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Discourse for Developer Communities

Erlend Sogge Heggen May 5, 2017

Most early adopters of Discourse were developer communities, as is often the case with open source projects. Our own meta.discourse.org community is also a development-centric community, so we’ve been mindful of this use case since practically Day 0.

Consequently, Discourse caters to a lot of developer communities. We reached out to 30 of them to learn more about how they use Discourse.

How does your organisation use Discourse?

We use Discourse for a number of public and private communities, the most prominent of which is the Atom and Electron community message board at https://discuss.atom.io. This allows us to provide tech and community support directly to the people that are curious about, use and build on top of Atom and Electron. It also allows the community to provide support to each other in a healthy and positive environment (a rare thing on the Internet these days) and offers the ability for them to collaborate on projects or communicate ideas to the development team.

~ Lee Dohm, GitHub

Discourse is used as an open community platform for Kotlin-related discussions. In addition to other feedback channels, it helps the team to get direct feedback from language users and contributors in a convenient manner, and discuss all the issues and suggestions with all interested parties.

~Mikhail Vink, JetBrains

What are your 3 favourite things about Discourse?

Ordered by most frequently mentioned:

  • Easy for new users to get started with; Clean and simple interface
  • Easy branding and moderation tools
  • It’s much easier to search and reference older posts [compared to mailing list archives]; great search engine indexing
  • The feature set around creating posts is really fantastic; developers tend to be fond of Markdown
  • The ability to customise the languages that can be used for code-highlighting and select one as the default, lowering the barrier for people to format correctly in the most used language on the site
  • Upvoting (hearts) without downvoting
  • Category-level subscriptions
  • Browser & phone push notifications for new posts
  • Spam detection
  • Tries to answer questions when you ask one
  • Community digest by email & “unread” on the web (for those who can’t keep an eye on the web site all the time);
  • Converting a post to a wiki post, so everyone can edit it

What would make Discourse better?

  • We’d like to install custom plugins on the hosted plan.
    All our hosted forums (besides Enterprise) runs on a multisite cluster, which makes it technically difficult to enable plugins on a site-by-site basis. It also has serious implications for security and customer support. In short; this isn’t going to change in the short term, but we’re thinking about it.
  • not obvious how to set up as a mailing list-style user rather than a web forum.
    See “Discourse vs Mailing list” and and this recent discussion about mailing list mode for categories.
  • More built-in themes so that not every Discourse board looks the same.
    Native themes are now a thing! We’ll be adding at least one new alternative theme out-of-the-box.
  • Better moderator and user documentation, API documentation.
    We recently applied a cleaner “box layout” to our #howto category so it’s easier to navigate. For API documentation, can also check out docs.discourse.org which we launched about a month ago.
  • smarter anti-spam detection (we get lots of false positives)
    Our automated antispam is powered by Akismet, but does require some training to “learn” what’s right and what isn’t. If you know of a better automated spam protection system, do let us know!
  • Importing discussions from Github. In essence ways to move a lot of discussions of GitHub, while keeping the technical debate on Github.
    We have an official GitHub-to-Discourse export tool that does exactly that.
  • Mark as unread/remind me later about this. Sometimes I read a topic but don’t have time to deal with it now, and forget to come back to it later because it’s not marked unread in the list anymore.
    See this topic. As of Discourse 1.8, staff can set a timer on a topic to remind you to come back to it, as well.
  • Every topic could be treated as a 1st post (the article or news item) and subsequent posts (the comments).
    This sounds like Embedding Discourse comments via JavaScript, which we officially support.
  • We get a lot of low-information posts. Having knowledge-base-like feature would be great to answer common technical questions. (Maybe this exists already and we just don’t use it?)
    See wiki-posts and structuring a category as a FAQ via boxed layout.
  • The “all categories merged” display can be confusing for people used to the classic “first select category, then see list of topics” layout. We’d love to have a “Splash page” that has big links to the individual categories, and maybe the unified topic list below that.
    You can select the categories page as your homepage. In Discourse 1.8 we also added a “giant clickable / tappable boxes” style for categories which can be clearer for new users. We’ll look at extending that to the categories homepage as well.

Also mentioned:

To follow up on any of those, please search meta.discourse for existing topics or start a new discussion.

As always, we’re immensely thankful for having customers that readily engage with us to improve Discourse. Big ups to Twitter, Kirby, Rancher, Mattermost, TrueOS, Serverless, OpenAI, Appium, EVE tech, Rust lang, Kotlin lang, Julia lang, Atom, Peplink, Jekyll, Ember, Chef, .NET foundation, GitHub, Docker, Hubspot and Grafana, as well as the self-hosters, Hugo, React, Nextcloud, Go lang, Vue.js and Libretro.

Keep the discussion going!

Notable Replies

  1. I love that you are active in really seeking feedback from real customers and making that feedback open in this way!

  2. Not exactly an easy to read response format.

  3. Good point, I darken-iz-ized-eded the text color for div.highlight to #666648.

Continue the discussion meta.discourse.org

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