Discourse – The Open Source Forum Solution We’ve All Been Waiting For.

November 30, 20130 Comments

URL: http://www.discourse.org/

discourse

For the programmers amongst you, with a doubt you’ll be aware of Stackoverflow. Created by programming power house duo Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky, it has grown in a relatively small space of time into one of the biggest sites on the web. When I say relatively small space of time, I mean – 2.2M uniques in January 2009  to 17M uniques in Jan 2013. So when these guys do stuff, you’d better be listening.  Site traffic to Stack Overflow has grown by a whopping 261.7% since inception, and it’s looking like they’ll make the top 50 sites in the World over the next year or so. Not bad for a site which started with a two person staff. Recognising a gap in the market, where programmers had previously been inflicted with horrific experiences, (check the date on that post) and combining with social has given at least some of that growth.

So, now that I’ve finished blowing smoke up everyone’s ass, at the start of this year, was born a new project. Coupled together with a few previous Stackoverflowers, including Joel –  a new approach to forums was born. Meet Discourse, a new, open source forum and discussions project that looks like it might just be the community solution you are looking for. Again identifying a gap in the market:

From their about page: 

The state of forums has been unchanged for so long that forums are considered unworkable and undesirable; few sites want forums any more because the software is so poor. The idea of free, unfettered online forums that anyone can “fork” and install is actually under threat. The dystopian future of company towns for all human discussion is all too real, because forum software is its own worst enemy at this point.

Built with Ruby on Rails, the business model is similar in nature to WordPress. Commercially, hosted and managed forums will be available for a set monthly fee, but if you want to go it alone and host on your own server, there is a GitHub repo ready and waiting for you grab the current build from. Although the project is still very much in its infancy, the ability to avail of these commercial options will be available early 2014, as the software still needs to mature a little before commercial release. That said, there are already two launch partners of note. How-to-Geek and Boing Boing – which appears to be received pretty well by all counts within both communities. Discourse allows you to integrate discussion into both your comments section, and BBS format, so your content almost gets two hits for the price of one. When trying to build community within a site, often, the comments on existing content are a good place to start, so it’s nice to see that rolled out and implemented in practise.

Some of the social integrations for logins look slick, and you can bet many of the community building lessons learned from Stackoverflow will be employed in this project. The GUI for lots of interactions such as Login, uploading attachments and posting with markdown are all simple, and reflect perfectly how good software shouldn’t crowd the user with too many options and complicated iconic metaphors.  From a technical vantage point, Discourse is pretty javascript  heavy, meaning the majority of interactions being passed back and forward between client and server are lighter than the average forum you’ll find on the web, helping to keep it from feeling clunky, and maintaining a responsive desktop feel to the user.

Overall, Discourse even at this early stage looks well worth keeping an eye on, especially given the respect already befalling its founders. If anyone can disrupt the forum market and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century its these guys.

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