The frequent insistence that the install/setup process and/or UI is not complex, arguing with/about the user’s experience, or in general the request for a person to justify their experience and opinion, are symptomatic of the very problems I’ve tried to articulate here before. This is one of the (few) reasons I have at times been turned off of this community, much to my dismay.
If someone who is a Discourse admin (or user) is taking their time to come here to tell the community “my experience setting up Discourse was more difficult than I think it should be”, listen to them, accept that their experience is valid first and foremost. Yes, it’s their personal opinion, and yes it’s reasonable to want specifics of exactly how it was difficult for them. But this should not be presented as a need for the person to justify their opinion and experience vs. that of others. Even if specifics can’t be or aren’t provided, the report itself, the user’s subjective experience is important.
It is the job of software developers to try to understand user’s pain points. It is not the job of the user to know exactly why they feel the way they do and communicate it to devs. This is one of the fundamental challenges of software development, and there are countless articles and anecdotes about its difficulty. Many well-respected tech industry figures (e.g. Steve Jobs) even believe that user’s don’t even know what they want, so asking them directly isn’t even necessarily a good approach. But even if it were, most users (even admins) are not UI/UX experts, so their ability to specifically identify and describe issues they encounter can be limited.
Even if a user does have expertise to help them make a more effective issue report, it’s also asking a lot of a person’s time and energy to detail the problems they encountered. This is why user studies are done, why they are useful, and why often the method is simply observing a person performing tasks, rather than trying to have them demonstrate some specific issue, much less describe it.
I think it’s also important to recognize that people’s prior experience with other similar-seeming (for a user/admin, non-coder) tools is relevant. Many people who are building communities now have had some experience spinning up PHP applications, perhaps even another forum like PHPBB. By comparison to that, the Discourse setup is relatively complex. There are of course aspects of both PHP and the PHPBB setup itself that are suboptimal, and reasons why e.g. the email setup that it uses is not preferable for Discourse, Rails, etc. But the fact that this isn’t really well explained anywhere (not just how to setup Discourse but why it’s harder than some other systems and what those trade-offs are about) is also part of what turns off potential users.
Lastly, in regards to ease of install, documentation, and whether self-host is not a “blessed path”, it’s worth looking at the changes to the Discourse.org home page in the last few years. Here it is back in 2021: Discourse.org on web.archive.org from 2021
Notice that reference to the self-install via Github is not only much higher up the page, but also includes a direct link, whereas on the current site there is no link where it first mentions Open Source, and the word “install” is never used. So for anyone who doesn’t necessarily already understand that a link to Github is a link to install (and that there are docs there to guide the install, which are mentioned nowhere else on the Discourse website), it’s a subtle but notable thing that will discourage them from investigating self-host.
The tension between free open source and profit for the entity that develops a given OS project is a fundamental one, so I understand these changes. But it’s fairly clear to me that OS/free/self-host is being deemphasized, and that to me is an indication of it being a less “blessed path” FWIW.