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A brand new discourse.org

Erlend Sogge Heggen April 12, 2017

This week we unveiled a completely revamped discourse.org!

When our original website was first launched in 2013, Discourse’s features were quite novel. Concepts like “infinite scrolling”, “dynamic notifications” and “mobile-friendly” were state of the art for open source community platforms, especially stuck-in-90s era forum software. Now these features are taken for granted, as they should be.

That doesn’t mean we’ve stopped innovating; just look at our latest v1.7 release. But we no longer have to convince people that Discourse is modern, hip – dare I say radical – and keeping with the times. That’s a given. What we need to do now is explain …

What problem can Discourse solve for YOU?

It all started with a new topic

We use Discourse for our own internal team discussions — naturally! Almost a year ago I created a new topic titled “Proposal for a redesigned discourse.org front page”. It included this mockup:

We all agreed that this needed to happen, just not right away. During the months that followed we sporadically followed up with examples of websites we liked or good sources of inspiration, like this one:

2017 came around and we decided it was time to get the wheels rolling. We went back and forth on the copywriting, which in hindsight is something I should have put much more emphasis on in the first place! My original mockup was all about revising our current copy. We ultimately settled on three “pillars”:

  1. Emails don’t scale.
  2. Problem solving is best done in public.
  3. Communities ought to be owned by their creators.

At this point we brought in web developer extraordinaire Kris Aubuchon to push this project to the finish line. Before long, a shiny new discourse.org was just waiting for us to flip the switch, which we’ve now done!

If you like our new pitch, consider trusting us with the stewardship of your community: Check out our hosting plans, and then pop on over to meta.discourse.org and join us in celebrating this shiny new place we call home.

Notable Replies

  1. For anyone who spends more than a few minutes to look at discourse.org it is clear that you can self host Discourse for free.

    People who aren’t willing to devote those few minutes to evaluate Discourse as a forum platform on the basis of it’s strengths are also pretty likely to skip or ignore the minimum requirements and standard install instructions, but nonetheless post support questions on meta. This is a waste of time for Discourse’s support team. (Who, by the way, do an excellent job, regardless of if the user asking a question is a paying customer, or a non paying “consumer”).

  2. I still do feel that you should include a “free” pane on your plans page or put back the “or install it yourself” link next to the “View plans” button on the call to action, at the very least. I’m not completely knowledgeable with programming stuff and I tend to skim a bit, so it took me quite a bit to see where the free version of your software was on your site.

    Also, I feel if you guys want to grow as a more popular piece of forum software – you have to appeal to everyone. You should probably link directly to the install guide on GitHub, as well as to the GitHub repo itself.

    Finally, I still feel you guys should at least mention some of your forum’s biggest features – such as infinite pagination, Markdown, and notifications – in text form somewhere near the bottom of the page, instead of just being on a separate page. Take Flarum’s site for instance. They do a good job of quickly advertising their features with a simple scroller in the middle of the page (near the “Learn more about Flarum’s features” button).

    Sorry if I’m sounding nitpicky, I’m just a staunch believer that good UX can make all the difference.

  3. Remah says:

    I am distinctly underwhelmed by the new discourse.org. Not for the same reasons as other users but sometimes orbiting around similar issues.

    On the positive side, Discourse should be defined by what it is and who you are - I could easily say “who we are” given the strong sense of community. So please don’t waste your time looking at WordPress, Flarum or whatever. There are logical pitfalls in doing so. For example, free WordPress is an integrated service provided by Wordpress.com whereas free Discourse is not.

    Some issues and unanswered questions

    I’ve chosen three main issues and added questions for each - I’ve made an effort to be clear but I am watching sports games at the same time.

    • The home page lacks a passionate pitch.
      Q. How to instil a sense of passion and stronger direction?

    • Free Discourse should be ABC.
      Q. How to clarify access to the free DIY option?

    • Discourse doesn’t need everyone.
      Q. How to assist prospective users to self-select?

    Some suggestions

    The home page lacks a passionate pitch so How to instil a sense of passion and stronger direction?

    I feel that the home page lacks passion because it doesn’t strongly suggest either action or clearly present problems resolved. Discourse.org so clearly represented passion that I committed to it before having any need for it. Perhaps I need to let go of this but I don’t think so.

    From @erlend_sh’s blog entry, both early and late goals are presented but I don’t see either realised.

    Initially:

    What problem can Discourse solve for YOU?

    Later:

    We ultimately settled on three “pillars”:

    1. Emails don’t scale.
    2. Problem solving is best done in public.
    3. Communities ought to be owned by their creators.

    The structure and text simply doesn’t make it clear. Instead I read three out of four as warm fuzzies:

    • “your team”
    • problem of “email silos”
    • “solutions together”
    • “your community”

    Also the term “email silo” is relatively obscure - do a search to see - which is why I would leave it out. It is one step too far beyond more easily understood terms.

    Free Discourse should be ABC so How to ease access to the free DIY option?

    At a very basic level, the issue of paid versus free is confusing because free includes three very different concepts:

    • free trials
    • open source licencing
    • self-managed installs on a non-Discourse host

    Then there is the issue of using different language/imagery/concepts on different pages. I’d prefer to see basic and consistent descriptions repeated across various pages so less educated visitors can clearly make the right connection the first time they encounter each instance. For example:

    • Managed hosting seems less helpful than official Discourse hosting
    • Fork us on GitHub is cryptic compared with install Discourse yourself in the cloud. But confusion also arises because neither mention that you need to get your own host.

    Here’s a table quoting the text on the various pages for the four topics I’ve mentioned. The situation gets even more unclear with Digital Ocean and community installs added to the mix.

    On web page Paid Free trial Free install Free licence
    www.discourse.org Managed hosting Start your free trial Fork us on GitHub an open source project
    .../about official Discourse hosting Start a free trial install Discourse yourself in the cloud Uncompromisingly open source, etc.
    .../features ? ? ? 100% open source
    .../pricing .../buy hosted Free 14 day trial self-install ?

    I do like the etc. on the about page:

    There is only one version of Discourse – the awesome open source version. There’s no super secret special paid commercial version with better or more complete features. Because Discourse is 100% open source, now and forever, it belongs to you as much as it belongs to us. That’s how community works.

    Discourse doesn’t need everyone so How to assist prospective users to self-select?

    Discourse shouldn’t appeal to everyone because everyone doesn’t want or need Discourse. We should also remember that Discourse is represented by the quality and effectiveness of its installs.

    • Select whether I really have a useful need for Discourse.
    • Select the most appropriate Discourse implementation including the no Discourse option.

    The best example of self-selection that I can think of is clarifying the “free” use issue above. Other examples would be show-stoppers that are disappointments when revealed or confirmed in the forum:

    • hosting requirements that trip people up, i.e. versions of Linux, Docker, etc.
    • clarifying supported versus unsupported installs
    • cutting out those unprepared to leave behind traditional tools like PHP and mySQL
  4. The home page had a slightly different layout originally, it said “Are you a developer?” as the heading there. I removed it to simplify the layout. So the idea wasn’t that you’d be an average user installing Discourse, you would be highly technical, a developer.

    I’m not a huge fan of the “fork us” GitHub joke thing, so it could be changed:

    Discourse is 100% free, open source software. Forever.

    Fork us on github

    to

    Discourse is 100% free, open source software. Forever.

    Install from GitHub

    Audience is a bit different though, developers, it could cover both. The fork thing is a bit too clever-clever anyways.

    Also note the buy page has the what if none of these plans fit my budget info right under it… plus info on the educational and non-profit discounts.

  5. Linking “100% free and open source software” to github.com/discourse/discourse makes sense. What about also making the second sentence read:

    You can install it yourself on your own server, or for a flat one-time fee of $99, a trusted member of the Discourse community can install Discourse in the cloud for you.

    ?

  6. Point of order: i can’t code my way out of a wet paper bag and I’ve never been a developer at all in my entire life, but I am a pretty handy sysadmin—and that’s why I wanted to self-host. Not to hack on the code (I leave that to folks who can do it without curling into the fetal position, which is what I end up doing), but to have the pleasure of hosting a community my way and on a server I already pay for.

    So, cloaking the download behind “Are you a developer?” is a little sideways, imo, just because developer != admin (and, much love to the devs I’ve worked with professionally, but most of them are sucktastically awful at anything resembling operations or security, at least as it applies to big-picture best practices in a multi-tenant, multi-application environment).

    However, that being said, “Install from Github” is perfect. That avoids the “what if i’m not a developer but i want to self-host?” question.

    tl;dr: the bikeshed should be purple

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