Is there a user manual or list of features?

(Christopher Wells) #1

Is there a user manual, or a list of (all) features?

  • For new users (especially new wannabe power users) who want to know what they can do with the software
  • For potential users (before they’ve decided to use/choose Discourse), who want to evaluate the product

I found no in-site “Help” pages. The closest I’ve found is the home page at [http] and the FAQ page at [http] What is Discourse? | Discourse - Civilized Discussion

Topics for post-sale users could include things like:

  • How to search
  • How to moderate
  • How to categorize topics
  • …?

Something for pre-sale evaluation could be a list of features. Some products do a competitive evaluation matrix, for example like this one: Comparison of Internet forum software - Wikipedia

The matrix of features is where you can say, “Other products support some of these features (although sometimes not as well), but look at us: we support all them!” (or, “we’re different!”)

You needn’t research the features of competing products for me, but I’d like you to document the list of your own features / own functionality.

There’s a partial list of features at [http] The Road to Discourse 1.0 but that doesn’t tell me what the ‘base’ features are that were implemented in the February 2013 ‘launch’,

The Git commit log/history isn’t a plausible/convenient way to reverse-engineer the functional specification.

I also haven’t seen a road-map (list of unimplemented, planned, possible future features).

The About page at What is Discourse? | Discourse - Civilized Discussion says …

  • Other forums have an old-fashioned UI
  • StackExchange is for Q+A not conversations

… but doesn’t explain how Discourse is better or different. It claims …

  • All the sociological and technical lessons of 10+ year old forum communities baked into the design of the software.
  • Sane, safe out of the box defaults, but a million dials and knobs to tweak.

Where or what are the details:

  • What is the design of the software, which demonstrates/implements these baked-in lessons?
  • What are the ‘million’ dials and knobs to tweak (and the defaults)?

(Michael Downey) #2

I think right now this meta site is your best bet.

(Jeff Atwood) #3

Not a fan of feature matrices.

The best way to explore the software is to use it, that is why the sandbox at is linked so prominently.

(Christopher Wells) #4

Yes, thank you.

I found that if I’m interested in topics like “What are moderation tools?” or “How good is Search?” or “What plugins are available?”, the meta site is more informative than the sandbox.

I’d prefer a functional spec though; but perhaps there’s no such thing, or no public one.

  • The site is like watching or poking at an elephant in the zoo.
  • Browsing the meta site is like listening to what all other zoo visitors say about the elephant.
  • I had hope than some authored, edited, organized functional spec might be more informative, like Elephant - Wikipedia

(Christopher Wells) #5

Without considering a list of features (presented as some “paragraphs of text”), how should I convince my boss that Discourse is one of the better solutions? Can you identify any compelling feature[s] that Discourse has and other solutions don’t? doesn’t seem answer to answer the two final questions in my OP:

  • What are the ‘dials and knobs’ to tweak?
  • What are the sociological and technical lessons of 10+ year old forum communities baked into the design of the software

Re. the first question (dials and knobs) Moderator Permission Set is from someone who wrote, “I’ve found that on my installation …”. If there’s no “Admin user’s guide” perhaps I’m meant to install my own instance of it, to see what functionality it offers.

Re. the second question, I don’t have your domain knowledge (of sociological and technical lessons of forum communities), so those lessons are more difficult for me to deduce from the software. So far I have only inferred two of them, i.e.; have a meta site; and don’t support 'tags".

(Jeff Atwood) #6

Generally if you have detailed sales questions, you should visit – email is listed there too.

One big feature we have that most don’t is that we are 100% open source. At any time you could fork the code and say “screw you guys, I’m going to do whatever I want with your software and pay you absolutely nothing”. That’s your right with the GPL license. It is quite rare among forum software… that doesn’t suck. (phpBB is technically open source but it is so bad that I’m not sure it even counts).

Beyond that, I dunno, maybe check out trust levels? Nobody buying our software right now today is asking me pointed questions like “I looked at your website and I don’t see any difference whatsoever between your software and everything else out there” and demanding a feature matrix. So maybe your mileage may vary?

But yes, the best way to experience the software is to try it at the sandbox – that’s what it is for!

Unfortunately as you point out that doesn’t show you the admin side. That’s definitely true. For that you can follow our EZ install guide and get your Discourse instance deployed on the cloud in 20 minutes or less.

(Sam Saffron) #7

My suggestion would be, get him to use it.

If he needs a feature matrix to make a call cause he is too busy actually try stuff out, you have a severe problem on your hands.

(Dave Howell) #8

I think part of the problem is that what makes Discourse an improvement is rather subtle. What pulled me into it in the first place was that I set out looking for a forum tool that was Ruby-based. What I learned from the web site was that the programmers thought they had something really cool, but I couldn’t really tell why it was cool from that material. So I fiddled with the sandbox version, and what made me decide to go ahead and spend valuable time installing it was that it was smooth. There are probably features that I’m not using yet, but everything I did do was pretty easy and obvious. Messages would pop up now and then to nudge me in the right direction. I spent very little time going “how can I do this or that?”

“Well-designed” just doesn’t ‘feature-matrix’ well. Eventually, they’ll probably be able to say something like “results in 40% less load on customer service people vs. more-confusing-alternative” but it’s too soon for that now.

I’m a one-man shop; I really really need tools that do not make me have to wrench them around and putz with them, nor ones that make me have to answer question from confused users. I have too many other things I have to do. Discourse still needs a lot of work on the documentation, but the app itself, I think/hope, is going to be fairly graceful and low-hassle.

If, that is, I can get it to deliver email correctly. Configuring mail delivery is currently one of those not-adequately-documented parts. :confused:

(Bcguy) #9

Sure - but I, like most people I suspect, first go to the matrix to get a general lay of the land and narrow the list down to a couple to evaluate seriously. So - a matrix can help do that.

Also - someone from Discourse (or a friend of discourse) needs to update this list on Wikipedia

to include “mobile responsive” design - and to through and update the matrix to make clear who best supports mobile and tablets.

(Sam Saffron) #10

Can someone explain to me what calender is SOOOO important.

And more important than say:

  • Reply by email
  • Oneboxing
  • Plugin support
  • Quoting
  • Mobile Support
  • Categories
  • Search
  • SSO
  • Google / Twitter / Facebook login

To mention a few.

Cause calendar is in that crazyass “The Matrix” but the rest of this stuff is not.

(Christopher Wells) #11

The “matrix” is a bit off-topic for me: I did say albeit briefly that I didn’t expect a matrix from you. The reason why I mentioned a matrix in the OP is because a matrix is an example of a list of features.

What I hoped for was a list of features. For example, after Jeff told me above that “trust” is the most important/best/distinguishing feature, then I was able to search for “trust” on meta, to discover something about it.

A flat list would tell me:

  • What features exist?
  • What are they named (e.g. “trust” or "reputation’)?
  • What have you considered important enough to implement and add to the list?
  • What features don’t exist (if the list is complete)

A nested list would tell me what features are related:

  • For example, what are the features listed under the “Notifications” category (email, watched topics, digests, on-forum icons)?

Even better if that list of features were the Table of Content, or the Index, of a manual (User guide, Admin guide, Configuration guide, etc.).

I hope this doesn’t sound like a complaint; it was a request for information: what are the features? I looked, and the set of features wasn’t obvious. If they’re not documented you can also give me hints about how to discover them, for example:

  • Experiment with the try forum as a end-user
  • Install a private instance to play with admin settings
  • Read the faq category on meta
  • Inspect the config settings in the source on github

I found that the meta forum gives a better idea of what a forum is like; because it has real content in it (so it’s better for e.g. seeing what Search is like, and long conversations, etc.).

(Sam Saffron) #12

Let’s turn this into something constructive.

Why not take some time and write the topic you wish existed. Tag it FAQ. That solves the problem for you and for others.

(Christopher Wells) #13

Two reasons:

  • Because I’m a novice therefore I can’t do it at all well (not well enough to be useful)
  • Because “community wiki” isn’t supported, so any attempt/start I make can’t be edited

For example, the following are notes, a potential taxonomy, that I made while scrolling through the “features” category:

  • It misses features people didn’t talk about
  • It may include features people asked about but which don’t exist
  • Etc.

It’s a start, but inadequate (which is why I posted here).

User forum features

  • Hardware and software prerequisites
  • Hardware
  • O/S
  • Database
  • Web server
  • Source code programming language
  • Admin
  • Installation
  • Customization
  • Backup database
  • User profile
  • Login (reusing existing credentials)
  • Personal information
  • Avatar
  • User statistics/reputation/privileges
  • List all users
  • Browser support
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Desktop browsers (IE, etc.)
  • Content
  • Conversations
  • Hyperlinks
  • Formatting (bold etc.)
  • Embed pictures
  • Embed video
  • Fork conversation?
  • Popularity (likes, voting)
  • Home page
  • Editor (text, rich, markdown)
  • Favourites / Best of
  • Polls
  • Wiki (not supported)
  • Chat (not supported)
  • Communication
  • In-forum notifications
  • Private message (email)
  • “Watch” conversation
  • Mention by @name
  • Replies
  • Real-time updates
  • Mailing list
  • Desktop notification
  • Extensibility
  • API
  • CSS (skinning/theme)
  • Plugin
  • Search
  • Unified (titles and text; tags are not supported)
  • Users
  • Googlebot
  • License
  • Content (Creative Commons)
  • Cost
  • Maintenance
  • Moderation
  • Spam
  • Abuse
  • Community-driven
  • Shared content (Wiki)
  • Miscellaneous
  • Friends / subgroups / subtopics / following
  • Advertisements
  • Internationalization/localization


Can we get a Usage Guide alongside the FAQ?
(Kane York) #14

I tried to start this here:

(Jeff Atwood) #15

I have come around to your way of thinking on this, @cwellsx. When we launch V1, you will find a giant feature matrix fairly prominently on the website, at last.

I realized that nobody can understand the firepower of this fully armed and operational Discourse battle station…

… unless we actually enumerate, somewhere, all the cool stuff we support now!

(Jens Maier) #16

So, does this mean that my Discourse is going to spontaneously explode when someone gets lucky and pings the right exhaust port? :laughing: