I was going to say the same thing Tristan said but with different words.
Online communities require many persons to other many persons interacting at the same time for them to truly replace physical communities. But you find that the bulk of the available tools for communities these days enable just one person to many persons interacting. An example would be multiple people trying to chat in a channel but on different topics, it doesn’t scale well. Threads and sub-channels were added in these tools to make this easier, but that still did not allow multiple people to participate and switch between different conversations and topics seamlessly.
And even when the tools or the features allow many people to interact with many people at once, moderating, organising and perusing the information and interactions with these tools is an interesting experience. Discoverability and shareability is another interesting experience.
Discourse excels well with this, and it also allows you to truly own your community and its data while allowing you to extend the capabilities of your community via plugins, themes, theme components, webhooks, the API and a host of other features. Yes, these are not rock-solid-perfect, but not a lot of the other tools out there enable many to many interactions while also giving you a rich feature set, freedom and extendability.
We can do better with packaging ourselves to show this, we know this and are actively working on it. And like Hawk said:
Should Discourse be mentioned in these conversations?
As a heads up, I’ve edited the topic title to reflect this sentiment so people can find the discussion more readily.
Let me start by answering #2 first.
Should Discourse be mentioned in conversations about community platforms?
In short –
A 100% resounding YES!
Online community boils down to one thing: people connecting with other people over subjects they enjoy. Full stop.
This idea plays out in a variety of ways, ranging from a group of friends chatting, to creators building an audience, all the way to companies bringing fans of their brands/products together.
By this standard, Discourse is most definitely a community platform. So are Circle, Discord, WhatsApp, and even iMessage.
As @hawk and others noted, each is a tool that serves a specific need. Community leaders choose tools based on business objectives and familiarity, to name only two of many reasons. A Fortune 500 company often wants stable, proven, compliant, and scalable platform. Conversely, a creator wants a platform that helps them grow both their audience and their business.
People choose Discourse because it fits their needs and because our vision of online community lines up with theirs.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about #1 for a second.
Why aren’t people talking about Discourse?
I actually don’t fully know the answer to this question. Maybe you can help me!
If you don’t already, why don’t you talk about Discourse in spaces other than Meta?
I would really love to know what holds you back from sharing, as I would love for more of our most devoted users to talk openly about us. If you prefer not to reply here, feel free to PM me about it.
Circle’s branding tied themselves directly to creators who by nature make money talking about things. Creators also love to hang out on Twitter, so it makes sense you see the majority of responses in favor of Circle.
But I’d love to see more of us out there talking about what you love with Discourse. And if there’s anything I can do to help you do that, I’d love to hear from you.
To this I would ask, is the social media audience really the space that Discourse wants to enter? I hope not.
Discourse stands out as being the best tool for creating a high signal, low noise platform. And social media is mostly noise, attention, engagement, clicks, distraction, outrage, congragulate me.
Why aren’t people talking about Discourse?
I expect that to change as Discourse finds its golden audience – which I think it’s very close to finding. I’d also add that if you look at the team: mostly engineers. Other companies spend a lot of their budget on branding on marketing – making the product into a cashgrab. Look at Stackoverflow’s careers page. Engineering is outnumbered by sales, branding and marketing by more than 4 to 1. Another comparison, Algolia – they must have a massive sales and promotion team because 6 or 7 completely different people have emailed me 2 or 3 times each since I had a trial. Outcome? I’ll never use algolia – their budget is focused on getting my money instead of developing a better product. A good product will always promote itself.
Discourse has exceptional potential for work and academic environments, it just hasn’t broken through – yet.
Additionally, the team has recently doubled in size. That would suggest that someone, somewhere is talking about Discourse
It’s a nuanced thing. Do we want to dominate social channels with our brand presence? Absolutely not. But we do want to encourage folks who love Discourse to talk about it with others. That doesn’t have to be in open social channels (though it sure can be) – even a conversation in your company or on a phone call with a friend looking for a solution to a problem.
Indeed so! People do share Discourse. I see numerous mentions on Twitter and LinkedIn each day. But if others hesitate in doing so, I’d love to know why!
Very happy to see this topic has gotten a good amount of discussion! It has moved quickly, but I’d like to respond to some specific points below, even if the conversation has somewhat moved on since.
Thank you, this is an interesting way of putting it. Can you elaborate more on what you feel “engagement” means?
This is an important point and I definitely do consider it. But remember that a good part of the discussion I am talking about here is taking place among community-building professionals, people whose actual job it is to “build communities”, both in a social and technical sense. Surely those people should know what platforms there are, and what each one is best used for? I know it’s easy enough for me to tell when something is Discourse, even in the best white-labeled implementations, and as a community builder myself (more on the tech than social side), I very often check the platform behind any community I come across that seems to have an interesting design, feature set, etc.
So my remaining question in that context, then, would be: is this a matter of not being aware of Discourse (a problem that could be solved), or of not thinking Discourse is a good solution for their customers/use cases? And in the latter case, are they correct? To my mind the latter situation also deserves more consideration and research. Overall I think there is simultaneously a need to raise awareness of Discourse, and also to make people aware of some of the broader use cases and flexibility of it so that they might see it is indeed an option alongside e.g. Mighty Networks or Circle.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on this! You are probably right that “some” associate “community” in this way, but in the spaces I am primarily thinking of, the definition of community is most definitely not so specific as to length or method of interconnection. It is more about overall “amount” of social connection and activity, which can take a variety of forms, both of communications mediums (chat, forum/async, video/audio) and other things (creating/sharing support resources, liking/sharing people’s content, etc.). Discourse can do a good portion of what people often seem to be referring to when they talk about “community”, at least from a technical perspective, but at the same time it seems less in the conversation. So that’s what’s puzzling me.
What makes you conclude “generally because that is what they know…”? Certainly that is true of many people, most notably I would point to anyone using an old-school forum like phpBB. But most of the discussion I am seeing and referring to here (by way of just a single example, but it is representative of many other instances I have personally seen) is coming from people who are experts at, or trying to become experts at, building community. They are very often in fact investigating, testing, and implementing newer solutions than Discourse (Forem, etc), so to my mind it seems less likely that these people are using “only what they know”, and that brings me back to my focus: if these people are actively seeking solutions to their needs, why isn’t Discourse being considered as much as other options? Is it, as I posited in my original topic title, because Discourse is not the same type of platform (in terms of capability/goals) as these others, or that it’s not “positioned” as such (but is technically capable of similar things), or a lack of marketing/outreach, or what?
When you say it’s “unfortunate… they’re wasting time trying to hack things together when they could be using Discourse”, do you not see that this is a problem you can potentially solve? This is what marketing and outreach are for.
This feels like more of the kind of detail and clarity in terms of positioning and intent that I’ve been hoping for, thank you! I am curious how long you would say it has been since Discourse was “no longer in startup mode”, and if this reevaluation is current and ongoing.
Luma is an interesting example, and it was mentioned in the example Twitter thread I started this discussion with. I did feel like its inclusion in that Twitter discussion kind of muddied the waters and made me question “What are these people actually looking for when they say ‘community platform’?” However at the same time I think looking too much at the Luma example might lead one to believe “Well, these people are looking for something that Discourse doesn’t do and that’s why it’s not being mentioned there.” when in fact many of the other more commonly-referenced platforms, like Mighty Networks, Circle, and others, do make “discussion” a prime focus (even if they may handle it differently than Discourse, e.g. more comment-like a-la Facebook and less long-form).
To me more important than the way that a platform represents “discussion” (or whether they do at all) is the question of: what are these potential customers looking for, what do they mean and want when they are looking for a “community platform”? Sometimes I think even they don’t know, they just have heard that “community” is now a “must” for building a company, so they’re looking for something to “make that happen”. I still think Discourse should be in that consideration though.
This is an insightful point and worth further consideration and discussion. For example, if it’s true that “long-form discussion is not the main building block of many community strategies”, does that simply mean that Discourse is focused on long-form and therefore many people trying to create “community” simply will not and should not be considering Discourse, and this is fine? In other words is the priority of Discourse to be long-form discussion, regardless of where the greater market goes? If so, I’d certainly understand that, though I’d still wonder about long-term viability of that strategy.
Adaptation to market needs is important, but it’s also tricky to navigate this, to avoid losing your focus, not veer for every market trend, etc. And also defining what one’s market is is not trivial. I just think it’s valuable to have these discussions happening in public where possible.
More than anything I think my hope is that Discourse can remain a really strong platform for long-form, and help promote that approach (which I personally find to be more, er, “civilized” ), while also adding features, options, etc. that can help bridge the gap into these other styles of “community” that people are favoring in large numbers. I see the in-development Chat plugin as a prime example of this and I’m very excited for it. With these kinds of developments, can Discourse be a bridge and an “ambassador” to get people who are used to Facebook group style to get better at, more comfortable with, and ultimately more interested in at least some long-form discussion? I think most here would agree this is a generally higher form of “engagement” and discussion.
It’s interesting that you put Circle in this category. Have you ever used it? Has any company or community you are a part of used it? The few Circle memberships I’ve tried have actually been extremely obviously not “disposable discussion”, etc. One was a super active, super supportive community entirely focused on self-improvement, productivity, learning, mental health, etc. Brain stuff! It’s worlds away from most of what I see on Instagram, etc. Have a look if you’re curious to see how Circle can be (and in my experience often is) used in that way: Join 2,500 fellow curious minds - Ness Labs
Main point is really that there is little or nothing intrinsic to Circle, out of that list, that makes it “feel good” or “disposable”, while I’d argue some of the others that is very true of. I’ve even seen some really cool discussion on Discord too, but because of its closed platform, lack of SEO, and poor search and archiving, most of that conversation is doomed to obscurity, i.e. “disposable”, even if the content of the discussion itself has higher potential value. One of the nuances here as well is that the platform and the medium doesn’t inherently dictate the content, although it does influence it. People have surprisingly in-depth discussions in Discord and even Instagram, even though neither is particularly good at doing so. And in fact this is one of the biggest reasons I want Discourse to be more popular and widely used, because I see good conversations being “lost” on platforms that are not built for them!
Yes, I agree, and this is exactly why I want Discourse to be more well-known and widely used.
While I understand the intent of changing the title, I don’t think this has much specifically to do with “social media”. It’s more about what conversations Discourse is in and not in, and whether Discourse is “in” the conversations it “should be”/is intended to be in.
Other than that I really appreciate your response and agree with basically everything you said. And I especially appreciate you asking for help understanding why Discourse may not be in some conversations that it should be.
That said, in that particular Twitter thread the reason I didn’t mention Discourse is because my original question in the topic title here was quite genuine: I honestly was not sure if Discourse is - or is meant to be - used for the same kinds of purposes as. e.g. Circle, Mighty Networks, and some of the other recommended platforms being suggested in that thread. I only want to make a recommendation if it can be a strong one that directly meets the person’s needs and intended use. I suppose it might have been productive to ask for clarification from the thread starter, but I was more interested in understanding why it was not already more mentioned (hence the topic here), than trying to take some small part in changing that fact in this particular instance (which, as I mentioned, I already do more generally).
More broadly what makes me hesitate in recommending Discourse sometimes? I know there are reasons for these, and they are unlikely to change, but since you asked, two of the top (intertwined) reasons are: price and complexity of hosting environment (relative to competitors). These are not new considerations, but I’ll elaborate a bit here:
Let’s look at Mighty Networks as an alternative to Discourse’s hosted offering. Mighty is cheaper and has more features out-of-the-box. Also cheaper are IPB and XenForo, for what it’s worth (looking more directly at the forum root/use case). Now of course you cannot self-host Mighty, but you can self-host IPB and many others, so let’s look at that for a moment. Vanilla is more directly comparable to Discourse in that it’s open source. And here’s where you start to see the big challenges as far as self-hosting.
The bare minimum cost for hosting Discourse “in the cloud” is a $10/mo Digital Ocean instance, and that’s not much at all. Probably $20/mo is a more fair baseline. But the complexity of it vs. the many PHP-based options is part of the problem. Many web hosts with Cpanel (of which there are tons) even come with Softaculous or something similar, where I can literally see a list of 10+ PHP forum options that can be installed with a few clicks. Further to that the fact that your $10-20/mo server has to be only for Discourse (unless you have the technical know-how to setup multiple containers, etc.), whereas with PHP-based options I can have my simple Wordpress site on the same server (or even shared hosting) as my community.
Now I get this is “small potatoes”, and these are not scenarios you’d recommend (shared hosting, etc.). The way Discourse works sort of enforces more “best practices”, which is to say not hosting a bunch of stuff in a single container or server, etc. Yet I have started and run numerous successful, active, interesting, and useful communities on such inexpensive, shared hosting over the years, and it’s a powerful, legitimate use case.
That said I understand that if some customer considers e.g. $100/mo to be “a lot of money for a community platform”, then CDCK as a company may not be that concerned about winning their business. But I also think pricing and self-host complexity may be a part of what keeps it out of the general conversations around community platforms, where in many cases it might be more suitable, whether hosted by CDCK or self-hosted. In other words price+complexity might be a barrier to general mindshare, which wouldn’t necessarily impact CDCK’s bottom line directly, but certainly I think indirectly.
I know for my part my journey to being a Discourse advocate began as a user, then only because I was reasonably technical I could start up an inexpensive Digital Ocean instance and (through much trial and error) learn how to host it myself inexpensively, and on that basis I could then recommend it. In other words my use cases for personal needs were a key part of becoming a Discourse advocate and recommending and even implementing it in multiple instances since then. For less technical people that path to “advocate” or “recommender” seems more challenging. Is that a problem CDCK needs to solve? Obviously that’s not for me to say, and I also don’t know that I have a clear answer, but I think it’s worth considering.
And before it’s pointed out, I do want to acknowledge the value of CDCK’s open source support, etc., as well as the existence of Communiteq as a lower-cost option. I am well aware of these things, but potential customers seem less well aware. Ultimately the Discourse model, as a platform and/or as a business may simply be different than e.g. Mighty or Circle, and therefore inherently less likely to be compared for or chosen by customers of those systems, but I do think it is worth being aware of and continuously evaluating one’s market positioning and goals as the industry changes. There has been more said here to address those considerations than I have seen in the past, and I really appreciate that insight into what the Discourse team are thinking and working on re: messaging, market fit, etc, etc.
What is “the social media audience”? What even is “social media”, to you? Twitter and Facebook and Reddit as 3 examples are incredibly different in many respects. Two have a “follow” model, but one is “open follow” (Twitter) and largely “open posting”, the other is more “friend”-oriented (Facebook). Reddit is very “social” but largely anonymous and open, yet much more long-form than Twitter. Are all these the same in your view, falling under “social media”? And if so, what about them makes them spaces where you don’t want Discourse to be popular?
It’s been nearly 10 years since Discourse was founded. I see other clear indication from team members in this thread that indeed there is some shift happening in this direction, but aside from discussion in this topic, I have seen little other mention or evidence of it. I am excited for the possibility though, and I guess I’m just curious what makes you feel that it is “very close to finding its golden audience”, and if so, why now?
Thank you again everyone for engaging in this discussion! I am sorry if my replies have been a bit long-winded, but hey, Discourse makes it easy to have long-form discussion.
Jokes aside, this is a very thought-provoking topic. Thank you for publishing it!
Social media can garner a specific community. For example, Discord is mostly used by gamers, Flickr is mostly used by photographers, and Pinterest is mostly used by artists. I could go on if I wanted to, but I think you get the bigger picture.
This topic will make for a great addition to my collection…
I feel the lack of mention of Discourse is the audience of that thread. They are people who haven’t necessarily implemented any kind of forum and don’t really have much experience with community.
The default to setting up a ‘community’ seems to be a Slack/Discord/Chat space. Which is fair enough. As communities mature they will likely evolve towards a forum (+ chat space).
Circle does seem to be the default for smaller communities, to me that’s down to the ease of setting up a community as a business and for hosting events. The pay walling of it is made much easier, for example.
When I think of long term investment as a forum, Discourse is still my number 1 choice. We’ve personally had one set up for Ministry of Testing for a few years now. I’ve also just set one up for Rosieland . Forem seems nice too, but I feel it encourages a different type of kind of content, which is not quite my thing.
When setting up my new Rosieland Discourse I realised it had some integrations, such as Patreon, that could definitely appeal to the more indie/creator/startup type crowd.
This makes sense. Chat is low barrier to entry, but doesn’t scale with a volume of conversations. So having both is helpful!
I agree! As a creator on the side myself, there’s a lot that can be done with Discourse. And now as the marketing person around here, I’m doing my best to help people learn that we can help with those problems. I love the fact that Discourse isn’t a centralized platform (it’s one of the reasons I work here), and because of that creators can own their community area and not be tied into the shifting sands of mass-market or proprietary SaaS software (though there are solid reasons to use them depending on use case).
That is actually quite interesting. In Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Danmark, Iceland is too small to compare) chat is behind high barrier. But that depends and the situation is different when there is ”real community”, as F1, icehockey etc.
I know this is going kind of to wrong direction, but generally that should keep clearly in the minds all the time: here is strong anglo-american bias when someone is talking about things like what a community means.
But global business should understand that, and they mostly don’t.
Value of Discourse is a fact that it can be tuned to every culture, because it is ”just” an editable platform.
Sorry, continue please. I don’t remember anymore what my point was
My concern with Chat (when integrated with a forum) is it can steal content from the permanent (and search indexed, SEO improving) record. Rather than create good quality permanent forum posts, someone says something useful and interesting on chat and it gets lost. If chat is not available, the only option is to make a forum post. Dilemma!
Well, most of chat content is just noise, and it is better there than on forum. And for more valuable content we have option to start a new topic and save that chat message that way, So, there is no dilemma at all
Chat is actually quite good channel to keep topics cleaner. If users are using it. Chat is not reallu success story here (is it visible for anybody or just for us few?)
I disagree. There are unplanned conversations that happen on one of my forums that turn out really interesting and at present they are captured as posts. The boring stuff can be dropped, deleted as low value posts if you need to if properly moderated.
If I were to facilitate chat, I can imagine some valuable opinions and subjects being broached on chat, discussed, then lost. It’s not like someone’s going to decide: “oh what I just said was really interesting, i’m going to go on the forum and open a Topic about that” or “Oh what Dave said was really cool, I’m going to go to the forum and start a Topic on that”. Because they already talked about it and have better things to do than to laboriously reproduce and translate their chat conversations into other mediums.
So yeah, I believe there is a real dilemma for some communities.
On one hand I don’t think we need to capture everything from a chat. Just like we wouldn’t capture everything from an IRL conversation.
However, as a community builder you can lead by example and just start the conversations on the forum yourself, perhaps tag people in. Yes, it takes extra work, but in time other people might do the same.
I’m always taking notes or saving chats with intentions to log them in a forum or more permanent type place. I don’t always get around to creating them but the intention is there. It’s a great practice to have.
Yes I agree. (Yet I’m really glad you said that useful advice on a Post ) . Moderation activity and community leader behaviour could have a real benefit in this type of scenario. The challenge is manpower, having enough motivated community leaders and enough people at hand who know what they are doing.
(PS Apologies, I’ve probably helped take this Topic, off-Topic … feel free to break this tangent into its own Topic if thought useful)
I tend to agree, but at the same time I don’t think the “low-key” presence of Discourse is confined to just those folks. That thread was sort of the triggering moment for me to start this topic, but it’s a feeling that has been growing for about as long as I’ve known of Discourse, and certainly as long as I’ve been personally implementing it.
On the one hand there are some big and successful installations in particular contexts like software support forums (Figma, Airtable, Coda, etc.). On the other hand its use in a broader “Community” context is where I see a lot less consideration of it, and my original question here was whether that is actually appropriate (i.e. Discourse is not generally the right tool for these people wanting “community platforms” to build with), or whether it was more of a missed opportunity. I.e. Is there notable work to be done in clarifying Discourse’s capabilities and potential in that area? Obviously it’s not the right tool for all those needs, but I think for some, and with the coming integration of chat it will cover even more requirements.
Agreed, this is what I see too. And I think the factors you mention are notable, particularly how easy it is to paywall. This is the kind of thing I wonder if Discourse could have more (clear) functionality for. Particularly in its officially hosted instances.
This is definitely good! (and I agree) But what makes someone think “forum”, specifically? I have my thoughts on this, of course. But I’m curious how you think of it. And more broadly, is it appropriate for Discourse to be part of conversations like the one I referenced (and many others like it where it seems, to me, to be underrepresented)? “Community” is a big buzzword and thus a goal for many companies now, so people are seeking tools. Should Discourse be more widely recommended than it is? That, again, is my principle consideration in starting this discussion.
Oh, this is an interesting comment! I’m curious how you might define that different kind of content. As a community builder, if you were working with a company or organization that wanted to “build a community”, in what circumstance or with what set of needs/goals might you recommend Forum vs. Discourse?
Yes, I think this could be more well-promoted (and perhaps further fleshed-out in functionality?).
Most definitely! And I’m glad you are approaching your role with all that in mind, I’m excited for the future in this regard.
These are definitely big concerns that to me speak very directly to the problems with the current state of things (e.g. separate Discourse forum and Discord chat, etc.). However I’m excited that the pre-alpha chat plugin seems designed to at least help address some of this, to the degree that a technical solution can solve the problem (short of AI trying to figure out what is good content and auto-move it to a topic ). I’m not sure either of you have experimented yet with the chat plugin, but essentially Staff users (or anyone with appropriate permissions) can select one or more messages from a Chat and copy them into a new or existing topic It’s very quick and easy, actually. I believe with an appropriate permissions config the author themselves could do it as well, at least for their own message(s).
Now this is the technical side of the solution. By itself it’s not going to get people to move their content into a more archived location. But at least making it significantly easier should, I hope, encourage the more dedicated participants to highlight some of their content in that way. I actually think some incentive to do so can come from having the ability to sort of “promote” things they say. They may not set out to post a notable chat message, but at least in some of the communities I am part of (e.g. Obsidian), you will often see these really epic single messages (or set of messages from the same user), that very well could justify being a Topic. So I’m hopeful people might actually use that capability if it’s given to them.
Even if that’s not the case, though, there is good potential for a well-moderated forum + chat setup to have staff that can do this. If a community decides to enable/allow chat, presumably it is with an understanding that there will be some level of moderation (to maintain whatever community standards are already maintained in the forum). This could increase the burden on staff, to be sure, it remains to be seen, and so a rebalancing of staff resources may be necessary in some or many cases. But if that is done effectively, moderators should be there to see and “promote” good content into the appropriate places a good amount of the time. And with Discourse + chat they will have good tools to do so!
Whether or not all that happens, at least having the integration and tools available to very easily and quickly copy content from chats to more permanent content is a big step forward. It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to start some notable number of communities/orgs adopting Discourse as a single platform for chat + forum. But I am hopeful.
I’d say it’s about more direct ways of connecting. Like jumping in on a chat and joining an event. Now you can build an online community that has events as it’s main offer for connecting. That’s how the field has widened and Discourse seems to be placed less central as a solution.
Well, I do talk about Discourse, but I believe it’s often not the best solution for two main reasons:
the frontend doesn’t offer a modern look out-of-the-box. That has been brought up repeatedly, so I don’t even want to get into it much. But yeah, rounded buttons etc make a huge difference when people scan for potential solutions.
I do custom designs for Discourse. So personally I even don’t bother much about the frontend. With the right budget you can make Discourse look almost any way a client wants. I still don’t always recommend it and that’s because the backend is overly complex. In my experience Discourse only makes sense if there’s resources for at least 1 FTE community manager position. But I’ve seen managers struggling even after 1 year with Discourse. To realize some setups, you need to navigate the backend in intricate ways.
At least me I’d recommend Discourse more often if the backend would offer
a simple and an advanced interface
an interface that’s directed to who’s actually using and working with communities. Discourse is built around moderators, admins and users - but nowadays it’s Community Managers looking for solutions for their members - and that’s not just terminology.
By this I mean places like Forem, and Indie Hackers (which is custom built) the content generally steers towards educational content rather than ‘help or discussion’ content. Often it is more sharing content to build an audience and reputation over things like community, helping people or real/deeper discussions.
I appreciate you sharing this. It’s not quite how I view this term, but it’s useful perspective.
Yyyep, same. Fortunately it is at least very well setup for customization. Even I, a CSS illiterate, can do OK.
This is really important and perhaps even dismaying feedback.
Yes, I’d love to see this, and have been thinking similarly.
Interesting, yeah. I think I agree with this but would be curious to know more of what you mean when you say “that’s not just terminology”. Maybe off-topic for this topic though? Up to you.
I feel a bit like the title change has made this topic a little vague or confusing and as a result perhaps been missed by some other voices that could be interesting to hear from. I know I can change it again myself, but first I’m curious if any other participants here feel the same. It’s probably too late to make much difference anyway.