As of today, it’s been three years since we launched Discourse as a public project.
How time flies when you’re having fun! As birthday present, I’m pleased to announce that as of this morning – literally, this morning – we now own our domain name:
The domain was previously owned by Educational Testing Services, aka the non-profit company behind the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. If you’re curious what used to be there, check out the wayback machine. That domain went permanently offline in 2006.
We’ve had no issues with being discourse.org for the last three years, but we’re proud to now carry the concept of Discourse forward on the web under the hallowed dot-com banner — free, modern open-source discussion software available to any community that needs it.
We’ve always had a strong relationship with Emoji. From the earliest days of Discourse, you could add Emoji to your posts by by typing : and using our handy Emoji autocompleter:
Of course : just so happens to be the first character of the most common ASCII smiley, our old pal :) – so hopefully it was discoverable.
Since then, we’ve continually refined and improved our Emoji support.
Added an Emoji Picker
Sam whipped up this graphical emoji picker as an unplanned surprise in an earlier release and it works great! It’s linked from the editor toolbar as well:
We also added a “more…” button to the autocomplete so even if you don’t have the editor toolbar visible (or, say, you’re on mobile), you can still get to the emoji picker.
Added Multiple Emoji Families
We launched with the Apple Emoji set, although it isn’t quite clear what the licensing terms are for that set. So we were very excited when Emoji One came along with an explicitly open source set of Emoji images, free for everyone! We immediately made Emoji One our default Emoji set.
There’s a number of Emoji Families or “sets” to choose from, so once we added Emoji One we also added the other common families: Google / Android, Apple / iOS, Twitter, and of course Emoji One which is the default.
Visit your site settings and change your emoji set setting to taste.
Added Slight Smile
There was a surprising amount of consternation over the fact that Emoji, as originally defined, doesn’t have a “plain” closed mouth smiley. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s true:
Although having Emoji formalized in Unicode does wonders for standardizing the Emoji experience, the actual rendering of Unicode Emoji depends heavily on your platform and your browser. To address this, Robin just made it so that when we encounter a unicode Emoji in a Discourse post we automatically remap it to the correct Emoji image set, per your Discourse site settings.
This way, no matter how the Emoji is entered – via the Discourse picker, or via Unicode character typed with your local keyboard – it’ll look consistently great, on any device, for any user.
Updated and Optimized Emoji Sets
There are a fair number of changes to Emoji each year, as Emoji become more and more of a cultural phenomenon.
The same is true of each iOS and Android release, which include refined Emoji as well as new ones. We regularly update each Emoji set to match as we release. We’ve also heavily optimized all our Emoji sets using Google’s new zopfli PNG compression for speedy rendering.
At Discourse, we’re true Emoji fans. We want you to have fun and express yourself with the deep Emoji support in Discourse! And, as always, let us know how we can continue to improve your Emoji experience.
And you know what that means … Discourse 1.4 ships today!
The focus of this release was UI improvements and enhancements, as requested by our customers and active Discourse communities.
Better Dark Theme Support
Dark themes worked in earlier versions of Discourse – if you were willing to roll your sleeves up and augment the color selections with some hand rolled CSS. But in 1.4 we switched Meta over to a dark color theme for a week and made sure it worked flawlessly throughout Discourse.
Improved, Simpler UI
We’re always looking for ways to further simplify the Discourse UI, so in this release, we’ve done the following:
Moved like count inline with the reply buttons, so topics with lots of likes are not so vertically expanded.
Unified the notifications and user drop down at upper right, so there’s one less glyph at the upper right to make you think.
Overhauled and enhanced the hamburger menu and notifications
Introduced subtler styling for staff actions in topics, so the conversations are not so visually interrupted when a staff member does something to the topic.
Added subtle interstitial posts to better indicate big gaps in ongoing conversations (“two weeks later..”)
Full Page Search
We’ve further refined search in 1.4, going beyond the just-in-time search as you type, and adding a whole new “full page” search mode that lets you narrow your searches in new ways and see more results, with more detail. You can also link directly to a Discourse search now:
Image upload improvements
We now provide more editor feedback during image uploads (which as always, you can add via paste, drag and drop, or the upload button) and offer better optimized images for reduced bandwidth and storage.
On top of that, we now serve default Discourse avatars via avatars.discourse.org, a completely free, CDN based hosting service for our default “letter” avatars that further reduces CPU load and disk space on your Discourse server, while adding the benefits of global caching.
Easier Category Ordering
There’s now a proper UI for re-ordering your categories, rather than the old method of assigning each one a number.
Mobile Layout Simplified
We thought our mobile layout was a bit busier than it should be, so we simplified it. Note that “new” is just a dot on mobile, and we display either the unread reply count, or the total reply count rather than both.
Anonymous User Call to Signup
We welcomed back Kane York aka riking for a summer internship this year and he did amazing work as usual. One of the features he suggested himself, and then built, is this nifty call to action for anonymous users – after reading the site for 5 minutes and entering at least 3 topics, anonymous users will be presented with a little banner at the bottom of topics inviting them to sign up and create an account! This is exactly the kind of just-in-time action we love to build in Discourse.
We now offer a “whisper” feature for posting inline topic replies that are only visible to staff. Enable the feature in your site settings, then use the gear icon in the post editor to indicate when you want to whisper to the other staff members in the topic.
We’ve had the ability to embed Discourse (in a read only fashion) in static HTML pages for a while now, but in 1.4 our embedding support is greatly improved – you can style the embedded section via Admin, Customize and you can embed per category, if you want several blogs or sites to feed into the same Discourse instance.
And so much more
These are just the major highlights in 1.4 — there are literally hundreds of other tiny improvements, refinements, and bugfixes in 1.4 that we aren’t covering here, but are in the full release notes.
Easy One Click Upgrade
If you want some of this new awesome 1.4 stuff, and I know you do, upgrade your Discourse instance today via our super easy one click admin updater linked right from your dashboard:
As usual, we’d like to first thank our customers for your support, and the overall Discourse community for their many contributions toward this release — whether it was in pull requests, feedback on meta.discourse, or our personal favorite, feedback based on user activity in your own Discourse instance. In particular, we’d like to highlight significant pull request contributions in this release from tgxworld, Simon Cossar, gwwar, and gerhard.
Yet again, avid meta.discourse user erlendsh created the super cool feature demo videos and screenshots that you see above.