Let me first say that I personally prefer using discourse forums above phpbb forums for a couple of reasons, mainly functionality related. On a phpbb forum I still sometimes have things like “Oh wait ! This guy actually did react on my post there 2 years ago.”
That being said, if I raise the question on a phpbb forum if they would like to switch to discourse, I often get a reaction like this:
is it me or every Discourse forum i’ve seen feels “messy” and hard to read? phpBB and similar forums may feel too “2000s”, but at least they work and the front-page being categories with a blurb about what the categories are all about (and category groups in case there are many of them) makes it much easier to go and read a forum. Also all the widgets and trinkets and everything that seems to be added with pages full of little user icons, buttons, etc make it feel too busy - something that is worsened by the minimal (to no) separation of different posts (and the “replies” tab which is really confusing since by clicking it you see the same stuff twice if all replies are to the main or to few posts). In ‘regular’ forums, quotting, having a grid and somtimes even alternating background colors for different replies help.
This quote is from this reddit page: Introducing Discourse 1.0 : programming
and is +1 by 35 people, so I guess many people feel this way. For me, it is not about the style or look that makes discourse good, it is about the features such as being able to quickly see all the latest or unread post, the markdown editor, the ability to like a post, the ability to tag someone, the ability to summarize a topic, the good search functionality, the mathjax support as plugin etc. etc.
All those things are for me much more important then how discourse actually look. So I was wondering, would it be possible to make discourse look more like a phpbb forum using a plugin ? It is of course not necesarry to remove features that discourse have to make it more look like phpbb, but I’m more thinking about the category page, and just how posts are displayed.