I’m considering moving a writing community to Discourse

Coming here as someone who runs a community on Circle and is looking for an alternative…


Because Circle has become extremely cluttered with features I don’t use (events, video streaming, courses, etc…). My community is around creative writing, so the focus is on long-form text discussions.

I’ve spent a couple of hours looking into Discourse and I can say that I’m very intimidated by it. The curve to get into it looks huge!

Maybe that’s the reason that Discourse is not top-of-mind when thinking about communities for modern “makers”.


That’s really interesting.

So in a rush to add features to better compete with other platforms (including Discourse?) they didn’t provide a way to switch those things off?

Discourse has a very mature plugin architecture that allows you to pick the functionality you want to add and only that.

I highly recommend you look at the Interactive Fiction Community for inspiration (which is a similar use case?). It is a Discourse site.


You can just avoid them, which is fine. The problem is that they have lost focus on the core features to have actual discussions (text editor, text posts, threads, etc…). They feel half-baked as they have clearly spread too thin in their effort to be “all-in-one”.

I guess Discourse is better suited for communities that are more “textual”. That is, people who like to write a lot.

Thanks! Doesn’t seem to be about writing per se, but rather this concept of Interactive Fiction which appears to be a text-based game of sorts. Interesting stuff.


Out of the box with all of the defaults, it works pretty well. Or you can spend an infinite amount of time customizing it.


As someone with plenty of github and linux experience, it was extremely easy to set up. I can see how intimidating it could be if you’ve never used a command line before and you went the self-hosted route.

Compare it to discord and slack where the barrier to entry is a few clicks and you have a new server up and running.

It’s a trade-off between convenience and control


Can you share a bit more about your explorations so far?

I’m interested in hearing about what parts you’re finding intimidating so far.


Take it from a designer with little (but some) technical literacy. Running a side project. Self-funded.

  1. Pricing (would really like to see a “Starter” plan there)
  2. Self-hosted route (not so much installing it, but maintaining it)
  3. Themes (default seems a little cluttered / outdated; custom requires working with a professional)
  4. Admin Dashboard seems quite complex
  5. There’s just too many concepts and preferences to grasp (stats, badges, channels, categories, tags, admins, moderators, etc…)

I’d love to see a “Light” version that has just the essentials to have a discussion (categories, topics and replies).

However, I do appreciate having control of everything and Discourse seems like the best option for long-form discussion, so I’ll be exploring further and sharing my experience here.


Maintaining is the easiest part, after installing.

That is quite easy task too. Just disable badges etc. that is just pure noise (in my circles).

That is matter of taste. It is allways very dangerous route to start fixing and tuning environment for users just because an admin wants to get something :wink:

There is no difference compared to WordPress. If default one looks bad then there is an option use something else. Well, there isn’t too many different themes, tho.


Cluttered, really? Usually the complaint is it is “too sparse/too much whitespace”, but the reason for that is to allow space for effective touch targets …

Can you elaborate on specifics from a design perspective?

Have you investigated all the free themes in #theme ?


I agree very much with @Jagster with his “Maintaining is the easiest part, after installing.”.

I installed Discourse when I had never used Linux in my life. I only had to grasp concepts that were unknown to me, like renting a server, connecting via SSH, how to register and use an email provider…
And honestly, it was no big deal. It was even kinda fun, I learned a lot of things that helped me in my everyday life as a computer user and Discourser user/admin.

Plus, #support is an amazing place. There is a lot of free help both from the developers, even for people who are not official customers, and other Discourse admins/users that have a lot of knowledge to share. :slight_smile:

But for the tasks you mention, including maintaining the forum, if you are willing to pay someone (since you mention that you’d like to see a “starter” plan) to take care of your needs cheaper, there are several ways:

  • 1-click install from several self-hosting providers like Digital Ocean (but that falls under #unsupported-install

  • Alternative managed Discourse hosting companies than the official one, like https://www.communiteq.com/, https://www.literatecomputing.com/ and I’m sure other exists

  • Post on #marketplace to find someone that will take care of the steps you need on a self-hosted server. There are a lot of people here, including myself, that are happy to take various gigs or long-term work.


Hello and welcome @renegdn :slight_smile:

I’m moved this over to its own topic so you can go into more detail about your specific needs and possible solutions. :slight_smile: :+1:


Interactive Fiction is very much built with creative writing.

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Well, I did notice this on Discourse’s website:eyes:


tbh, I log to the server once in a lifetime every 3-4 months (and usually that has to do with removing/adding a plugin)

I was also quite surprised by this. The default Discourse theme is the best forum theme I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen many forums, even from the phpBB era). And personally, I dislike pretty much every custom theme (unless it’s an expensive one), as they usually have much more noise or questionable design choices.

Don’t intend to undermine @renegdn’s expertise, just wanted to share my own perspective, and will definitely be eager to hear more details.


Dashboard.literatecomputing.com, which I will soon try to make a “big” announcement about, takes away most of the hassle (but for a limited time, if you create an account and join the free trial group you can try it for free). It does the installation and then handles rebuilds, plugin management, and also handles tricky things like doing postgres upgrades (for both 1- and 2-container installations).


What have you been doing so far in your exploration? Did you start a trial on Discourse’s hosting or with another provider? Or did you go through the self-hosted install process?


I think the following quote (and topic) may help you navigate some of the intimidation:

And the quote above refers to Ukrainian goat farmers using the platform back in 2017, many whom didn’t know computers well.

I as well felt intimidated by Discourse in the beginning (and definitely still do at times now) and yet it has grown on me so much.