Transition from Listserv (lsoft) to Discourse



I’d like to explore the differences between a traditional listserv (by lsoft) and Discourse to see if switching to Discourse is a viable option for our business.

I’ll post some short background info here and some of the questions we have.

I’ll probably edit this post a few times and add links to other threads and resources so it will hopefully serve as a starting point for other listserv users in the future.
I may add more questions to this post (thread) if the need arises to keep it all in one place for reference.

Some background info:

We have several subscribers only (e.g. paid membership) listservs focusing on niche topics discussing current developments and research. They are fairly high volume with over 600K emails emails month (to clarify: one list with 100 members with a 100 message a month would equal 10.000 emails - one message is sent to 100 members so that equals 100 emails).

Email is (and will most likely remain) the preferred method of participation for the vast majority of our members (we’ve asked). But a minority would like to have a bit more options in managing their discussions (for example make it easier to mute threads or categories for example and also to browse the archives in a more convenient manner) which is why we’re looking into to Discourse as it seems the only real alternative - traditional forum software (phpbb et al) is out of the question.

Its good to see even more Mailing list features will be available due to the MOSS Grant - MOSS Roadmap - Mailing lists

Of course there will always be differences between listserv & Discourse and it may mean we’ll have to change the way we manage the communities so this is not a “X or Y is superiour” thread but I’m just trying to learn about some crucial (for us) differences and to find our if there are similar features or alternative solutions for certain listserv features in Discourse - we’ve been working with listservs for a very long time and it works for us but we like to investigate alternatives, especially the more social aspect of Discourse is very appealing.

I’ve searching but may have overlooked answers or misunderstood some features so do feel free to point out other threads.

Participating on a Discourse platform will also give us some insight on how it all works (we haven’t setup a test environment yet so forgive me if some questions are FAQs)

Questions (a bit unstructured):

1) Email / mailing list efficiency.

The listserv is very efficient and fast in distributing email. Within (a) minute(s) messages are sent to all members and this ensures lively debates within a very short time span, that is important for us to keep.
Our biggest list has about 2500 members.
Does anyone have any insight how Discourse compares with listserv when it comes to sending out such numbers of emails?

2) Managing differents lists

There is some but not much overlap in the members for each of our listservs. For a listserv you simply setup a new list and add members, they don’t see the other lists nor should they.

How does this work with Discourse can you all manage it from one install? We may use some categories per list but given the wide variety of topics would find it hard to enforce strict categories.
Do you need to have several instances of Discourse running to have different communties? (lists)
How does this work from a member standpoint e.g. how to start a new discussion via email on the correct list - for a listserv you simply send it to the listname (at) emaildomain.
The listserv runs on one domain and you simply send it to a new listserv email address. Can you do the same with Discourse or do you have or can you to setup subdomains?

3) Ability to “lock” certain member info

As our service is subscription based - usually paid for by companies, not individuals - it would be useful for us if members wouldn’t be able to change their email address so we can manage accounts linked to a subscriber’s employees more easily e.g. all (at) companydomain (dot) com email addresses - people change jobs and at that point should not be able to monitor the discussions any longer.


We had some problems with Yahoo/DMARC before listserv software provided a fix, does Discourse handle the DMARC problem? (e.g. not blocked by Yahoo and Yahoo users not causing problems for other members)

4) Reply-to address

Many of our members also like to reply privately to discussion by replying to the poster, we’ve set up the listservs so that the reply-to address is the email address of the person sending a message. That way sending a reply to the listserv is a conscious decission as they have to use REPLYALL or actually enter the listserv address in the TO field.
Can you do the same with Discourse?

5) Can you block attachments?

Answer: it seems so - Yes (set size for attachments) See Remove image uploading in posts
(some our subscribers insist on this for security reasons and to cut down on bandwith use)

No doubt I’ll have more questions later on. Thanks for reading :slightly_smiling:

(Joshua Rosenfeld) #2

Can’t answer all your questions, but let me do my best to answer #2.

If your intent is to use Discourse primarily as a listserv, than I would suggest treating categories as “lists”. In that sense, if you currently have a list foo, you would make a category called foo on the Discourse. You can then make a group, let’s say you call the group foo_users, and give that group view, reply, and create permissions on the category. Repeat this for all your current lists. Now you have a bunch of categories (aka lists) with completely separate groups, and no one can see the others, even if they log into the Discourse (unless an admin, or course). Each category (list) can be given an email address, and yes, they will all be on the same domain.


Thanks @jomaxro - that is useful information.
And I take it that by using subcategories we can still have “topics” within each list.

(Joshua Rosenfeld) #4

That I am not 100% sure of. We don’t have email enabled on my Discourse, so I cannot look at the settings. I believe that subcategories are treated just like any other category, just that they are nested beneath a category. @erlend_sh might be able to provide more details than I can…

(Erlend Sogge Heggen) #5

Outgoing mail should not be a problem, since Discourse outsources this job to 3rd parties like Mandrill or Mailgun, which specialise in email delivery at scale.

For incoming mail, our go-to solution here might not cut it for you. I honestly can’t say for sure because Gmail is a bit of a black box when it comes to these things. For this reason, we’re planning to build our own email server for the Discourse hosted service.

p.s. to date we have not had to set a limit on outgoing/incoming emails in our paid plans, but if you guys became a customer we might find out once and for all what those limits are :grin:

Like @jomaxro said, you’d almost definitely want to use categories. And yes, you could probably use sub-categories to label the primary topics of that category (i.e. list). You can get an idea of how the creation of new topics would work for your users by skimming through this Howto:

And, you probably don’t want several instances of Discourse. The few pros are usually far outweighed by the many cons of maintaining multiple sites.

I’m pretty sure that’s possible to do with our official SSO. Maybe someone else from the @team could confirm that one for me.

In short, yes. We offer howtos for self-hosted and hosted as well as a general FAQ for email troubleshooting.

Uhm, no, afraid not. If I understand you correctly, and I’m pretty sure I do, this isn’t something Discourse is likely to support ever, as it would be very complicated and error prone.

Off the top of my head, the best alternative I can think of would be a plugin (i.e. only on Enterprise hosting or self-hosted) that inserts a “Message this user directly” mailto:{thatuser} button somewhere in the email template, which would open a separate email exchange.

Yup :sunglasses: