Learnings from setting up neighborhood community on Digital Ocean

It’s been a while since I created a new site on DO. Now that Yahoo Groups is shutting down completely, I thought I’d take the opportunity to move the yahoo group I created for my neighborhood 14 (!!) years ago to Discourse. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while but the time seems ripe, also because I want to citizen more. I want to do more to bring people around me together as a community. In my neighborhood, we spend more time at home because of COVID, but we still don’t connect as much as you might expect to give each other mutual support and comfort.

I set up the new site using the official 30 minute install instructions, on Digital Ocean. The site was up and working great within a few hours, with outgoing email on my mailgun account and incoming mail set up using Straightforward direct-delivery incoming mail. I allow signup with approval required, and require people to provide their street address via a custom field so I can verify they live here.

I sent an email to the yahoo group to inform everyone of the transition and invite early adopters to come have a look and help me seed discussions so there’s more to look at when the rest of the neighbors sign up. Next week I will invite everyone so I can chase them down individually. Hopefully I’ll get everybody before 15 December! So far the response has been fairly enthusiastic and I’ve gotten a few signups.

As shared on the yahoo group.

On Fri, Nov 6, 2020 at 7:04 PM Tobias Eigen wrote:

Dear neighbors,

Not only is it the end of a long week from which we all deserve a break…

… but it’s the end of an era! After a 20 year run, Yahoo Groups is shutting down. This means this mailing list will soon stop working. Details are in the announcement below.

To make sure we remain connected as a neighborhood community, I have set up a new home for us at nnn. This is a completely private community on my personal server, so won’t cost us anything or expose us to annoying targeted advertising or distractions from outside our community. I think you’re going to love it.

Next week I will send out invitations to everyone currently on the yahoo group to ask you to come and join the new community. It will be a quick and easy thing for you to click a link to accept the invitation and set up your account. After that, you need not log in again - you will be able to post to nnn to reach out to everyone, or reply to emails you receive. You can also opt out of further replies to specific emails that don’t interest you.

But you can also log in if you like if you want to connect around activities, access and share resources, and share “just for fun” posts with jokes, anecdotes or photos from the neighborhood. You can also configure your notification preferences so you get just the level of engagement you want.

If you’re the early adopter type, feel free to click here to request access now! I’d be happy to welcome you to help me get the site all set up and ready for everybody. I’d appreciate it!

Happy to talk to anyone with questions or concerns about this transition - just drop me a line. Thanks!


---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Yahoo <info@service.comms.yahoo.net>
Date: Tue, Oct 13, 2020 at 10:17 PM
Subject: Announcing the Shut Down of Yahoo Groups
To: nnn

Dear Yahoo Group Moderators and Members,

We launched Yahoo Groups 20 years ago to connect people around their shared interests. We helped our users navigate new towns, keep in touch with college friends, learn new skills, and most importantly, build connections they may have lost or never had in the first place. While we could not have been more proud of what we accomplished together, we are reaching out today with heavy hearts to let you know that we have decided to shut down Yahoo Groups on December 15, 2020.

Yahoo Groups has seen a steady decline in usage over the last several years. Over that same period we’ve witnessed unprecedented levels of engagement across our properties as customers seek out premium, trustworthy content. To that end, we must sometimes make difficult decisions regarding products that no longer fit our long-term strategy as we hone our focus on other areas of the business.

Beginning December 15, 2020 the Yahoo Groups website will shut down and members will no longer be able to send or receive emails from Yahoo Groups. We’ve compiled a comprehensive FAQ here that includes alternative providers and information on how this will impact your group content.

Thank you for helping us build one of the earliest digital communities — we’re proud and honored to have forged countless connections over the last 20 years and played a small part in helping build your communities.

The Yahoo Groups team
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701 First Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94089
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Here’s what my site looks like now. I chose papyrus for the logo because I am hoping an opinionated neighbor will be motivated to replace it with something slicker. Hope that happens, because… papyrus!

I’ve done some minimal setup to create a category for all neighbors that is equivalent to the yahoo group, plus additional categories to provide space for more engagement without burdening all neighbors with so many emails. Also dropped in some resources and activities that I’ve been holding (and not moving forward on) for too long and am looking forward to sharing with neighbors. Hopefully this will lead to increased engagement and progress.

Some things I noticed along the way:

  1. The install instructions have only gotten better! It’s so easy to spin up a droplet and install discourse. The instructions are foolproof. :+1:

  2. Along the way, I set up 2fa using google authenticator app and a personal ssh key at digital ocean. These have also become so much easier since the last time I did this, and it makes logging in more secure and easier.

  3. From past experience, I prefer Straightforward direct-delivery incoming mail which does not require setting up a POP3 inbox somewhere for incoming email. I know the POP3 inbox is easier and is “set and forget” but it means delays and is just one more vector. Also, with direct delivery you can have email addresses for categories like justforfun@mydiscourse.mysite.com instead of mysite+justforfun@gmail.com. These instructions have also become way easier and are just about foolproof. The only two things that I found a bit confusing are:

    • you have to set MX records for the domain pointing to your discourse IP. If you already had MX records for the domain, as was the case for me with mailgun, you need to delete them. You DO need to set the SPF and DKIM records to point to mailgun, since they are sending your email and you need to tell the world that they are legit. This is not clearly explained in the instructions.
    • the ./launcher rebuild mail-receiver or ./launcher start mail-receiver commands were failing. The error included something about the server hostname. Renaming the hostname so it is short and has no hyphens resolved it. :man_shrugging:
  4. In the setup wizard, there is a bug on the step to invite staff. I added two users to invite, but was unable to submit the form without adding a third email address or going back and returning to add them again. I was not immediately able to replicate this later… I think it has to do with the “add” button - once you decide to add a third email address, you can’t reverse that decision.

  1. I wanted to have a default light and dark theme, which I know is possible and will work great, respecting light/dark mode on devices. It was only possible to choose one theme in the setup wizard, and then after that in the admin settings the interface for adding a theme and setting up the color scheme was confusing. It would be pretty cool if the setup wizard could facilitate the previewing and selecting of both light and dark theme.

  2. By default, the title is the discourse pencil shaded logo with “Discourse”. If I am not ready to upload a logo, it seems to me the title should just default to empty so it displays the site name, with no pencil shaded logo. Also, the suggested dimensions for the logo are “greater than 3:1”. I’d suggest changing this suggestion to a min/max suggested ratio. To be safe, I went with 3:1 which makes for a too-small text. It would be nice to know the max safe dimensions recommended.


Thanks for all of these tips. Sharing these sorts of learnings is very helpful.

I installed Discourse via DO’s 1-click app a while ago. Everything works very well so far, but I am now reading a few different topics that suggest the one-click app is not supported by the meta community. I was under the impression, mistakenly apparently, that the 1-click app thing was a Discourse ‘product’ (for lack of a better term).

I also read in the basic Discourse install instructions that if we use those instructions and install via the recommended Docker install (which is what I thought DO’s one click app was doing) then nginx was already configured. I would really like to have nginx configured but do not know if it is because I installed via the 1-click app.

My site is still in development. Is it worth creating a new droplet and installing ‘manually’ via the guide and then redoing all my settings etc. or is the DO 1-click app procedure OK? I am careful to always install the updates that Discourse tells me are available and they always seem to work (once Docker is updated).

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