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Discourse for Private Communities

Erlend Sogge Heggen January 27, 2017

There are many reasons why a community might be private: Paid memberships; a company intranet; a sensitive subject matter; beta testers; a grassroots movement building momentum before going public.

Whatever the reason, we want Discourse to function well in private contexts. We reached out to 23 private Discourse communities to learn more about their use cases, and 10 of them got back to us with some great answers.

How does your organisation use Discourse?

(…) we’re spread around the world and we’re also organized fairly traditionally into fairly independent silos. Email and chat were not helping us share knowledge and solve problems across geographical, organizational, and temporal boundaries. So we’re trying to move lots of discussions to Discourse. It’s working, and it’s helping.

~ Avi Flax, Park Assist

 

Traditionally, most of our communication has been done via mailing lists, but as our community has grown over the past few years the mailing list model has increasingly become a hurdle for us for many types of communication, for a variety of reasons. This topic on Meta gives a nice overview of why a particular sub-community inside Frostbite really prefers Discourse over mailing lists.

~ Jake Shadle, Frostbite

 

It’s a space for all coworkers to discuss, be it current methodology, philosophy, vision or strategy. We also love shared knowledge through best practices, new tools and the best ideas around. (…)

All the conversation that matters and deserves a calm space to be on lives in Discourse. Everything else, the quick and inconsequential things, go to Slack.

~ David García, GoodRebels

 

What are your favourite things about Discourse?

The top 5, ordered by how many respondents mentioned it:

  • Replies via email
    “The ability for users to participate by both web and email was probably the biggest benefit for us.”
  • Intuitive and usable interface
    “You always know where you are, no distractions, it allows you to focus on what you want. It’s very easy learn to use and fun to discover new features.”
  • Markdown support
    “Including code highlighting and inline image (and other) attachments, gives much more readable and beautiful posts compared to email defaults”
  • Customizability & configurability
  • Mobile friendly
    “Discourse responsiveness and adaptability is a best practice, it doesn’t matter what device you use for reading, even for writing, if you start a topic in one device the content saves automatically and you can continue in another! In addition, native apps are a plus due to providing push notifications.”

Also mentioned were many of the usual suspects:

  • “SSO & Google login support is great.”
  • “the multimedia and low-latency notifications that enable low-latency discussions”
  • “The assistance we got in enabling “threaded” emails was fantastic (so the support is amazing!).”
  • “gamification”
  • “[it’s] quick”
  • “Being able to assign categories & groups emails addresses has been extremely valuable.”
  • “Moving, splitting, merging topics. Overall, moderation tools are very good”
  • “Banner: we use it constantly.”
  • “Superb search, and pervasive human-readable links makes sharing Discourse content on other communication channels easy”
  • “Love text preview when creating a post”

What are some things Discourse could do better?

 

  • links and some formatting don’t carry over when you copy+paste from google docs.
  • private categories — the ability to have closed categories with a specific set of people allowed to access.
    This is already possible by limiting a category to certain Groups. Please send us an email or make a #support topic if you need further assistance with this.
  • deeper integration with slack — specifically the ability to quickly and easily migrate an existing/ongoing discussion from slack to Discourse, with history
    This is coming! You can track the plugin’s development here.
  • better on-boarding docs, help, tutorials, etc — ideally targeted to organizations’ internal communities, maybe also something specific to those trying to replace email
    We have a “Discourse vs Email & Mailing Lists” comparison that might be of interest to you. Feel free to ask for advice on how to replace email there. As for better docs in general, this is an ongoing endeavour. We recently restructured our #howto section to prepare for further doc improvements soon to come.
  • Having an area where anyone can post/mail in, but only certain groups can read/respond would be helpful.
    Sounds like what you’re looking for is Incoming Mail. Discourse lets you configure a (usually private) category or group to receive from an ordinary email address.
  • Having an area which our management group could post “announcements” to and guarantee every member receives the post.
    Just add your announcements category to the “List of categories that are watched by default.” in the default categories watching setting.
  • Allowing members to have multiple email addresses registered against a single account, so they could post from multiple email addresses (but only receive emails to their “primary” address.
  • It would be nice if people who don’t know the first thing about coding could customize the look, feel, and functions of Discourse more easily.
    Well the functions of Discourse are already highly customisable via the admin backend. Themes on the other hand do require some HTML&CSS knowledge. We’ll be addressing this later this year with the introduction of Native Themes.
  • ability to send new automated emails triggered by events
    This is usually very doable using our API or Webhooks.
  • A nicely formatted changelog for the current version, oriented to normal users, linked from the About page would be nice.
    We always post a comprehensive changelog as well as a blog announcement with shiny objects. What changelog format are you missing?
  • The native metrics don’t really cut it.
    We know! First order of business will be to pull the Admin Statistics Report plugin into core. After that we’ll turn our attention to our general stats dashboard.
  • You guys have SO much data on communities and what makes them successful. From a Community Management perspective, it would be awesome if you could leverage that and create case studies or white papers.
    Great idea! We’ll be giving this some thought.
  • Customizable profile fields / links to social media
    We explain how to do this in our Link custom user field to external website tutorial, but we could definitely take that a step further with some pre-set social media fields.

Many thanks to our survey participants!

Notable Replies

  1. An opportunity I see for making Discourse continue to improve for private communities (particularly company intranet sites), is to have more integrations with other private systems

    The slackdoor plugin gives Slack some ability to unfurl links to private discourse instances, but going the other way would be cool too (i.e., having the ability to Onebox links to private Slack instances).

    Same goes for things like Google Docs. The current solution is better than it used to be, but it’d be great if Discourse could be configured to have the necessary authorization to actually fetch and onebox private docs.

    These are just a couple examples that come to mind - I imagine each private instance would have their own thoughts on what integrations like this would be valuable.

Continue the discussion meta.discourse.org

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