MOSS Roadmap - Mailing lists

Problem statement

Some web-users strongly prefer communicating via e-mail, others have no other medium at their disposal due to lack of up-to-date technology or a fast enough internet connection.

With this MOSS grant we aim to enhance Discourse with several individual-but-related features that will make the software easier to use via e-mail, effectively enhancing accessibility and engagement for the segment of users to whom the web-based (JavaScript) interface is not an ideal option.

The Discourse company will hire one or more developers on behalf of the MOSS grant to work on these enhancements in conjunction with the core team.

We expect all critical tasks on our roadmap to be completed by July 2016, coinciding with the release of Discourse v1.6. With all assignments successfully completed, Discourse will be on-par-with or surpass the feature set of mailing list programs such as GNU Mailman or PHPlist. A user should be able to join, participate and leave group discussions run through Discourse without ever having to log in to the Discourse web interface.

How is solving this problem going to help Discourse?

Improving online discussions is our bread and butter. See:

Mailing lists in particular is a form of communication that we consider outdated. Not much more can be said about mailing lists that hasn’t already been said. In short, they don’t scale well with growing communities, and as a result they can significantly hamper the adoption of new technologies that ought to have touched thousands or even millions of people instead of just a few hundred. Also, they’re generally not very export-friendly, which is not good practice for the modern, open web.

We acknowledge the fact that for some people e-mail is still their most effective workflow, but instead of limiting our communications platform to e-mail we want e-mail to be one among several equally valid workflows (e-mail, browser, and - should someone ever choose to make them - native apps).


(Do note that not that some features listed below would become stretch goals rather than hard targets)

:white_check_mark: = Done
:hammer: = WIP
:thought_balloon: = Tentative
:no_entry_sign: = Discarded (for the time being)

Mailing list feature parity:

Increased engagement:

General bug fixing

Further reading:


I think @zogstrip is getting to some of these as part of the current work around email support portal. Can you cross off any items that you complete here RĂ©gis?


What is a MOSS grant?

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I will add a link back to the blog entry there.

Want to work on some of these features?

@plugin_authors & contributors, if you feel comfortable with one or more of the tasks listed above, send a message to @erlend_sh to let us know you’re interested and we can sort out the details from there.

We’re only taking on 1 or 2 part time developers for this, but just knowing you’re looking for the occasional freelance work means we’ll keep you on our radar for future gigs :wink:


I just crossed off one bug that was fixed by my recent change. :blush:


One feature I would like us to work on is having Discourse act as a “web archive” for an active mailing list. This simplifies migration off mailing lists and allows us to live side by side with existing software and help many open source projects out there.

For example:

Say we could simply run a simple script to download all the mbox files here: and then import into a Discourse instance. could simply become a readonly Discourse forum.

Then all we would need to do is add a mode where every post to the mailing list is also added to Discourse.

Even though a lot of the lego is in place to achieve this, it lacks a lot of polish. It would be super awesome for this kind of task to be both well documented and simple to enable.

Imagine if you could just enter a single web address into your Discourse instance (pointing at mailman archives) and it took care of all of the magic for you.


Isn’t that more of a feature that could better fit in a plugin than core discourse?

Importers are all core, see similarly a bridge or bridging scripts can live in core.

Entering a URL to magically make everything work may not be core, I am not sure, but most of the code in my above “imagineering” session would live in core.


Even as a partial import this is hugely important and helpful in seeding a new Discourse with users and content… just forward a few giant email threads in and bam:

  • you have a bunch of staged users ready for people to join and take ownership of their accounts (via email address)
  • you have a bunch of useful, real, content on the site

ah. That makes sense now.

@thoka Should we document the current adaptation to any of these currently missing features by linking dummy/robot discourse users to mailing lists, thus enabling targeted notifications?

@all Does this also involve diff messages of edited postings as HackPad sends them?

I had a recipe back in the day for doing this by importing mailman-generated mbox archives into fudforum. It worked incredibly well, just as you describe. A quick google search turmed up an oldish stackoverflow topic about it that explains it reasonably well.

I also am very interested in the staged users concept - is this discussed anywhere in any detail already on meta? Saw a mention of it in the below topic but when I tested it a few weeks back I saw no sign of staged users or an explanation of how it would work.

Seems to me that, if staged accounts were to work, then we’re not far away from making this happen. w00t!


Would love to see an importer for Google Groups mailing lists too, but scraping out Groups content looks to be a bit messy.

There is a bash script for generating an mbox from a Google Group which works with a bit of fiddling (need a cookie file to get emails). It also has options for picking up new posts which helps in mirroring, though i haven’t tried it. Perhaps that would be an approach if mbox imports were rock solid and repeatable.

Also, would the mbox approach allow for importing into an existing forum? Something that might be of interest to our community is merging our existing Discourse forum, with an existing Google Group.

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Being able to merge multiple mailing lists into one Discourse forum would be interesting too. For example, importing (or even mirroring?) them as different categories.


I got this feedback from a member today relating to discourse and attachments:

Tobias, is there a different way to attach docs on discourse? this function only allows me to save the document, not open it…For a couple of Vivek’s e-mails, I’ve saved the document, and then gotten pulled away, ans then never opened it… can there be an “open in another tab” option? Or even a kind of attachment like in google, where the pop up box would have an “open” option?

We use gmail, and I am assuming she’s hoping for something more gmail-like.

The first request here I think is for “mailing list mode” to actually attach the file to the message. I hope this can be added to the roadmap, at least as an admin setting.

The second is more of a “wondering”. Is there not a way to indicate in the mailing that a link is to an attachment, which email clients can then use to offer different ways to access said attachment?

I am not clear what you’re talking about here. Can you be more specific? What’s being attached? Images?

usually it’s .doc files and other work-related documents. sorry, i just included the picture for fun. :blush:

I don’t really see a practical use for the request – if the user can’t figure out how to open a downloaded file, they are going to be in a world of hurt sooner or later… they need to learn how to do that.