How is Discourse going to make money?


(AstonJ) #1

I think you guys are doing a great job with Discourse :slight_smile: but I have to admit I am a little worried about how you are going to make money and the general direction of DIscourse, could someone shed some light please?

Here are some of my concerns:

  1. Discourse is trying to be like ‘Zoints’ - where Discourse ends up owning (or gets a copy of) the userbase of all participating forums. As a forum admin for over a decade I have worked very hard to build up our userbase and we would not want to just give this away (most established forum owners will feel the same - which is the main reason Zoints flopped).

  2. Discourse will release multiple versions of the software, some paid, and we’ll be priced out of them.

  3. Discourse will release multiple versions of the software, some with benefits for those who are part of the ‘mothership’ scheme.

  4. The license. Although I don’t fully understand it, there seems to be some disagreement, and discourse that it is not in the spirit of true open-source. (As I said I don;t fully understand it - but it worries me that so many people have spoken out against it)

I guess what I’m asking is, is Discourse a true open source forum platform where you try to make the best forum app for forum administrators, or is the priority to make money/get what you can out of it above everything else (which might be to the deterrent of the rest of us)

I hope this post doesn’t offend anyone! As a forum admin I’m really keen on Discourse, but it has to be right for my community first and foremost.


(ThiefMaster) #2

It’s true open source (GPL-licensed).
According to the website they want to make money from hosting - i.e. from all those people who don’t want or just can’t install a forum software on their own or prefer a professional company to manage the technical things.

Btw, odd bug: The first time I posted this it ended up in another thread. After deleting that I can’t post it in here without modifications because it’s “too similar to a recent post”.


(skarphet) #3

This is one of my concerns too - is it going to be mandatory to connect to whatever Discourse is going to use? I believe it was called Mothership or something similar… Not everyone wants the activities and members of their forums to be shared with others.


(Adam Davis) #4

If you setup your own discourse server you will have the option of connecting to the main discourse site or not. There will be some benefits to connecting, but you are not required to do so. Therefore you will not have to share a user base with the main site.

The main core of discourse is currently GPL and the main developers push and pull via github, so it’s very open and visible. The is the possibility that they might start keeping a proprietary version of the code and develop on that, but if they do it will again be obvious, and the code they’ve already released will still be available via GPL. Just fork it and you can use it forever without fees. I doubt they will do this, especially in the short term. What they need right now is to develop the software while under GPL so it gets a lot of traction in the marketplace.

The software is going to be the same for everyone. Whether you connect to the mothership is a configuration option, nothing more or less. If you connect to the mothership some additional features come into play, but that’s because those features are supplied by the mothership, and they are primarily features related to username validation (ie, I will be @stienman on all discourse connected sites and no one can take my username, unless they sign up to a non mothership connected site) and also the “global community” feature, where all the forums I’m participating in are listed on my discourse.org/users/stienman page. There may be additional features later, but this is open source. If you don’t like it, you can make your own mothership, and create a bunch of forums that connect to and validate from it.

Regarding the license, they intend to sell non-GPL versions to users that will NOT run GPL software in their enterprise. So, say ESPN comes along, likes the forum, but their legal department won’t allow them to use the GPL open source version because they are afraid they’d have to release their proprietary internal API or code once they adopt this software. They can go to discourse, buy a version of the code that is under an enterprise license, and they get exactly the same code you get under the GPL, but they aren’t required to follow the GPL.

This licensing method is used successfully for Mozilla and many other open source projects. They are thus both open source and commercial friendly.

Some people are worried about contributing code to the project, because they have to give all rights, not just GPL, to discourse. Then discourse will make money off their contribution if they sell enterprise licenses.

If that’s a concern you have, then don’t contribute to discourse. Fork it, and make your changes, and release your changes under the GPL. They can’t take your GPL code and sell it as non-GPL code, so it’s as open source as you want it to be.

However, I expect a lot of people will still contribute to discourse just like people contribute to Mozilla and many other open source projects because their code will actually help the company to grow, which means better software in the long run, and higher adoption rates, and their code will still be available under the GPL.

But the code is GPL, it’s going to remain released as GPL for those that want it, and it really shouldn’t be an issue except for GPL purists who really don’t like the idea that someone is using the GPL as part of a dual license system. They also don’t like Mozilla for the same reasons, but guess how many people around the world use Firefox for all their browsing?


(AstonJ) #5

Thanks for the reply Stienman, you have made some great points.

Tbh, I don’t really see Mozzila (or Gravatar) as comparable products - they deal directly with the end user, there aren’t any middlemen (ie Forum Administrators).

As a forum admin, I have to ask about possible what-ifs and make sure our interests are looked after. What if they as you say, at some point decided to make a propriety version at say Version 2 and abandon the open source version? That will leave everyone who can’t afford the paid version in the lurch - unless they are a developer (most forum admins aren’t).

I’m just very concerned tbh, I think some reassurances need to be made about what will never happen, and what might happen or is planned.

I have no problems with forum companies making money - all of my forums are run on paid software (vBulletin). But I feel I know where I am with them, they are in the business of making and selling forum software. At Discourse, it feels like they want your userbase with this ‘mothership’ (what benefit is that really to an established Forum? Twitter/FB connect is sufficient). SSO for admins to use for their own forums makes more sense from an Admin’s perspective.

Anyway, thanks again for the reply - I hope someone from the dev team will chime in too.


(Jeff Atwood) #6

Yes, this, which is why the CLA is required for contributions.There’s gold in them thar enterprises!

More general info is at http://www.discourse.org/buy/ and we’ll try to keep that up to date and enhance it as we go along.

We reserve the right to dabble in advertising if we offer “free” forum hosting, but I’m not sure we will ever do that; I expect the $19-$99 per month small business forum hosting will be the main strategy a year from now. But who knows? A year is a long time away.

What I can tell you is that we’re totally committed to making the most awesome 100% fully open source forum the world has ever seen, one that can drive Civilized Discourse on the Internet for the next decade, and beyond.

A… Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, you might even say.


Why would Discourse's business model work when Stack Exchange v1's failed?
(skarphet) #7

I’m interested however - will you ever be providing something similar to Mothership for other users to use? A lite version that only binds the users together in a private sort of network. Many users probably want this feature, but I assume it could just be a plugin of some sort as well.


(Bill Ayakatubby) #8

That’s already been addressed:


(Jeff Atwood) #9

Yes but as @skarphet mentioned we might provide a developer instance of Discourse Hub, just for testing, etc. @Neil indicated that might be a good idea.


(skarphet) #10

That would be pretty neat, too. Just seems like having some sort of SSO available (that can be run privately) would be a good thing, is all. Would probably attract some new people!


(Adam Davis) #11

I suspect that the “mothership” API will be documented eventually, and people will write a plugin or patch for it that allows it to talk to, for instance, LDAP servers and whatnot. Right now the “mothership” isn’t much of anything, but we’ll see what direction they take it in. I’m sure they have some significant plans they haven’t openly discussed.

Keep in mind that one of the big features will be the ability to import and export forum data. I suspect programmers will add plugins to import and export vbulliten, xenforo, vanilla, phpbb, etc databases. This means that if you start using Discourse, then they totally thumb their nose at everyone and stop contributing to the GPL version, you can continue to use it without charge, and export everything and move it to another forum with relatively little pain, compared to moving from one existing forum software to another today.

Chances are if they do that, though, it’s going to be forked and picked up by other developers. I’d be very surprised if they did that, and even more surprised if it languished if they dropped it. I’ve not met these developers in person, but I hold them in very high regard due to online argumentsinteractions over the last 5 years, and I suspect that if circumstances forced them to close the source, most of them would probably leave the company because it wasn’t what they signed up for. I trust them.

If you like it, there’s really very little risk.


(Jason) #12

The whole mothership concept isn’t actually SSO, it just makes it so that a username in use on one forum can only be registered using the same email address on another forum. The accounts would be separate and could potentially share nothing in common but an email and username if you wanted.


(skarphet) #13

Ah - a misunderstanding then. Hope something like SSO will be implemented in the future, however. The whole email concept is very neat though!


(AstonJ) #14

I don’t know any of the developers (nor have I heard of them - tho have obviously used SO). So I can only go by what I read here and what others are saying elsewhere, and raise any concerns I may have as per this thread.

I will keep an eye on Discourse to see how things go tho, perhaps things will be clearer in a few weeks or months.

Thanks to everyone who has replied to my threads/posts.


(Helder Ribeiro) #15

I’m not an expert on licensing, but it seems like they wouldn’t. From what I know, they would only have to make the source code available to those who use it, i.e., themselves. (I’ve also touched on this on another thread.)

Would “no hassle licensing, you own it all” be the main selling point to enterprises? Or you guys are thinking of adding other enterprisey features that they’d want to pay for?


(Adam Davis) #16

Yes, it seems like they wouldn’t, but the GPL still scares a lot of lawyers and therefore companies. They won’t pass off on it because they themselves might be liable if another lawyer comes up with a novel legal argument that then hurts them for using GPL software.

I too am interested in an answer to your last question, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they chose to play some of their future plans close to their chest…


(Jeff Atwood) #17

A little of both but mostly the re-licensing to start. None of that will happen for months until we get our “rule of three” partners fully squared away.


(Tess) #18

The other thing to remember, though, is that the worst-case scenario of moving to a closed license for a future version is that the GPL version is abandoned. But abandonment is a potential risk of virtually any open source software. Linux is not going to be abandoned in the foreseeable future, nor is Mozilla. But the key to any open source software surviving is to build a strong enough user base that people won’t let it die – and that’s true whether there’s a company involved or not.


(Sam Saffron) #20

These days we are profitable, you can read about our business at Discourse - Indie Hackers

We make money primarily from our hosting service!


(Sam Saffron) #21