Using Discourse as a social media platform

I’ve been pondering about this for a while now, but I’ve finally decided to get it off of my chest. Is Discourse customizable enough to be used as a proper (full-blown) social media platform?

I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of start-ups lately. I have my own idea for a social network that combines the best of what brings people together online (more specifically, tech enthusiasts and people in the tech industry as a whole).

While observing other social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, I simply couldn’t ignore the fact that they just don’t have the same convenience that Discourse has. They aren’t seamless and don’t offer real-time discussion or superior search functionality. They don’t offer infinite scroll or flawless integration of other services. They don’t allow you to customize the style beyond accent colors and light/dark. Most importantly (for developers) though, they don’t let you customize the platform the way you want.

On the other hand, Discourse accomplishes all of those things. It’s customizable from head to toe in terms of looks and functionality. It combines what makes traditional forums best and what makes social media best. In essence, Discourse is unmatched by anything else.

This quote from Jeff Atwood speaks for itself.

I absolutely do have a ton of fun using Discourse, and significantly less fun using XenForo, vBulletin, SMF, Reddit, Twitter, email, and … gosh… there’s very little I use online that gives me the same real time, topic based, paragraph-based reasoned discussion, intelligent notification satisfaction of Discourse.

Alas, this is not intended to be a #praise topic, but to more or less ask a question that has been on the tip of my tongue for a while now. I become eager whenever I think about it and it further feeds my unhealthy obsession with Discourse. I think I might love it too much. :smile:

That ultimately brings me to the question that I’m posing in this topic. Theoretically, could Discourse be “transformed” (for a lack of a better term) into a social media platform if you heavily customized it, added/removed certain features, etc? Fakebook is great, but it doesn’t capture the full “social media” experience. If it were to be expanded on with many features and many other visual changes, I think I could really end up liking it. For example, I don’t think badges would fit well in the environment that I want. Like Twitter, I would want users to be able to “like” posts and reply to posts directly from the homepage. That kind of functionality would be a game-changer in my opinion, and I already know that it’s possible with Discourse! :smiley:

Any kind of input would be highly appreciated.


There was a lot of discussion on this a while back. See: What would it take to replace Facebook with Discourse?, Community has no boundary: Discourse-as-a-Fabric - ideation & brainstorm and to some extent Facebook Groups - Zuck is coming for us

Personally I think Discourse is designed for small to medium-sized discrete instances, not MASSIVE scale. However many suitable plugins (like our Follow plugin) exist to close the gap.

You can do this with our Topic List Previews plugin which amongst other things, adds a Like button to each entry on the Topic List.


There’s an argument to be made that forums are already social media, but that’s very much a “is a hot dog a sandwich” situation…

what does this achieve? is it about familiarity with mainstream social media? does it make things easier to use?


Throwing in a curveball… :slightly_smiling_face: How about the large-scale version being some kind of ‘Discourse Directory’, which collated lots of different Discourse forums together. From there you could dip into all manner of subject matter, discussed in a more in depth way than regular social media, and then zoom back out and browse something totally different.

It’d also be useful for people interested in Discourse itself, as there’d be lots of examples to help visualise what’s possible/achievable /missing/etc.

I’m not sure how a central log-on could work? But maybe it would offer one-click sign-up to the forums in the directory. Or maybe you could Like and Quote all the forum content, but not reply or create any topics unless you deliberately sign up to that forum? Perhaps some kind of Latest list for forums within a genre/category? Or Follow across all forum activity?

Absolutely no idea if this is nonsense, but it’s what the question made me think of and I thought I’d share. :slightly_smiling_face:


See the links in my post. Federation is covered.


With that I fully agree. I started the second topic a while ago about Discourse + open-standards based federation protocol. The Fediverse is based on this protocol, where a growing number of application interoperate. Examples are Mastodon (twitter-like), Lemmy (reddit-like), PeerTube (youtube-like), PixelFed (insta-like), and soon Owncast (podcasting). See also this project list.

Newcomers to the Fediverse are often full of the notion that Fediverse can be THE alternative to FB, Insta, etc. And they think of massive scale and rapid growth. But arguably this is not the best approach. The traditional social networks may be good at raking in the big bucks, but it comes at great cost to society.

Where Discourse shines, as do Fediverse apps, is in providing the right place - safe space, a home - for small to medium-sized groups of people who share common interests, discuss and collaborate. I.e. communities that provide a ‘sense of belonging’. Beauty of communities is that gradually their member share a common culture, which bind members closer together. That is not to say that communities aren’t linked to other communities, and their members don’t associate to ‘outsiders’.

PS. Lemmy - recently launched - comes close to being a federated forum (it is a link-sharing platform), and people have asked to develop that use case. Of course it can’t match the intricate functionality of Discourse. If Discourse would be federated it would immedately hold position as THE Fediverse forum software.


I know of one Discourse instance that is massive, so maybe not? :thinking:

Instead of tapping/clicking into the post, it’s one less tap/click. I do like how Twitter does it, but it isn’t about familiarity to me. :slight_smile:

The closest thing you’ll find is this: Websites using Discourse

It seems like an awesome idea (and it definitely isn’t nonsense)! Go for it! :smiley:


Facebook has Billions of users … I’m sure ‘Roblox’ is popular but …


I don’t expect to have “billions of users” at any given time. :grin:


It has 646869 accounts registered, with about 5-6000 weekly users. But if Discourse instances were to federate, of course these figures would grow dramatically. I wish we could integrate some kind of federated simply to facilitate coordination and organization of like-minded communities. SSO + instances is good when you control the instances and they’re part of a whole, but when it’s a loosely tied community like, say, local chapters of an international organization in different cities, then it makes sense to have some common, federated topics or categories, and each user can post to any instance.

And no, Fakebooz is not great.


I personally love the idea of Federation as you know :slight_smile:

It is not without some significant technical and functional hurdles though which would require a significant investment in time to overcome.


I proposed an investment up to 200,000 € to accomplish this earlier, but there were no takers. Actually, @erlend_sh made a proposal on the behalf of the Discourse team, which was accepted by the NGI Zero consortium. Then he left the company and the proposal was left dangling for some time until @rishabh took it over, and there was a new enthusiasm. But then the application was dropped entirely.

The offer still stands. If you’re interested in picking this up, I suggest to pursue the discussion on the SocialHub – it can be developed as a plugin. If you need any additional information about the grant, you can contact me there. See also ActivityPub Implementation for Discourse


We almost certainly would be interested in doing something. I’ll PM you and include @angus and @erlend_sh (with whom I’m doing a small bit of work at the moment, as it happens).


How about Nextdoor (which is increasingly stuffed with ads).

What would Discourse need to replace that?


Discourse for Teams might be a suitable replacement.


You’d need a sophisticated plugin to replicate that fully on a large scale.

The UVP of Nextdoor and equivalent is the way it groups and targets people by location and distance from each other.

Of course you can always build an ad hoc discourse for your immediate neighbours (I’ve done it and it worked because we were in a single, easily identifiable ‘development’) but that won’t scale.


I know for a fact that @nexo tried to do something like this at one point, but I believe it went under. I wonder if he possibly has anything to say about this?


Someone in the neighborhood standing up a forum and dropping a one-pager in everyone’s mailbox with the url and an invite.

Discourse’s mission isn’t congruent with the business models driving social media. FB/IG/LI/etc. Those platforms are designed to manipulate users for control and profit. Discourse is designed to benefit end users

As commercial interests continue eroding trust, I suspect we’ll see the current giants struggle with granularity, as we collectively withdraw into tribes.

Are there enterprise deployments out there bemoaning a lack of performance at scale or some lack of extensibility? If not, I think the bigger question is more a function of human need than how to turn this incredible software into another festering cesspool of wanton consumerism.

That said–and I haven’t had a chance to explore the federation stuff yet–I think some kind of limited, intra-install hooks could be interesting. Like, maybe a section on the dashboard that displayed other (participating) communities you could explore by high level industry, size, and/or age. Pull in the logo and tagline, make a sort of mini directory.

I like the idea of being able to show my community members other good communities. I don’t like the idea of Discourse being associated with the forces that essentially ruined the internet over the last 15 years

Excellent Topic, BTW.


Facebook’s evil practices can go suck an egg. I’m talking about the good side of social media.


Twitter doesn’t want any discussions. It is made, as every ”ordinary” some-solutions for fast broadcasting. It doesn’t try to hide threads, as Faceboog does with mobile users, though. There is no need because in Twitter is not such thing as threads :wink: