Why isn't Discourse more frequently recommended as a "community platform"?

10 posts were split to a new topic: I’m considering moving a writing community to Discourse

I’ve never heard of Circle before, and from what I see on their website, it’s a paid service w/o a self-hosting option. So, I presume most users start using it by purchasing a subscription.

When similar users open discourse.org, they see the pricing of $100 upwards, which is unaffordable for small users & communities like the people here describe. Let’s also not forget that for most regular users, the word “open-source” is an empty fancy buzzword, so they cannot follow the implication open source → I can run it for free. I personally know quite a few people who, after hearing about Discourse, visited the website and quit thinking, “it’s a $100+ service”.

I don’t blame CDCK and don’t even want to argue that they should make the idea “you can self-host it for free” more explicit; this is only to provide some additional context/perspective.


Well I think it is quite obvious


I should have said “make a fourth column which says free in bold” because as you may know, regular users nowadays don’t read text and only occasionally read titles/bold.

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But of course hosting it yourself is never ‘free’: it requires some paid infrastructure. It requires some work and some learning, both of which take up your time which is in lieu of other potential paid work.

Running a community well is particularly time consuming.

But as I’ve said before, it’s a very rewarding pursuit and a gateway for learning a lot of online, engineering and commercial skills.


How would you rewrite the first column then?

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And it looks like it is also without a take-your-data-to-another-forum option as well, so if you community starts there, it will also die there.


What would you assume is affordable for small users and communities like the ones being discussed here?


I’m sorry, I’ve just noticed that the pricing block at the bottom of the landing page differs from the one on the pricing page[1]: Discourse pricing | Discourse - Civilized Discussion. Any reason why the two differ?

Of course! That’s why I said I don’t want to argue for that because for many (many) people paying someone to make things work™ is preferential over figuring things out.

My experience with US users/customers is very limited; I’d guess ~$20-30 as a starting plan in Europe and $10-20 in Asia[2]

On a related note, some people who I worked with and who considered having an online platform for discussion rarely had a clear vision of what would make their users want to contribute to the community (i.e. why the forum will live and grow) and/or whether it’d really be suitable in their case. Those were small companies/groups and the way they approached any software/web solution wasn’t too different from: “X sounds cool, why don’t we try X?” and both self-hosting and $100 plan require a bit more commitment than just desire to “test it out”[3]

To reiterate, my main point is: Discourse is an ideal (and maybe even unparalleled) tool for people who clearly understand why they need a community and are ready to dedicate themselves to growing those communities. But most startups/small groups are not like those people, so it shouldn’t be surprising that most people don’t talk about Discourse.

  1. and I thought by obvious you referred to the “whether self-hosting” part, but also lol on me not noticing this :melting_face: :melting_face: :melting_face: :melting_face: ↩︎

  2. Just to be clear: I totally understand the business model of Discourse, and again I don’t say it’s a bad thing that there’s no cheap plan. ↩︎

  3. the 14-day trial is enough to test if discourse solves your clearly formulated tasks but not enough to see if discourse can contribute to your general goals if you don’t have a clear understanding of what you need ↩︎


Better late than never, a response here to @hiddenseal’s very helpful post:

We fixed this - thanks for pointing it out!

In case you missed it, we recently launched a new basic plan at $50/month, available at 50% off for a limited time. See Our new Basic Plan is now available. Try it out today!

This is a helpful insight. I think I agree with you. Let’s see if this changes with the new basic plan which puts discourse in reach of these kinds of people, changes we’re making to discourse to try to improve the experience for new site owners, as well as changes we’ve been making recently to the website.


Sorry to bring this topic back up, but I have a pretty strong guess on this, and it’s called UI.

Discourse doesn’t look like the tools people are used to, such as Instagram and Facebook, which means people need to get used to it. Besides, such complexity and flexibility come with a downside: it’s a lot of information to deal with both as a user and as a new admin.

This means a steeper learning curve and possibly avoidance of participation by some groups of people – an issue many people will prefer not to deal with.

I imagine the following rationale: “what will make my users’ experience smooth, making them more likely to stay longer periods here and enjoy what is being offered/co-created?”. Their focus, then, would be on ease of use, not on potential.

I’m not saying Discourse doesn’t make this happen, just that it feels overwhelming and scary when you’re just starting out.

I know Discourse doesn’t want to look like Facebook or do what Instagram does, that’s clear and I like it this way. But it could use some decluttering, specially duplicity-wise.



Why are there two chat notifications on the top menu (in red, and not including the chat on the sidebar, which also shines when I get a message)? In yellow: why is there the bell menu, which is for all notifications, if they are already organized by replies/mentions, likes, PMs and bookmarks?

Also, if I click on the profile button, instead of taking me to my profile, it shows me another menu that I will already encounter after clicking on any of these buttons:


And yet another duplicity: I can access my drafts from here and from the sidebar navigation.

(Being able to logout from this menu is interesting, though, but then it could show only “Preferences”, “Stop notifications” and “Log Out”, making it easier to understand. I tried to find a way to easily disable some buttons on it, but couldn’t.)


When it comes to the messages system, there are 3 separate options, called by different names (PMs, Chat and Channels), but fulfilling more or less the same needs.

PMs can’t be disabled (can they?), are used by discobot and are basically private forums. Channels are related to categories, and the Chat is a chat that allows for group conversations and stuff. Couldn’t all this be one thing?


My bet for making it more frequently recommended would be to de-clutter it, then, lowering the bar for new users, because the problem certainly isn’t the potential the platform offers.



Theme authors and plugin devs could change that… but as an example; Mastodon tries to be different than Twitter/X and yet it is very similar, specially when an instance is using one very popular theme.

I know. Again one bad example from me because Mastodon is operating on same niche than X. And Discourse as a forum is fundamentally different than social media. But lack of similarity is a speed bump for Jane and Jack Doe.

But are we, or at least I, on different track now than what topic was originally ?


I suspect this is closer to the mark than the suggestion at the beginning of this topic that the issue is related to whether or not Discourse is positioning itself to be a community platform.

Discourse can be used to solve a wide range of problems. That flexibility can cause the UI to be overwhelming.

Discourse also allows for multiple workflows for performing various tasks. It’s possible there are cases where UI elements that are intended to be helpful are actually causing confusion. For example, being able to access drafts from either the preferences drop down or from the user’s activity page.

In terms of commenting on the UI, probably the best I can say is “don’t ask a fish about water.” I used Discourse daily for work for ~5 years and am rarely confused by the UI. If it isn’t already being done, it might be worth looking into doing some usability testing - it’s hard to get good honest feedback from friends, supporters, and experienced users. The testing should target both potential end users of Discourse and potential staff users.

They can, but that should probably be discussed in a separate topic.


This is good feedback and I think we’ve been hearing similar thoughts for most of Discourse’s existence now.

Compared to social networks, we likely follow “design by committee” a lot more. This phrase is often used derogatorily, but I think its reputation is worse than reality. It definitely does make it harder to simplify.

We take lots of feedback from Meta, internally from employees, and from customers… and there’s a lot of variation between how all of these people are using Discourse.

The breadth of feedback combined with rapid iteration means that If we build something quickly and a month from now try to redesign it, we inevitably get people who will say they rely on it as-is, the option we’re removing is their favorite, etc…

Some random examples:

  • we have 8 different layouts for the /categories page (9 if you count mobile), which were mostly built based on various requests…

  • we had an internal discussion about which bookmark reminder options people use in an effort to reduce them… and discovered that there’s someone who really likes just about every option in the list

  • we initially wanted to remove the drop-down hamburger menu in favor of the sidebar, but a number of sites prefer the dropdown… so we’ll have 2 navigation menu options for the foreseeable future…

  • we tried out multiple styles of new content notifications in the sidebar, and there was a pretty evenly split opinion… so we have 2-3 user preferences for this

  • we have 2-3 different ways of using chat because some people prefer to have it almost entirely separate from the forum experience…

In a sense this is great, Discourse can be a lot of things for a lot of different people… we’ve got a massive number of features and settings. The downside being, as mentioned, is that unless you’re very savvy… this gets very overwhelming quickly.

I think one thing some of the posts touch on, that we’ve started to look at, is reducing the number of options and settings that admins (and users) are faced with initially… for the basic hobbyist forum it seems likely that we can simply hide most settings. Themes can do some of this by simply hiding elements, but these are often very purpose fit… it isn’t easy for an admin with 0 development experience to adjust if they’re trying to get a specific feature added. Admins and users are getting this massive toolbox, and they need maybe a hammer and a couple nails.


I’ve been thinking about (and started to code) a system that uses a Google sheet (any spreadsheet, really) as a configurator. It would make it possible to do the normal import stuff (user, category, topic, post) for a guy who thinks he an pre-seed a site to build a useful community for X. In addition to that, though, it would also allow adding and configuring themes (both installing and configuring theme settings) and site settings. This would then make it possible to have a set of pre-configured sites for various purposes (site with some free stuff and some member/subscriber-only stuff, site for small group/family/club) as well as some things to do common pieces like create a members-only category (I think this may be pretty “easy” in the UX now, but maybe you have to know that’s what you want to find it?).

Having a site that hides a bunch of stuff that you don’t see in popular social media sites isn’t a bad idea. There are a few “simple” themes that hide some stuff.


I really appreciate the reply and info here. I do want to say a few things in response to specific points, but before I do, I hope you keep in mind that I love Discourse and want it to succeed. If my comments come across as harsh or too critical, it is likely either from ignorance (e.g. of your internal processes, the forces you have to balance, etc.), or just a difference of opinion, and certainly not an indictment of what CDCK has built and is building and the success that has come from that. No process or organization is perfect, and feedback hopefully trends things ever more toward those elusive goals.

Hopefully you also do non-user testing, as @simon above spoke to. In my experience what you will primarily get from the groups you cited are institutional, entrenched, stakeholder perspectives, with plenty of variation, but little insight into how to grow your presence and not just maintain it. And while I am not in favor of growth for its own simple Capitalist imperative, I do think some modest growth is all but necessary for long-term thriving of a business.

It’s great to try to please as many people as possible but… it is literally impossible to please everyone all the time, of course. I recognize you’re not trying to do that, but it does seem as though you prioritize the needs of existing users over those of potential new ones. To be clear I think this is a good bias to have… to a degree. I would simply suggest that the balance may need to be shifted a bit more toward understanding and catering to new and potential users (admins/community builders as well as end users). It’s also an important reality that you will need to disappoint some people.

Sometimes you have to piss off a lot of people for a greater benefit down the line. Growing pains, migration discomforts, etc, etc. are all realities of software dev as I’m sure you and the entire team well know. The way you have outlined the following example points make it sound like you are avoiding disappointing anyone and ending up with option proliferation as a result. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but just so you know, laying it out like this did not for me actually inspire confidence in the approach being taken, in fact it was somewhat the opposite.

I’m not saying CDCK is taking the wrong approach, I don’t have nearly enough information and direct experience to make that kind of judgment, and hopefully I am not arrogant enough to either. :wink: But what I am saying is that simply judging by what Discourse is like to use right now (both as an admin and user) and taking the examples you gave, I would certainly argue that the balance might need to shift more toward disappointing a few more people for the good of the platform and user base as a whole. Hopefully I have threaded the needle there on not sounding like a presumptuous a-hole. :sweat_smile: If not, I apologize.

Yes, I think this is arguably most of what is necessary: a simpler out-of-the-box experience, ideally based on a good amount of user (admin/end user) testing to determine a sort of baseline set of features that a majority will want. There is already some of this in the default configuration, and I have found myself on the other side of that line (i.e. needing to enable something not on by default), and the fact that it even was an option to do so was appreciated. So I don’t want to necessarily see features removed entirely. But doing a complete review of all settings, defaults, etc. and adjusting that, and even creating a new theme based on an optimized concept of the default options and interaction model would be great. A lot of work, I’ll grant, but maybe for some upcoming major new version it would be worth it. :wink: And I’d be surprised if it didn’t pay off in gaining new customers as a result.

Thanks for listening and engaging, as always. I wish I had the time to be more active here, and I remain a fan of Discourse!


This sounds great, actually. When and if a forum needs a specific feature, the admin would only have to turn it on (for an enhanced admin experience, it would be super mega great to have the right-button click open a list of possible actions, connecting the actual button to its settings – sometimes you just don’t know how to call what you’re seeing [specially when it comes to colors and theme :sweat_smile:], and this is sort of possible with the CSS stuff). Taking duplicity down is also a good approach, because you keep the features on.

Writing this answer, I found other examples of duplicity (I understand part of them is topic-related, part is answer-related, but still):

This would generate a lot of good answers on the UI. Trained eyes can’t see the obstacles of untrained eyes.

I would too. ^^

Found it! :wink:


At the risk of getting off topic, this idea has also been around for a while now.

The setup wizard’s “Member experience” step could be improved to ask “What type of site do you want to create?”

Some possible options:

  • teamwork
  • software/product development
  • customer support
  • community
  • a traditional forum
  • give me everything!

The Discourse site would then be configured to highlight the UI elements and site settings that were appropriate for the type of site that was selected.

If the site was self-hosted, plugins appropriate to the selected site type could be suggested. For example, if “teamwork” was selected, the Assign, Policy, Calendar plugins could be suggested.

For hosted sites, it might make more sense to move this step from the setup wizard to the hosting signup form. That would give customers the chance to see how the features appropriate for their selected site-type compare across the various hosting tiers. For example, if “community” was selected, it could be highlighted that the “Gamification” plugin was only available on Discourse’s Business plan. Done right, it would be a friendly way to do some upselling right off the bat.


This can be a great platform for communities, I had never heard of discourse before until there was a phone company that had a discourse forum called Republic Wireless. They shut down the forum a few years ago, as it had descended into chaos of members who were upset with the changes of them being acquired by Dish and now more recently they are apart of Boost Mobile.

Some communities such as the Amish were never interested in phone service, phones aren’t always helpful for communities to get along.

This kind of a forum platform is a lot more advanced then regular voice phones, and can be helpful for establishing new communities or to help existing communities communicate better.

Over the past couple of years I have seen people say, “I didn’t know Discourse can do that”, “I didn’t know that feature/option was built in”, and “Where is that feature/option found?” after seeing it being discussed on Meta.

Maybe a Index of features/options that are disabled by default (for most installations) can be made (with a link to it in the Admin Dashboard). Another possible index could be for all of the themes, theme components and plugins (with a link in the Admin Dashboard). There is a wide range of features; themes; theme components and plugins (official & unofficial). Also, some plugins are only available for Business/Enterprise hosting while others for Self-hosted sites. There’s no centralized compiled list that I know of. These would be a great help for those who say, “I wish I could do this with Discourse” and finding out their wish has already been granted. :genie: