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Discourse for Maker Communities

Erlend Sogge Heggen November 2, 2016

There is a thing called the “maker movement” and, well, it’s awesome. People are setting up shop in their basements, backyards or dedicated makerspaces to create things together. Makers openly exchanging their ideas and designs with one another in the pursuit of better solutions to problems that need solving. That problem can be anything from “how can we make underwater exploration affordable to hobbyists?” to “can we make an airborne flamethrower?”.

makers-highlights

Turns out Discourse is a great addition to a maker’s toolbelt when your DIY activity of choice can be shared with hundreds or even thousands of other makers. After all, isn’t it more fun to make stuff that can be shared with others?

We surveyed a total of 17 maker communities to figure out what they’re getting out of Discourse.

Customers

Non-customers

9 of them got back to us. Here are their responses, in summarised form.

How does your organisation use Discourse?

Our “Projects and Prints” category has provided us with several user stories and demonstrated some awesome applications for our printers like a time-lapse movie created from hundreds of prints.

“General Discussion” is a great hub for user feedback and helps us to iterate current products as well as gauge demand for new ones. Many of the requests and comments seen in general discussion were directly implemented into the Form 2.

Discourse also serves as a hub for things like announcements and troubleshooting. It serves as a resource that users can search through to find issues other users might have had before opening a ticket with our support team.

~ Formlabs

What are your favourite things about Discourse?

First and foremost my favourite thing is the responsiveness of the dev team. They really do respond to user feedback, in a way I’ve never seen. You can post your issues on Discourse Meta, and whether you like the answer or not, you ALWAYS get one, usually within minutes. Every serious issue is resolved within days or even hours. They push dozens of updates every day. No other software project of this scale provides customer support of this quality. Thank you Discourse team!! You guys are the best.

~ Drive On Wood

Ordered by most frequently mentioned.

  • Modern, clean, cross-platform interface that’s as responsive as a mobile application.

  • Powerful thread mechanics: Instant updates, infinite scrolling, linkbacks, the post editor, drag-n-drop images, Markdown support, wiki posts, “one-boxing”, ability to read other posts while replying, ability to mark solutions to help topics, auto recommended similar posts… phew!

  • Highly customizable: Discourse comes with very sane defaults, but it allows for a great deal of customization. Admins and end-users alike can tweak an abundance of little things to according to their preference.

  • Powerful search: Discourse’s powerful search makes it fast and efficient to find relevant posts, within a topic or across the forum. Great for technical communities where there’s a lot of knowledge exchange going on.

  • Advanced administration tools: Automated as well as crowdsourced anti-spam/troll/asshat tools keep the bad actors at bay. Backup export/import is done with the click of a button. Moving posts or splitting threads is simple and unintimidating.

  • API: “Crucially, the API lets us drive Discourse from our home-made membership system very easily. For example, when a member’s payment goes through, they are added to the Members group on Discourse, allowing them access to the private Categories.”

What are some things that would make Discourse better?

Ordered by most frequently mentioned.

  • iOS/Android app with notifications
    We just finished beta testing our mobile apps. They’ll be publicly available in a few weeks!
  • Better docs: A cleaner documentation site with a clear structure would make Discourse’s more advanced topics much easier to digest.
    Agreed. We’ll set aside some time for this shortly.
  • UX stability: The Discourse UX is constantly evolving. While that’s usually a good thing, it sometimes happens so fast that it’s hard for slightly custom styles to keep up.
    This should be much less of an issue once we support Native Themes.
  • Overly aggressive spam filter: Occasionally the automated spam-protection will block legitimate posts.
    While a tiny amount of false positives is nearly impossible to avoid when it comes to automated moderation, we’ll try get better at notifying site owners about automated moderation tasks.

Plugin ideas

  • User photo galleries
  • Assigning posts/PMs to specific users
  • Simpler “post-to-social-media” shortcuts.
  • Blog style view homepage
  • User map to allow people find others in the same area
  • WYSIWYG Editor

Self-install suggestions

  • Integrated SSL via Let’s Encrypt.
  • Better support for installing/uninstalling plugins easier via admin section.

Thanks a bunch for all your feedback! Missing some feature requests, or didn’t get a chance to participate in the survey? Please make a post in our #feature category!

Notable Replies

  1. TyIsI says:

    The Vancouver Hackspace in Vancouver, BC, Canada also uses Discourse at https://talk.vanhack.ca/. At first primarily as a replacement for the mailing lists, but now everyone is settling into using "Talk" quite nicely. We also have integration from our announcements/events category into Slack.

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