Why would Discourse's business model work when Stack Exchange v1's failed?

I think you’re mis-remembering. There is a screenshot of the old Stack Exchange 1.0 pricing on my blog.


Maybe I’ve skip-read too fast, but it seems to me that a major difference is that SE1 was mostly about creating new communities around Q&A, whereas Discourse seems to be a shoe-in for pre-existing communities who are unsatisfied with their existing forum solutions.


[quote=“codinghorror, post:21, topic:2678”]I think you’re mis-remembering. There is a screenshot of the old Stack Exchange 1.0 pricing on my blog:


I must have been remembering the non-small instances. Regardless, though, it has way a more limited use in a small community per the price point.

Thanks for this. When do you plan on letting people open/host their own Discourse sites? And you mentioned pricing in ~1 year. Is that when we can start our own? Or it’s free until then to help grow traction?

For Q&A it’s better to have exactly one global repository for a given subject area because the answers are meant to be definitive. It doesn’t make sense to have jeffsprogrammingqa.com and stevesprogrammingqa.com because the whole point is to have one repository of correct answers to all questions in a given subject area so people can find correct answers when they Google stuff related to that topic.

Forums are the opposite: the entire point is that it’s a community you can be a part of, full of people you recognize and can be recognized by. It makes perfect sense to have jeffsprogrammingdiscussion.com and stevesprogrammingdiscussion.com because it’s a broad enough topic to support multiple communities. In fact, when a forum community grows too large it stops being a community and the signal to noise ratio dips.


Discourse is free and open source for installation now, but it’s considered early beta and not stable for a production environment except by those who don’t mind running and updating really quickly. The only thing that will be sold is hosted & “enterprisey” licences.

If there is a reason for the fact that existing forums are inadequate, i would say PHP is main reason. Rails is a good choice for new decade’s software technologies.

I dunno, I may dislike PHP but I don’t think there is anything about the language that per se prevented evolution in forum software. Is the PHP development community, such as it is, really devoid of super talented developers? I doubt it. The Discourse team might have a different view on that, and there’s no question that if I wanted revolutionize a particularly type of software I would both avoid PHP and try to find something that I thought was powerful, a little bit sexy, and appeared to be around for the long hall.

I think forum software’s lack of a champion had as much to do with it as anything. I know there were more people out there than @codinghorror and @eviltrout who were unhappy with the current state of affairs. People with development backgrounds. It’s not enough to recognize flaws, or even to have better ideas though. Maybe the right two people just never put their heads together. Stack Overflow was a pretty bold idea. Forum Software needed that kind of spark, and here we are. Maybe Discourse ultimately won’t be the future, but I can’t imagine it being less than a major catalyst even if it isn’t (and I think it’s at least a pretty good glimpse of the future).

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The main problem with PHP was not so much inheriting the code base, but the same bad 1999 era forum design decisions over and over.

We wanted to make a clean break and start over, better!

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And in fact, many sites will probably prefer simply using Discourse for their Q&A as well as regular discussion if they prefer the mechanics over their existing forums, because most people simply don’t care for or understand the need for the “rigor” of StackExchange’s approach.

I would not argue that they are opposites. Discourse certainly has the potential to displace a large portion of StackExchange’s traffic, since it is aimed at a wider audience who don’t understand the need for rigor over a more complete community.

It will never generate anything close to the same signal though, and far more noise. I estimate 80% of Stack Exchange pages are useful – which is an astonishing number and that’s why the discipline is there. But on a discussion site you’ll be lucky to achieve even 10% useful pages. That is a wildly optimistic number by the way.

But, there can be many millions more pages of random discussion, so in aggregate it works out. Discussion is just an extremely inefficient (and often actively counter-productive) engine for producing useful content.


…and that’s okay, because discussion isn’t about utility, though occasionally it ventures into that realm.

I don’t think most communities view their place as creating content, even when it is Q&A that they want to provide. They view it all as communication. Thus I expect if they like Discourse, they will also use it for Q&A.

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I think that’s part of the beauty of a system like this, though. It’s not about having a community seeing their place as creating content, it’s about having a setup in place where creating useful content is the natural outcome of what interaction is already happening regardless.


Of course, but for some communities Q&A is a very small part of what they do. Look at the Lego and Poker Stack Exchange communities, which are really struggling for this reason. Q&A is fine, but it’s a tiny part of what they are about.

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I would think it is actually most, by volume, simply because the questions DON’T keep coming, and the ones that do aren’t usually allowed by SE sites, like shopping questions or advice questions. I expect gardening, parenting, cooking (no recipes allowed!) SE etc will all never match the usage levels of of other Internet forums (and not just because of not having first-mover advantage), and that is why for Discourse to be successful, it needs to woo ordinary users who still prefer forums to SE.

Discourse needs to be easy to set up and I worry about all these plugins.

Until we see real communities of ordinary people who are focused on a subject area actually use this (not this community about a community), I think it is hard to say whether it will be successful.

Well, it is a five ten year mission for a reason. I don’t expect anything to happen overnight.

As for plugins, most of the “reasons” forum owners have for installing plugins will be built in to Discourse by default. We did a survey of the most popular plugins on existing forums and the most popular are either visual themes, which is really a different thing, or plugging some gapingly obvious hole in the functionality of the forum that should have been built in years ago.

But, y’know, PHP forum software is what it is, and “is” in this case means terrifyingly awful.


Oh, there were many of us. Some of us worked on wonderful new designs that never saw the light of day inside the giant internet company we worked in :cough:. Some of us formed start-ups, like Ning, in an effort to try new ideas. Others tried and simply failed. Each one had it’s own challenges, and so does Discourse. Some of us started out with great intentions, and had to scale back their expectations when confronted with making money and migrating existing sites: I know of one company that had at least 3 of Discourse’s most innovative features - including infinite scroll - and had to back them all out when they became a black-label hosting company and having to say “yes” to every little feature demand - which were incompatible with the innovation.

We still don’t know if Discourse is the root of the next thing, but the WP model may just be the means we have to get the time to find out…


Hopefully saying yes to everything won’t be the case here. Whether Discourse becomes a thing or not, for the love of the internet, let features be one thing that the core team says no to often while encouraging a healthy plugin system.


Amen brother! :pray:

I like to think we have avoided this trap so far.