How to "sell" Discourse as mailing list replacement?

(Qwertie) #1

It’s obvious enough to me that discourse is better than a mailing list, but not everyone is convinced. Here’s what someone said to my suggestion of having a discourse forum for the Rust programming language:

FYI, I’ve used a Discourse forum, and I’ve found it rather obnoxious.
Much prefer the PHPBB or OSQA approach.

Mailing lists are, IMO, better (e.g., gpg works, attachments work,
direct messaging comes built in).

What would you say to that?

Watching a Category, perhaps the best kind of mailing list mode?
(Pekka Gaiser) #2

I would ask what exactly they mean by “phpBB approach” and how exactly that is superior to Discourse. Also I would ask them whether it’s really this product that they’re talking about when they say “Discourse” - there aren’t that many Discourse installations in the wild yet and I’d be surprised for a random non-technical person to have stumbled upon one.

(Jeff Atwood) #3

SSL can be configured at the routing level, so you get HTTPS at least.

Discourse supports attachments, however, it’s true that they are not available through email reply support yet.

You can of course PM other users in Discourse at trust level 1 and beyond, but you can’t PM through email.

I dunno, depending on how hardcore they are about “I must be able to do everything in an email client”, it could be a difficult sell.

Discourse is really email for notifications (of new topics, in digest emails, and when people reply to you) and replies (you can reply to those email notifications via email) but is not yet suited for 100% email-only interaction. It’s a hybrid of email and web at the moment.

(Qwertie) #4

Well, after I laid out my arguments in favor of a Discourse forum, respondents countered almost overwhelmingly in favor of a mailing list. Since it looks to me like an individual user could configure Discourse to use it just like a mailing list, I am a bit mystified.

EDIT: I just remembered that I forgot to argue one of my favorite things about forums: editing! I usually notice a typo or something only after posting my message. By email, I’m doomed.

(Jeff Atwood) #5

Well, you tried!

There is tremendous social friction to change in any established community.

You often have better luck starting a new community and inviting the young turks to follow along, when possible, rather than getting the old guard to change.

All that said we will continue to enhance our mail support in Discourse, but for hard-core mailing list users anything short of Ye Olde Mailing List will probably never work.


The battle might be lost, especially if the “old guard” has been using mail lists for a long time. The fact that there might be some existing “pros” to mailing lists compared to the current state of Discourse makes your sell tricky, but not impossible. As someone who works in health communication, it sounds like most of the resistance is being driven by emotional, as opposed to logical, thinking. There are only so many ways to circumvent that, for example:

  1. Experiential learning. If the stalwart anti-Discourse folks get more experience using the platform, their resistance should naturally fade. Familiarity is (typically) good.

  2. Self critique. One of the few strategies that has been effective in political discourse is the critique essay. If you can somehow convince a “resistance leader” to write a message exploring the strengths of Discourse and weakness of the current system, they may be able to re-evaluate their perspective in a fresh light. Of course, you would probably have to offer to do the same (but inverse) too!

  3. Also, you may have lessened your credibility when you started your message with “Okay, well, I’ve never liked mailing lists at all, because.” I feel the same way as you do, but it’s a risky gambit to attack an entrenched status quo head-on. The way I’ve seen innovations successfully introduced in public health settings (which can be very “old school”) is with an appreciation of the existing paradigm that later recedes to an acknowledgement of the benefits of the innovation. If you can convince a few of the target audience to organically mention the cons of the existing system (in Q&A, discussions), then you’ll probably be in good shape.

I’m actually curious now about what that user thought was “obnoxious.” Hmm…

(Qwertie) #7

Greak comment, ZeroFlux. But I’ve given up on the matter, as I wasn’t big part of that community anyway.


Just imagine yourself sitting on a beach sipping a piña colada as they freeze in the ancient winter that is mailing lists :stuck_out_tongue:

(ComputerDruid) #9

For the record, TLS/HTTPS provides none of the same things that gpg provides on a mailing list. Yes, gpg can be used for encryption but that doesn’t make any sense on a mailing list. There, its real use is to sign messages, so that others in the web of trust can verify that the sender is actually the person they claim to be.

As far as I know, gpg is mostly imcompatible with anything with a web-interface, because it is important to keep the private key saved on the local machine, in a place where others cannot access it. It would be possible to support gpg in discourse for emailed messages, but I doubt anyone will put in the effort. It would also be possible to implement a browser plugin that implemented gpg for discourse, but that is even less likely to be implemented.