Recap: AMA with The Discourse Product Team

Overview

On March 28th we hosted our first ever AMA, where the Discourse Product Team provided insights into our roadmap, explained our team dynamics, and answered your questions.

Replay:

Introductions

Our Director of Product, Dave McClure (@mcwumbly), kicked off the webinar with team introductions. Just like many others, Dave joined the team after being a longtime, active member of the Discourse community!

As of now, the Discourse Product team is made up of six members, spread out across the globe, four of which helped lead the session: @mcwumbly, @tobiaseigen, @rishabh, and @lindsey. Plus two who helped to organize the session and will join future sessions that are better suited for their time zones, @saif and @hugh.

How Product Works at Discourse

After introductions, we covered how product design occurs at Discourse, and it’s based on these foundations:

Dave reflected on the evolution of product design over time, starting with a co-founding team of three: Jeff, Sam, and Robin. As an engineering-led organization, they were able to manage product development in a lean manner, a significant part of which was driven by feedback from users on forums. Now, as the organization has grown to almost 100 people, the company can no longer function as a single team. Product management has become more complex and interwoven into the organization’s operations.

Now, each product manager works on a team with a designer and a few engineers who together focus on particular aspects of the product or distinct user groups. Their goal is to identify unmet needs within the current product that, if addressed, could offer significant benefits. They collaborate closely to design, build, and deploy solutions for these issues. After launch, the team gathers user feedback and complaints, which is essential for the ongoing iteration and enhancement of the product.

Discourse Product Strategy

Next up was @lindsey who gave everyone a walkthrough of product strategy and what that means in terms of what we’re building in Discourse.

To put it quite simply, product strategy is about understanding who you’re building a product for, what problems you’re trying to solve for those users, and how your product discourse compares to other options on the market. Then, taking all that information and using it to make decisions about what to work on and what not to work on.

One of the main takeaways from Lindsey’s segment is that our product managers, while collaborating frequently, each focus on their specific project areas or domains.

Product strategy ensures that each team can focus on their distinct domain, yet maintain alignment on the overarching direction of the product. This shared vision guides Discourse and the necessary actions to take. Consequently, each team is empowered to make informed decisions to achieve our goals within their unique areas of expertise.

Our Focus for 2024

At this point, Lindsey shared our focus for 2024, which is to:

Use our knowledge of communities to reduce complexity so that Discourse is more accessible and approachable to all types of users.

Discourse AI

The AMA then shifted to a focus on AI, which has been a very big topic in a variety of industries, especially our own. @rishabh led us through the work that the Product Team, especially @saif, is working on.

The overall goals for Discourse AI include:

  • Content discoverability
  • Moderation
  • Community management
  • Content creation
  • Accessibility
  • Automation

Insights from Your Questions

We received a diverse array of questions, predominantly focusing on:

  • Our Roadmap and Strategic Direction
  • Customizing Discourse
  • AI
  • Community Management & Use Cases

Our team tackled over 60 questions during the live session, utilizing the Zoom Q&A feature and direct responses from our team members. Below, are some of the most impactful questions that could benefit the wider community.

Summary

About Discourse

How many team members are focused on the Open Source core product versus paid services?

The engineering team has about 40 team members. About 3/4 of those are focused on the core product, with the remainder focused on professional services. Though they too, contribute to the core product as well. If you count non-engineers, (like designers and us PMs), there are even more of us focused on contributing to the core product)

How does Discourse make money, is it sustainable?

We make money primarily from our hosting. We also offer professional services to Enterprise customers. Historically Discourse was self-funded, but we did take a Series A a few years ago which has funded some of the more recent growth, but our goal is to be a sustainable business long term and we remain committed to open source.

Does the Discourse dev team give feedback or collaborate with the Rails core team?

Yes, there have been such collaborations. Alan from our team who has contributed to Ruby in the past wrote about one instance here: Running Ruby 3.2's YJIT in Production at Discourse

Sidenote: they use Discourse https://discuss.rubyonrails.org/ :slight_smile:

How do you best summarize the differences between Slack and Discourse?

Slack is great for ephemeral conversations (so quick decisions, watercooler chat, that sort of thing) — but it’s really not well suited to content that needs to be accessible for the long term. That’s where Discourse really shines! With search, topic quoting, etc., Discourse is the better home for those important conversations / decisions that need to be easy to find and learn about down the road.

Community Features

Does Discourse provide a user directory?

Yes, Discourse includes a user directory. For example Discourse Meta

For a community that requires approval to join, when I’m in the approval process is there a way for me to send them to a particular topic as soon as they are approved?

Yes, you can! You can specify the topic the new user is sent to when they accept an invitation, when creating an invite link or email. You can edit the invitation latter to change it.

Can we paywall certain categories?

Yes, you can create categories and limit access to them to groups. Then with the subscriptions plugin you can let people pay to be added to groups to get access to them. Or you can integrate Discourse with an external site where you handle memberships and access to secure categories.

Is it possible to enable email / desktop notifications and turn them on for all users in your community so they don’t have to go in and turn them on themselves?

This Meta topic walks through your options for configuring default notification settings for all users: Configuring Default Notification Settings for Users

How does Discourse optimize topics for search engines to ensure they are easily discoverable and indexable?

If you have a public community, your community is visible to search engines. There shouldn’t be anything specific you need to do on that front. Here’s a topic on Meta that might help: Discourse SEO overview.

Additional Reading & Support

Please share the link to a blog post on best practices for managing support communities, if available?

Of course, here you go! Five Ways Support Communities Improve Customer Experience

Please share links where I can see what I can do with AI features.

Here you go! Discourse AI Features | Discourse - Civilized Discussion

How can I embed Discourse into a third-party site?

Embed a List of Discourse Topics Into an External Site

Is there any documentation available for new developers unfamiliar with the community code structure and how to integrate custom components into it?

Absolutely! Take a look at https://docs.discourse.org and the developer category on Meta!

Staying Connected with Our Product Team

Looking to keep the conversation going? Here are some ways to stay connected with us and the latest on our product development:

  • :speaking_head: Share your ideas with us and the Discourse community in the feature tag category on Meta. The more context about your particular use case the better!
  • :test_tube: Participate in user research by watching the feedback tag on Meta for opportunities to share your thoughts on a specific topic.
  • :thinking: Ask questions on Meta to get support and advice from the Discourse community and help us learn how we can improve.

Share Your Feedback and Ideas

Your input is invaluable as we shape the future of Discourse. We’re eager to hear your thoughts on how we can improve and what topics you’re interested in for future AMAs.

How Should We Conduct Our Next AMA?

  • Live Webinar (like our recent session)
  • Within a Discourse Topic
  • Something Else (share below)
0 voters

Future Topics: What Interests You?

  • Design & Customization
  • Community Moderation
  • Success Stories
  • Other Topics (please share your suggestions below)
0 voters
26 Likes

Ha, damn, I have another meeting at the same time. Bad luck. But I cannot use zoom anyway for privacy and ethical reasons. I’d love some other way to discuss AMA with @team though.

8 Likes

I don’t have any specific questions but I’d love to be a fly on the wall :blush:

Could the AMA be made available for us to watch, after the event?

11 Likes

Yes, we’ll be sending a replay to those who register. Definitely recommend attending live if you can, as it’s the best way to engage! :smiley:

7 Likes

Hmm, we can definitely think about additional options for the future!

7 Likes

… just registered.

Idea for the future: As an open source project, it would be consequent to use an open-source platform for future events. Such as https://jitsi.org or https://bigbluebutton.org/. If the video channel is hosted on a professionally managed hosting platform, it is powerful enough even for bigger audiences - and it is completely open source while ZOOM is not.

11 Likes

It could even be hosted on Discourse Meta, but the problem with the chat module is there’s no video and no way to moderate the discussion. But I’m kind of a text guy anyway. :slight_smile:

4 Likes

I would love to join but it will be at 2am here :smiling_face_with_tear:

I’m guessing that according to this, we can still post questions here and there’s a chance they’ll be selected? Or maybe I’m reading it wrong.

Edit: Ah never mind i just clicked the Zoom link and saw that there is a field to submit questions. will still leave these here.

Questions:

  • What are the next big major milestones that you have in mind for Discourse following the addition of chat circa Discourse 3.0 and AI features? E.g. any plans for how much further chat will be developed, any major plans for moderation or anything else.

  • What directions, needs and niches do you plan to take Discourse to head towards or cater for? E.g. private chat for organisations etc. with the new Basic plan, or what is its role in online spaces compared to other platforms? (people used to say how Discourse was comparing in popularity to Facebook, and then Facebook tanked and no one wants to use it, and nowadays it’s how Discourse is doing in popularity compared to Discord )

    I still unfortunately don’t see Discourse recommended enough where it could fit really well. E.g. I came on another post somewhere titled “Teams, Slack, Discord: What’s Better?

    The scenario was a company going from 5 to 200+ staff — and others mostly answered one of those three options and someone said how all the other companies own your stuff on their cloud — and STILL no one mentioned Discourse :smiling_face_with_tear: so I popped in a quick comment for Discourse on that.

2 Likes

All good! I’ll be sure our Product Team sees these. :smiley:

4 Likes

Was the replay uploaded to Youtube?

5 Likes

We’re working on a replay and recap post! Stay tuned as we’ll be rolling it out soon.

13 Likes

Hi, everyone! I updated the OP to include a recap of the event and a replay video!

14 Likes

What? Wasn’t there one last year?

2 Likes

There was Discourse: v3.0 is here! Join our live webinar (January 24th @ 10am PST). But I think this one was the first AMA.

6 Likes

I would like to see a combination of ‘webinar’ and a Discourse topic.

I can see the interest of using video (with slides) to conduct AMA: it helps connecting on a human level that lacks with our daily text-based interaction. But this should happen in a way that enables anyone to participate, e.g., using Big Blue Button which is free software for the classroom. Other open-source options exist, but this one is solid.

It would be very useful to combine the video with note-taking. For this, I usually do not rely on Discourse, where the multi-writer (‘shared edits’) remains inferior to the pad experience (my favorite is HedgeDoc, which uses Markdown and can be readily pasted into a Discourse topic after the fact). But this could be interesting to test using a top-wiki-post limited to the team, and replies that can be integrated into the first post as the AMA goes.

I feel like Success Stories offer a transversal topic, where we can share design & customization, community moderation, and other topics that promote successful use of Discourse for various communities.

Thank you for sharing your video and transcript! :discourse: :heart:

4 Likes

Of course! Really appreciate your feedback, especially when it comes to facilitation. Always looking to improve. :smiley:

3 Likes