someone will choose to offer this. But some holes in the market are there for a good reason.


(McKay) #13

The problem with RoR/Postgres applications using multiple databases, is that they scale by what is configured, not by how they’re used. The amount of Postgres processes on the server is equal to the amount of application server (thin, unicorn) processes times the amount of databases (in this case, virtual hosts). This means that virtual host configurations like Discourse has, take up quite some resources, even when they’re hardly seeing any traffic. Where you can put hundreds of thousands of Wordpress instances on one host, with Discourse (or any multitenant database RoR app) you just can’t.

Sounds like a problem in an architecture somewhere. I’m not a RoR expert, but the solution seems simple, don’t host each instance virtually. Make it possible to host multiple discourse instances on one database instance, especially if they’re smaller like the ones you mention. Add a new table to say which discourse instance these are coming from. Update the code.

I can’t tell you how many times small groups of people without resources because they just share something small in common, have fallen by the wayside because they can’t keep a forum instance hosted. The Riddler’s Lounge is one such group that has fallen apart several times because they just can’t keep their forum running. I thought Discourse would have solved this problem.


(Jeff Atwood) #14

Well, if you look at Digital Ocean:

You’ll see the two “midrange” installs are pretty appropriate for Discourse:

These are $10 and $20 per month respectively. (You will need to configure swap on the 1GB instance though.) Simply sign up at Digital Ocean, then run through our 30 minute Docker cloud install instructions.

We hope to make the Docker install our new standard default install by the end of this week.

Anyway, TL;DR, if you can afford $10 per month, you should be able to get a Discourse instance going. That doesn’t feel like a huge hurdle to me…?


(greggman) #15

That doesn’t feel like a huge hurdle to me…?

I guess you have a different definition of “huge hurdle”. Not only is that way more work than disqus.com, it also means I have to maintain it. Having maintained previous forums I can tell you it’s not fun. Sooner or later there will be spam and bot or mechanical turk like account creations preparing for spam. I’d prefer that be your problem and not mine :wink: There will be bugs and I’ll have to apply the updates, also not fun.

On top of that, AFAIK, 99% of the web hosts out there don’t support Redis or Postgres. Heck most don’t support Ruby. The majority are LAMP based so you’re basically asking most sites that currently run forums either to switch ISPs or to pay for a second ISP just to switch to your forum software.

If on the other hand they could just create a new forum you hosted and point to it, now that would actually qualify as “doesn’t feel like a huge hurdle to me”


(Jeff Atwood) #16

That’s all fine, but “your problem” means “pay us money and sure, we’ll make it our problem”. :smiley_cat: If you aren’t willing to pay for the service, then you don’t get the service.

Remember that open source software means the complete freedom to not ask us permission to do (almost) whatever you want.

So there’s really two models:

  1. Hosting, which costs your money
  2. Free, which costs your time

Which do you wish to spend?


(greggman) #17

So there’s really two models:

  1. Hosting, which costs your money
  2. Free, which costs your time

You seem to keep ignoring disqus.com which is hosting discussions for free for millions of websites. It gets paid for by ads. So the options are

  1. Hosting, which costs your money
  2. Free (install yourself), which costs your time
  3. Free (hosted by others), which serves ads

Seeing that discourse replaced disqus on Boingboing.net suggests that in some sense discourse and disqus are in same catergory and yet they have somehow managed to offer a free service.


(Sam Saffron) #18

I don’t see the big drama here.

We are saying that we are not interested in the “free + ads” model at the moment and have no foreseeable plans to enter that business.

Sure, others enter this business eg: trello or disqus. This business model does not resonate with what we want to do.

This is fantastic it means somebody else can go and build a free Discourse with ads and if they have the math right make a killing. More Discourse out there is better for everyone.

It is simply not a business model we are interested in at the moment, that is all there is to it.

Its complicated offering “free”, requires striking lucrative advertising deals that offset dev time, ops time, hardware and more. More often than not it requires a huge upfront investment.

Often the customers that pay least require the most amount of hand holding.

So, go ahead, build a “free” Discourse if you will.


(greggman) #19

That’s fine. Just don’t go making lame excuses like “it’s easy to host yourself” (it’s not) and there’s only two options (paid with money for someone else to run or paid in time to do it yourself). There’s 3 options. You choose to only support 2. Fine.

Often the customers that pay least require the most amount of hand holding.

Another lame excuse. Disqus provides no support except to paying customers. Seems to be working for them.

I’m not trying to be argumentative. It’s fine you only choose to support 2 of the 3 options. It’s just when I read (“it’s easy”) well, it’s not as pointed out, you need a host that supports redis/postgres/ruby which is not common for most people running small sites. That’s only common for people running commercial sites. There’s tens of thousands of forums out there, mostly running on php/mysql systems. Most of them can’t easily switch to discourse because their ISP is based on LAMP. (linux+apache+mysql+php). The next largest number of people who might want to run a forum are probably running a blog on a hosted site like wordpress.com, blogger.com, tumblr.com, etc. For all these people discourse is unfortunately not an option. It’s not an option for comments nor for a forum. That’s sad IMO because discourse seems pretty neat.

That fine though if you choose not to support 99% of the existing forum and comment users. Just don’t tell is it’s easy to do ourselves :smile:


(Sam Saffron) #20

I hate to rain on your parade, but you are kind of proving the point.