Open-source and open communities for the win

A chance to reflect on why I like Discourse:

One of the Discourse communities that I used to lurk in has eventually shut down, which was expected (the app had been abandoning communication with community members and arguably sometimes misleading customers for a while before that.) People in the community had already set discord servers over the years, only one still mainly active, but people have gone on there now.

I felt a kind of anguish at everything being moved from Discourse though, and I guess it gave me a chance to ponder on why, even for a community where I’m mainly just a lurker. (I have been in other Discourse communities including one where I am a long-time user too.)

High ratio of quality content

  • insightful community responses: I think that Discourse elicits some well-thought out, insightful responses from people. They contribute in a way that I don’t really usually get to see from them on other communication platforms. I miss and will continue to miss seeing those kinds of expressions from them, because I learnt a lot from these.

    I get why they don’t do it on discord — you feel awkward typing paragraphs on places like discord, “it’s just not fashionable to write in paragraphs anymore!” But on Discourse, longer form replies are not awkward, and reading is encouraged.

  • public archives: I’ve seen a former streamer friend shut down Discord channels without advanced warning and eventually a whole server, and there was pretty much no way of getting back what anyone had posted. When this Discourse community was shut down, I was grateful that there’d still be a good chance of many things being on archive.org over the years.

    I think that having public communities also kind of makes people a bit more wary about what they talk about, and it can counter parochialism. Because on the discord server, I still see some NSFW & bro-culture jokes that didn’t really manifest to that extent on the Discourse forum. There is a lot that Discourse does subtly, to encourage people to share thoughtful responses.

  • higher signal-to-noise ratio: this topic has probably been explored a lot here. But I do just get so much more knowledge from browsing 15 mins on the Discourse forum vs. 1 hour of the discord server. I also hate that everyone is in American timezones on real time chat, and I’m in an Australian time zone and I have to scroll back, read through a whole bunch of ephemeral noise for very occasional tidbits of advice. In Discourse, it’s easy to sift through things, with Top topics, topic summaries, categories, etc.

Open source

And I guess this is a more personal one — but to me, Discourse really makes working on open-source projects feel tangible, viable, practical. Admittedly I’m kind of an evangelist on open source. I have used Discourse forums since 2015 and browsed Meta a lot since then. I grew up in open-source communities — Hopscotch, a drag and drop coding language with a community where people can remix each other’s projects (where I now work); Mix by FiftyThree, a drawing community where anyone could remix everyone else’s work. Discourse made it seem like something I can do full-time, it’s the kind of work I would aspire to do, and not just for side projects.

But I guess on a tangible level for users, Discourse is customisable and decentralised. You can make it look your own. You have unique accounts for each instance, no centralisation. (I noticed that Discord tried to make it easier to switch between alt accounts to make up for this)

It’s often hard to communicate all these with people setting up communities though, often barrier-to-entry and inertia wins out (they choose what everyone else is on, whether Facebook or discord nowadays). But it’s nice to have such a major choice away from proprietary closed-source platforms.

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