Discourse aims to be the WordPress of forums.
At first glance from user perspective it has improved on forums more than WordPress did on blogs at the time of its introduction (WordPress’ large improvements over alternatives were ease of installation and good support for a number of features like trackback, comments, and pretty URLs; the bar was low in 2003).
For autonomo.us folk, the interesting thing is that “WordPress of” means:
- the software is free software, deployable by anyone on their own servers
- a hosted version and other services are available for-fee
Jeff Atwood writes:
I greatly admire what WordPress did for the web; to say that we want to be the WordPress of forums is not a stretch at all. We’re also serious about this eventually being a viable open-source business, in the mold of WordPress. And we’re not the only people who believe in the mission: I’m proud to announce that we have initial venture capital funding from First Round, Greylock, and SV Angel. We’re embarking on a five year mission to improve the fabric of the Internet, and we’re just getting started. Let a million discussions bloom!
More WordPress-like businesses seems like a great thing for user and community autonomy. The one behind Discourse also has a great name: Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc. Its goal, again from Atwood, is:
to raise the standard of civilized discourse on the Internet through seeding it with better discussion software:
- 100% open source and free to the world, now and forever.
- Feels great to use. It’s fun.
- Designed for hi-resolution tablets and advanced web browsers.
- Built in moderation and governance systems that let discussion communities protect themselves from trolls, spammers, and bad actors – even without official moderators.
The last bit is very good for autonomy, though the Franklin Street Statement didn’t address it: trolls, spammers, and bad actors make running your own service much more difficult. Why not let Facebook deal with the pain for you? Perhaps future guidance on network services ought encourage developers to ship mechanisms that mitigate these pain points for entities providing free network services.
Some other points of interest:
- Discourse is a Ruby on Rails application, GPLv2+; contributions require a CLA permitting CDCK to relicense. This may be a case where use of AGPL would’ve been a strong indication that aggressively selling proprietary licenses is part of the business’ plan, and it is good that is not the case.
- The default content license, only noted in the ToS, is unfortunately non-free (CC-BY-NC-SA); this prevents Discourse from being out-of-the-box FSS compliant, and the meta.discourse.org installation itself uses the default. Hopefully many deployments will bother to change the terms to use a free license.
- There is a “download an archive of all my posts” button; it is currently greyed out for me, but I only made a first post moments ago. Good that data export is at the very least an intended feature from the beginning.
- The software is not yet trivial to install.
- Discourse doesn’t seem to support federation in any way, but that’s not a criticism: it’d be stunning if it did.
- Some mail functionality is planned. Whether Discourse will destroy mailing lists, even for those who hate forums, prior to the release of Mailman3 is question for the ages.☻