Introducing Discourse 1.0

Jeff Atwood August 26, 2014

Today we are incrementing the version number of Discourse to 1.0.

We’ve been working on Discourse in public for about a year and a half now – since February 2013. Turns out that’s about how long it takes to herd an open source project from “hey, cool toy” to something that works for most online discussion communities.

It’s a bit like building an airplane in flight.

Version numbers are arbitrary, yes, but V1 does signify something in public. We believe Discourse is now ready for wide public use.

That’s not to say Discourse can’t be improved – I have a mile-long list of things we still want to do. But products that are in perpetual beta are a cop-out. Eventually you have to ditch the crutch of the word “beta” and be brave enough to say, yes, we’re ready.

So that’s what we’re doing.

In working with the community, in working with our 3 initial partners, in working with our early customers, we’ve gained a lot of confidence that we’ve refined Discourse into something that is safe, complete, has all the rough edges smoothed, and is finally ready for use by everyone:

We’re also, at long last, unveiling our hosting service and install service:

If you’re looking for a world class host to get started with Discourse, why not choose the people that know Discourse best?

As an open source project, we wouldn’t be where we are today without our community, so many thanks are in order:

  • Thanks most of all to the people who believed in Discourse enough to operate and maintain an active Discourse instance. You’re closest to the metal and we always, always highly prioritize your feedback.
  • Thanks to our early customers who saw value in Discourse and were willing to take a leap of faith with us and help build a beta product. Money is the ultimate form of support, and it’s essential to the survival of the project. It’s also amazing how many things we learned when really digging into setups with our early customers.
  • Thanks to everyone who participated on meta.discourse and provided feedback, reported bugs, or discussed features with us. Discourse is better because you spent the time with us to help improve it for everyone. We appreciate that.
  • Thanks to our many contributors and collaborators who submitted pull requests to the Discourse project on GitHub. Any open source project is only as good as its contributors, and one of our continuing goals is to make it easier and easier to contribute to Discourse as we go.
  • Thanks to everyone who used Discourse. Ultimately Discourse is a platform for having fun while communicating with your fellow human beings – building a simple, satisfying user experience has always been our number one priority. There’s no party when nobody shows up!

We’ve come a long way, and we’ve worked hard to get here, but we still have a very long way to go. Here’s to the next 8½ years of our 10 year plan to raise the level of discourse on the web. Join us. We’d love to have you.

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Building a Discourse Community

Jeff Atwood August 1, 2014

Anyone can set up their very own Discourse in 30 minutes or less. But how do you get people to go there?

I often describe Discourse as an interesting dinner party. Or, depending on the community, just a party.

The dinner party analogy is helpful – think of categories as rooms, topics as tables, and replies as conversations. And every dinner party needs guests! The goal of the dinner party organizer is to take Discourse and found something like their own restaurant, a fun destination for guests and regulars to socialize, a place people want to go.

What is your community’s purpose?

Every community has a purpose. What’s yours? If you haven’t set up your pinned welcome topic, or banner topic, do that now.

It’s the first thing new arrivals will want to know: what is this place?

Think of it as the menu you post outside the restaurant, or maybe the sign on the top of the building outside. It lets people know what to expect – Italian? Fast food? Dress codes?

This is prime real estate; it will appear for every visitor, forever, and people are busy. So:

  • Keep it brief
  • Put your very best copy here

That pinned or banner topic should be at most a few paragraphs, an elevator pitch or mission statement describing what your community is and does. For those who want to learn more, it can link to a deeper explanation of your community, the benefits of joining, and so forth.

Where is the conversation?

Your very first order of business is to seed your site with interesting topics and replies. This is so important there’s a global banner we display to staff members until your site has reached a minimum threshold of content.

The worst thing you can do is open with a blank site. That’s like trying to get people to sit down at an empty restaurant!

Those initial topics are critical:

  1. To further explain what your community is. The topics you see on the front page right now? These are the kinds of conversations going on here; this is what we tend to generally talk about. This is what our community is.
  2. To provide examples of the sort of content you want. To let everyone know that yes, topics like these are welcome on our site. Create more discussions like these!
  3. To invite participation. Have some getting to know you topics for people to share about themselves, and some topics that are open ended and encourage replying with opinions, stories, or pictures.

Recruit friends, recruit colleagues, recruit early beta users, do whatever it takes to build out an initial solid base of content. You can’t launch your community without it.

Who’s here?

Leadership comes from the top. The presence of staff speaks volumes about whether your community is alive and thriving. Don’t just say you believe in this community, demonstrate that through your personal participation and enthusiasm. Lead by example. Reply to questions people have, help your community learn the ropes, gently guide and shape the community as you go.

If you are lucky enough to have celebrities on your staff, or in your community, take advantage of that! When someone notable – the owner, the sponsor, the founders, the developers, the artist, the author, the MVP – pops in and responds, that is a huge draw. It says this community is important because it’s on the radar of cool, interesting, busy people too! Even a little participation by celebrities goes a long way, so try to schedule that.

Half of any community is showing up regularly. There’s no substitute for simply being there, each day, every day. Welcome and respond to new users as they arrive. Listen to their feedback. Encourage everyone else to do the same over a period of months and soon you’ll have a core of regulars that form the heart of your community – maybe even a few members so engaged they could eventually become community moderators.

Imagine a restaurant with a bustling, visible, helpful staff, where the owner periodically checks in from table to table to make sure everyone is having a good experience. That’s the kind of place that, over time, earns repeat customers … maybe even fans.

How do we find it?

Once you’ve done that, make sure people can find your community. Start by linking it everywhere:

  1. From your website in your main navigation.
  2. In newsletters and email.
  3. From your blog.
  4. On Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

Have some special launch fanfare when your community opens. This will drive an initial rush of new community members, some of whom will stick around and seed early growth. Configure Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social logins to make it easy to sign up and participate.

As they say in real estate: location, location, location. Half of every great restaurant is easy access (including parking), and a convenient location.

Start with yourself

Be patient. Building communities is hard. It takes months if not years.

Although we strive to make Discourse as fun and engaging (and as free and open source) as possible, software alone can’t guarantee the success of a community. But you can! Integrate your community into your daily activities, strive to regularly create unique, interesting conversation among friends – and your community will be off to a solid start.

Stick with it and see what happens. I promise we will too.

5 Replies

Discourse V1.0 Next Month

Jeff Atwood June 25, 2014

In January I wrote about The Road to Discourse 1.0, and I mentioned that we planned to reach version 1 in “the next few months”. That time has come. I’m pleased to announce that we will leave beta and officially release Discourse V1.0 next month, sometime in July 2014.

We’re crossing the last target feature off our list for V1 this week, which happens to be automatic promotion of users to trust level 3.

I’m incredibly proud of all the work we’ve done to herd Discourse towards being a stable, mature open source discussion platform that works great for most of the communities, customers, and users we talk to. Here’s a partial list of just what we consider to be “major” feature work we completed since January:

  • Roll up repeated notifications on the same topic or PM.
  • Allow selecting and acting on groups of topics together to recategorize, close, delete etcetera in bulk.
  • groups icon on private categories to make this clearer
  • Suppress category definitions a bit more
  • “Welcome to Discourse” as default pinned topic for all installations
  • Allow newish users with no posts or 1 post to delete themselves
  • “Read Only” mode for forum maintenance
  • Admin web UI for import/export of all Discourse data
  • Improved login guidance throughout for anonymous users
  • “Dismiss Unread” (change topic state to regular) on unread tab and “Dismiss New” (manually set last visit date) on new tab
  • Notify owner when the category (or title!) is edited on their topic
  • Notify people when someone links to their topic/topic via an internal link in the right gutter sidebar.
  • Alert users when they’re about to post a necro to an old topic
  • Live updates for likes and edits
  • Revised, simplified /categories page
  • Topic summary links show real HTML title and source site
  • Allow admins to transfer or take ownership of a post*
  • Integrate digest email selection of “best” topics and /top page criteria
  • Simple and clear upgrade page at /admin/docker
  • Fix the “enormous number of links” problem in the right gutter
  • E-Z themer plus UI for it, to style your Discourse without touching any CSS
  • New local avatars (replace gravatar for privacy, performance, etc)
  • Post read/unread live visual state tracking via blue dot at upper right of each post
  • Expanding options on click for topic progress / navigation bar, go to arbitrary post
  • Dismissable top site intro banner with Banner Topics
  • Badging and achievements*
  • View IP geolocation and info for admins*
  • Wiki posts that can be edited by any user with at least trust level 1*
  • Batch inviting of users via file upload*
  • User invites can include group membership
  • Click to expand posts hidden by the community

The items with an asterisk* were generously contributed by the community. As long as this list is, I’m sure I again forgot to mention something the Discourse community helped us improve or add in the first half of 2014. Thank you.

Right now we’re in a lockdown phase where we try not to add any new features unless we absolutely have to. We’re hunkering down to eliminate the last bugs and polish everything up before our first non-beta release.

What will change after V1.0 is released in July? We’re still discussing that, but here’s what we know so far:

  1. We will have two branches: stable and master. Stable will increment versions somewhat slowly, and master will continue to be the firehose of the latest live changes.
  2. There will be “release notes” for each stable release that document what changed since the last stable release. We will also have a bit more discipline in labeling checkins to make this easier.
  3. Discourse is, and will always be, 100% open source. But for those who want worry-free business and enterprise hosting from the source of the project, will update with clearer guidance on pricing for our hosting solution.

What we don’t want to do is slow down. We will continue to build and improve as fast as we can to make Discourse the best open source discussion platform in the world.

We’re 1½ years into a 10 year plan to improve discussion on the Internet, and we love what we’re working on.

We hope you love it too.

25 Replies