Jeff Atwood today announced what he has been working on for the past year after leaving Stack Exchange. A new OSS project called Discourse! I was impressed by the initial announcement and launch to the public because everything was well documented on their site and as well as the GitHub repository. You hardly see an OSS project so well organized at initial launch!
Forums may not be sexy, but they are a fundamental building block of all online community, and they reliably produce useful search artifacts even today.
Discourse is a new take on the old format of forum software that has been around for the lifetime of the internet. I have to admit, I was a little surprised that this announcement since forums seemed to be a dying format. I've managed many websites using forum software including SMF, phpbb, and IP.Board. The idea of having conversations in a community that have the same interests is not going away anytime soon. Forums have always answered a need to have a community website that users interact with each other in topics in a thread whether you're in a Gaming Clan, A Paintball Community, or a Body Building Forum. The problem is that the structure of how the data is displayed has remained relatively unchanged for quite sometime and Discourse is looking to change that.
The team is very talented and includes:
- Robin “Evil Trout” Ward (@evil_trout) - Co-Founder
- Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood (@codinghorror) - Co-Founder
- Shawn “Hanzo” Holmes (@Hanzo55) - Advisor
- Sam Saffron (@samsaffron) - Co-Founder
- F. Randall Farmer (@frandallfarmer) - Advisor
- Michael “Rands” Lopp (@rands) - Board Member
- Michael “Supermathie” Brown (@Supermathie) - Sysadmin
- Neil Lalonde (@neill) - Developer
- Nick Sahler (@nicksahler) - Intern
I was surprised to see Jeff not using C#/.NET for this project but then a question appeared on the demo forums of the site (Gets reset nightly) :
Jeff, Could you please share your thoughts on using Ruby instead of C#(.net) platform ?
Well, I love .NET -- it is amazingly fast and incredibly well designed because this guy! (Anders Hejlsberg) I was so excited to put a Coding Horror sticker in his hand one day in 2009! But for open source projects, there's just too much friction in a Microsoft stack. So it was either Python or Ruby and @eviltrout had an extensive Ruby background, so... here we are Jeff Atwood
Discourse is made up of:
- Ruby on Rails (back end API is a Rails app. It responds to requests RESTfully and responds in JSON)
- Ember.js (front end interface is an Ember.js app that communicates the Rails API)
- PostgreSQL - main data store is Postgres.
- Redis - job queue, rate limiting, as a cache and for transient data.
Discourse wants to be different and comes with some very nice features even for being such a young project.
The paging that forum software always has is replaced with ajax content scrolling. Why I have seen this in various places on the web like Bing Image Search and elsewhere, I have never really been a big fan of it since it prevents users from seeing a footer, SEO issues if your content is critical to reaching audiences...etc. Hopefully there will be a way to turn it off in the site settings in the future.
Notifications like you have come to expect in website apps in 2013 like twitter and facebook. Someone mentions a user or quotes a user, they will be notified.
Discourse is a simple, flat forum, where replies flow down the page in a line. Kind of like comments in a blog post. Replies are attached to the bottom and top of each post, so you can optionally expand the context of the conversation – without breaking your flow.
Don't worry about reading an entire topic in one sitting – Discourse always saves your place for you. When you get back to it you'll start right where you left off.
With Discourse you can respond and continue to read, altering your reply and adding new quotes from others as you delve into the topic! You can even jump around to other topics, quoting other posts, and we'll still save your spot – and your response – even if you finish on a different computer.
Use "Reply as new topic" to keep everyone up to date without derailing the topic – and both topics will be visibly connected together.
Discourse is off to a great initial launch! I think anyone who needs forum software will have to give this a chance. Like I said, I've managed various forum software installations and hands down, Discourse is already better than what is currently available. Try it now!