I’ve been a user of a niche sport French website and forum.
Both were fairly old: almost 20 years old! 500 articles on the site, about 180000 messages on the forum.
The last few years, the activity has decreased a lot on the forum. I think there are several reasons for that, the main may be the fact that a lot of community now use Facebook groups.
Both our site and forum didn’t display well on smartphones, the phpBB forum was… Well, you all know phpBB. It’s working and work as expected, but it’s definitely a technology of the past, and that’s not the best user experience that we can provide to a community. Just try to post an image to see…
One of thing we wanted to make a new version of both the site and forum would be to connect the news articles and forum posts. Ideally, users would be able to post on the forum directly from the Wordpress posts comments area.
I looked at some promising forum engines such as Flarum, NodeBB, and Discourse.
Flarum was in beta, I didn’t see any way to connect Wordpress to NodeBB and Discourse seemed a pain in the ass to install, as I just was used to simple PHP application that you install in a few clicks on any server.
So we made a Wordpress installation and tried first BBpress. It was atrocious. Sluggish. We found an old Wordpress plugin that would allow Wordpress posts to be published on BBpress, but it felt that the current experience would be very bad for our users.
So I looked more at Discourse, grabbed information about WP-Discourse. I felt that that would be the best option for us and decided to try it with the help of a friend.
I found that despite the fact that Discourse uses a lot of memory (currently almost 20 GB on my server) and that it was hard to tame for a newbie like me, not used to this kind of application nor server-related stuff, it was actually the way to go.
Installing and configuring Discourse was a lot of work. I rented a server with Plesk after trying this software on my friend’s server. I didn’t know Linux at all, had very little experience with Plesk, never heard of nginx, etc…
I didn’t find a lot of documentation about installing Discourse on Plesk along with other web applications and my friend helped me a lot in order to make things work.
Even the phpBB migration was difficult, I had various issues with Discourse… After my import, I had to remove all the old phpBB tags that were not parsed by Discourse (
[size], goodbye old friends), fix other things such as disappearing images…. As we were reworking on our forum categories, I had to merge a lot of them with magical rails command, make redirections, and even un-merge categories shortly before launching our new forum.
We also wanted some Wordpress-side features that would focus on the forum community.
We wanted to show the last activity from the forum on the website, so I made a simple Wordpress plugin to display the last topics from the forum on the sidebar:
And as I said previously, another feature that we wanted would be to allow users to post directly on Discourse linked topics from corresponding Wordpress posts comments section.
I made a quick and ugly proof of concept, and my friend and I developed a way more efficient Wordpress plugin to do so.
Any user, registered or not (in which case the comment is posted from a guest account) can post directly from the comments. Also, comments posted directly on the forum are synchronized to Wordpress too.
Plus we can also batch synchronize all existing Wordpress posts and comments, which will be quite helpful.
We’ve launched the new site and forum yesterday and we hope that a new, modern site and forum will bring back the activity that has been lost these past years.
There is still some issues to fix though, but only minor stuff.
Wish us luck!
Finally, let me tell you that I’ve been amazed by the kindness and help of the Discourse team and users here, often giving fast and useful advice (special praise for @pfaffman).