Your question speaks directly to something I had been brainstorming and crunching hard working out some ideas on, right up until I heard about Discourse and said “Oh, someone beat me to it.”
I’m a member of several online communities, almost all of which are groups of creatives who congregate to serve as their own support network. Share ideas, advice, brainstorm, ask questions, find solutions to problems that everyone else has had at one point or another.
The problem that exists almost universally across all of those communities is that whether they’re a Facebook group, message board, or email list, the format exists to facilitate communication. Which is great! They’re a fine tool for doing so.
The problem, however, lies in what happens after that conversation is over. A lot of GREAT information has been shared, but it still exists in the format of a conversation. Coming to this community after the fact, or trying to go back and find something weeks later, you’re either being completely unable to locate the information (such as being on a FB group or on an email list), or using wildly uneven search tools to locate information in a sea of content that is 95% irrelevant to you because it only existed as part of casual dialogue that never needed to be archived for an outside observer.
If you look at the About page for Discourse, it discusses the goals of Stack Exchange and how it attempts to address this issue head on by minimizing the conversation and getting straight to the info you care about at that moment, but obviously, it doesn’t support building a community because there’s a complete inability to interact normally.
So, Problem: “How can the valuable information that naturally arises out of a community stay visible and navigable once the conversation is over?”
For me, that’s where I see the value in Discourse, and why I’m scrambling to learn what I need to in order to start developing plugins for some of the concepts I still have that would sit nicely on a system like this.