Not phpBB
February 5, 2013 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Jeff Atwood (previously), co-founder of Stack Overflow, yesterday announced Discourse, which he and partner Robin Ward (previously) intend as "the WordPress of forums."

Their meta site is up.
posted by absqua (63 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
The Google Wave of forum software. A real Buzz killer.
posted by Nomyte at 10:16 PM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

First topic I click on on the "meta" site yields "Sorry, perhaps this topic has been deleted?"

Heavy handed ridiculous overmoderation a la stackoverflow? check.

posted by smcameron at 10:24 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

If it doesn't allow 2 Mb animated GIFs as avatars, it will never be a true forum.
posted by benzenedream at 10:31 PM on February 5, 2013 [13 favorites]

smcameron: I'd hope that they wouldn't delete topics in your own personal forums/boards/whatever they're calling them.
posted by zsazsa at 10:32 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does this design look great on tablets and phones or something? Because on my desktop...not so much. To say it seems dated might sound odd here of all places, but there's a difference between lovably anachronistic and just plain ugly. On the other hand, they let you post GIFs.
posted by Lorin at 10:32 PM on February 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Heavy handed ridiculous overmoderation a la stackoverflow? check.

You can moderate your own forum the way you want to.
posted by empath at 10:34 PM on February 5, 2013

The posts in the sandbox forum are very graphics heavy. With that and all the changes you can make to your post it's like the anti-Metafilter.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:35 PM on February 5, 2013

The source code is here, btw.
posted by empath at 10:36 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Anyway, this looks pretty nice. Lots of people need something better than the ooooold crappy phpbb/vbulletin/etc forum clones that are out there.

Lorin: I'm not seeing anything really dated-looking about this... It's basic, but certainly not Craigslist-level basic. Maybe something's broken for you.
posted by zsazsa at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you can branch off from a thread into new topics! Still displayed in linear fashion, however.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:37 PM on February 5, 2013

too many things fading in and out as I mouse over random stuff. Like, it's cool that you can do that but maybe once or twice on a page.

There's a few other things but really, I'm glad someone else it tackling the whole forum thing in a different way.
posted by hellojed at 10:38 PM on February 5, 2013

If I had to be specific I'd say it's something about the jumble of the category icons in all their various colours and sizes.
posted by Lorin at 10:38 PM on February 5, 2013


Moderation that scales with the community
As users participate on Discourse by reading and posting, they gain trust. With that trust, they can help maintain the forum to prevent trolls, spammers, and bad actors from taking over.

posted by empath at 10:42 PM on February 5, 2013

To say it seems dated might sound odd here of all places, but there's a difference between lovably anachronistic and just plain ugly.

"Can I use my own skin or theme? Absolutely. We ship with a reasonably good looking default theme that you are free to use, but Discourse is designed to be fully skinnable and themable through CSS so it can match your existing site design. The top navigation area currently supports local theming directly through the admin settings. "
posted by oulipian at 10:45 PM on February 5, 2013

I wonder if that awful rectangle at the top disappears if you log in. Probably not, since it seems to contain all the user controls.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:48 PM on February 5, 2013

It's certainly no phpBB.

First, it's Rails so installing it on a shared host can't be done easily (and requires PostgreSQL which is arguably better than MySQL but less supported on other servers). Installation instructions are vague. I dislike PHP but I do have to admit the ease of beginners to drag and drop files onto a server is easier to grasp than command line gem grabbing.

It says it's free and open-source, but yet has a clear "Buy" button until you see you can view source by the Github forking banner.

Well... arguably phpBB gets hacked a lot because of iffy programming in PHP, but then again look at the recent Rails security debacle... nothing is really as secure as the server maintainer that is on top of their game.

Too many extraneous columns... with phpBB it's simple enough to see how many replies a discussion have. Scrolling with infinite scrolling... now there are just a bunch of numbers on the right columns.. you would have to scroll back up to know what number correlates to what stat? Ugh...
posted by xtine at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2013

Built on Rails? I'm looking forward to seeing them get rooted repeatedly over the next few months, then.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:55 PM on February 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

This would be SO much cooler, if the try link actually did ANYTHING.

And the meta site appears to be non-functional too from here.
posted by Samizdata at 11:03 PM on February 5, 2013

Well, the criticisms about styling and moderation aside, (and rather pointless since you can make it look however you want), I'm wondering what the market is for this? Forums are more of a feature than a product. You're going to be logging in with twitter, facebook or gmail to get access to most of these forums, anyway. It's so rare that I'll log into a forum for anything, and if I want to set up a mailing list, I'll use google groups. The only thing I can possibly see this being competition for is something like the subreddit ecosystem.

This would be SO much cooler, if the try link actually did ANYTHING.

It's open source. Just download it and install it. The 'try' link just takes you to a sandbox forum.
posted by empath at 11:07 PM on February 5, 2013

I'm not cool enough for this.
posted by mazola at 11:09 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

empath: "This would be SO much cooler, if the try link actually did ANYTHING.

It's open source. Just download it and install it. The 'try' link just takes you to a sandbox forum.

I really don't have a system around here set up to do anything like that.
posted by Samizdata at 11:17 PM on February 5, 2013

The sandbox looks exactly like Fark.
posted by lkc at 11:29 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, the criticisms about styling and moderation aside, (and rather pointless since you can make it look however you want), I'm wondering what the market is for this?

I wouldn't say pointless. Not being a developer I'm sure there is potential there that I can't see, and I'll be curious to see what sort of themes emerge; but as an end user the default styling and design wouldn't meet my criterion, which is simple: "Could I stand to look at this for several hours at a time?"
posted by Lorin at 11:37 PM on February 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

reminds me of convore (now defunct), which did something very similar but looked much better:
posted by mulligan at 11:39 PM on February 5, 2013

Are people so lazy they can't click on a number anymore? I hate that infinite scrolling shit.

I rarely ever post on forums anymore, and haven't created a forum in like, five years, but the last time I did I used either punBB or vanilla. I liked their simplicity, but users didn't. This seems to have a lot of special effects, so I'm guessing people will like it.
posted by Redfield at 12:20 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I noticed a Vagrantfile sitting in the top of the source, and sure enough, they provide a Vagrant box you can spin up and use. I use Vagrant to put up/tear down a little Puppet ecosystem for my work as a technical writer.

So you can run this thing in a virtual sandbox on any machine you can get VirtualBox onto without having to do a lot of crap to get things up and running on a standalone machine. Vagrant being what it is, you'll mostly be limited to heated arguments with yourself, but for anyone who's just curious about how it looks and works on the admin side, it looks like the time it takes to install VirtualBox, download their Vagrant box (which is automated by Vagrant) and paste a few commands into a terminal is the main bar to taking it for a (cloistered) spin.

The product, though? I did once work for a company where a vocal contingent wanted to ditch email and move us all to a bulletin board, but it didn't really work out that way. I have the sense most businesses are leaning toward stuff with a more real-time flavor for internal communications.

It makes more sense as a customer-facing product forum, and I can see how some people would be way more fond of it than Google Groups. So maybe the $19-$99 hosted offering they mention as a down-the-road possibility makes sense.

I can also see it being something a techie type would try to stand up for a community, which would go toward mindshare but not sales, but there's no way around xtine's comment: Seems a little heavy for the "hobbyists on shared hosting" set, and it takes those people to get the sort of critical mass that makes a WordPress happen. For instance, I'd love to try it out on my own shared hosting account, just to see if standing up a Rails app has gotten any better since I last tried it with them, but it's Dreamhost and they don't do Postgres.
posted by mph at 12:25 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I presume the market for this is companies who want to run their own support forums, not people who want to run a "oboe-playing Benedict Cumberbatch fans" site. This would probably help them escape those sites like Get Satisfaction, which end up like roach motels of customer support.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:28 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are people so lazy they can't click on a number anymore? I hate that infinite scrolling shit.

I visit web forums from time to time, and one thing I've noticed I consistently do is click the arrow for Next Thread when I intend to click on an arrow to advance to the next page in the thread. So, you can put me down in favor of infinite scrolling, although I'd like it better if people didn't sometimes put very hard to reach useful links at the "bottom" of the page, like Google Image Search does.
posted by JHarris at 12:45 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't understand the reason for the negative comments so far. As far as I can see, these guys are publishing a piece of free software to replace phpbb and related software. It can hardly be denied that these are in need of a replacement. "Discurse" is starting with a clean codebase, sane language and modern technologies. What's more, they are actually putting some thought into how best to have a civilized discussion under the unfavorable conditions of the internet.

The "stackexchange" guys have proven that they understand the problem with a spectacularly successful series of Q/A sites. Now they're trying a similar approach to flat, free-form forum-style discussions that do not fit the Procrustean bed of questions-cum-technical-answers. The result is released as free software, with the request for people to join the development, and it looks much better than all the alternatives to boot. Frankly I don't see the downside!
posted by faustdick at 12:47 AM on February 6, 2013 [19 favorites]

The "WordPress of forum software" claim to fame is kind of already claimed, unfortunately.

I've been looking for something to replace a geriatric phpbb2 installation with, and man the Wikipedia comparison of Internet forum software articles are dusty roads marked with dozens of tombstones, all inscribed with the last words "Forum software is an easy problem, right?"

I'm intrigued by this Discourse idea but their timeline for an actual release claims to be 6-12 months out. Bookmarked for future review.
posted by lantius at 1:10 AM on February 6, 2013

I presume the market for this is companies who want to run their own support forums, not people who want to run a "oboe-playing Benedict Cumberbatch fans" site.

posted by nushustu at 1:13 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well, I actually like the features the description page suggests, and some of them I think Metafilter would be well-served by adopting. Just my opinion.
posted by JHarris at 1:21 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to say that nearly all of the features they mention on the feature page seem very sensible and attractive. I hope this takes off.
posted by painquale at 2:20 AM on February 6, 2013

I don't understand the reason for the negative comments so far.

Guy who loves making things busts his ass making a thing.

Turns out the thing isn't perfect, or everything to everyone.

Then the internet shows up and says clever things like "fail". Or they throw the guy's past failures in his face. Or whatever that lets them high-five themselves for their withering artisanal peanut gallery witticisms, while the guy shakes his head and goes back to busting his ass making things.

Because they actually think that doing this embarrasses him.
posted by middleclasstool at 3:49 AM on February 6, 2013 [43 favorites]

No mobile view, for a demo/preview launched in 2013. Bleh, waste. I agree though that forum software needs to be modernized. I HATE phpbb with a passion. It is clunky, difficult to update garbage. And the UI is so uninspired. Hate bbpress as well, not flexible enough and too much interminglig of source code and templates, so customization was limited unless you didn't care about updates. Vanilla doesn't come with enough out of the box features and irc is a pita to add mods to as well. Plus it's looking a bit dated. Buddy press was confusing. I tried a few WordPress templates that were meant to turn a wp site into something similar to mefi, and they weren't terrible but lacked some important features that forums need. I've tries more though I can't think of them at the moment.

I'm using simple machines forum on a small forum and I overall like it. Some of the front end HTML is sloppy, but I'm a bit anal about that. Template code seems pretty well seperated from the source code (though not quite as nicely as WordPress). Mods are easy to install and uninstall and feel a lot like WordPress mods even though they aren't walled off like WP plugins. No default mobile support, but a couple weekends I half-assed a new template that's responsive. By half-assed, I mean there are more things I need to finish, but the majority is working. (Take a look if you're curious, but please be gentle and don't mefi my server.: P)

Still, I love stack overflow so I'll keep watching and see how this develops.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:31 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

xtine: (and requires PostgreSQL which is arguably better than MySQL but less supported on other servers)

Postgres is really a lot better. The transaction support is especially nice.

One of the bigger reasons I see to use Postgres is the fact that it's not owned by Oracle. MySQL is disappearing into that tarpit, gradually becoming very much like a closed-source project. My guess is that Oracle never really wanted MySQL, per se, they wanted to make it into an unattractive competitor for their main product. And, well, they're succeeding.

MariaDB is the open-source fork, so if you really absolutely must have MySQL, that's a safer alternative. But it still has all the various bits of brain damage that the MySQL codebase has accumulated over the years, just dumb stuff that it shouldn't do. Postgres has always done things by-the-book correctly, where MySQL traded away correctness for speed. In the market, speed won, most of the time. But now they've gotten the really solid Postgres code up to roughly the same performance level. You can trust it, an attractive feature in a database, and you trade away very little grunt to get the extra reliability.

It's not hard to find a webhost that supports PostgreSQL. If they don't, I consider it a sign that they're not really staying on top of their technical game.
posted by Malor at 4:38 AM on February 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

"No mobile view, for a demo/preview launched in 2013. Bleh, waste."

I don't think I've encountered a 'mobile view' that I've preferred over pinching and zooming my way around a 'native' site.

This project is far from perfect, and if I was creative/ux director I'd have done many things differently, but I can't fault the problem description they outlined on the sell page.

It's got way too many bells and whistles, but looking past them, this is an admirable endeavour.

Respect. (The very opposite of 'minimum viable product' for a launch one suspects)
posted by panaceanot at 4:39 AM on February 6, 2013

I don't think I've encountered a 'mobile view' that I've preferred over pinching and zooming my way around a 'native' site.

Pretty much the only site with a mobile view that I can at all tolerate is Metafilter.
posted by painquale at 5:41 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I tried it out and I'm pretty impressed so far. I bet the dev mailing lists for phpBB and other projects are surging with discussion about which good ideas can be incorporated into their systems. I don't expect it to become the next great discussion platform but I think it will get some traction and they have definitely innovated in a few areas. I'm sure there are a few things they got wrong, but even that is informative and I don't fault them one bit for trying something different.

I recall when Stack Overflow launched there was a great deal of skepticism about why the Internet needed another Q/A forum. I can't recall my exact response, but I bet I was a skeptic but today I find the highest value answers for technical programming queries I do in my day to day work come via their Q/A platform.

Can they do it again for discussions? I kind of doubt it but I'm pretty sure this will advance the craft a little.
posted by dgran at 5:50 AM on February 6, 2013

Anyway, this looks pretty nice. Lots of people need something better than the ooooold crappy phpbb/vbulletin/etc forum clones that are out there.

Is Vanilla garbage as well?

We were looking at it to integrate with MODX but fortunately there is native forum software for MODX now so we didn't dig deep.
posted by juiceCake at 6:14 AM on February 6, 2013

Infinite scroll is cancer.
posted by cellphone at 6:40 AM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Worth noting: PHP 5.2 (and 5.4) actually start to resemble a modern programming language.

The global namespace is still overcrowded, and it's not terribly confident in its new object-oriented nature, but it probably shouldn't be written off entirely, and it's probably not apt to blindly judge a project because it uses PHP 5.2.

I'm not entirely sure that I'd use it for a new project, but I also wouldn't criticize an existing project for using it. For that matter, we might as well critique MetaFilter for running on ColdFusion.

Note that phpBB actually is a piece of dreck that never really evolved after 2004. It still doesn't utilize any PHP features introduced after version 4.3, which was released in 2003. However, there are other decent PHP-based forums. Not that there's anything wrong with a cleanroom RoR forum implementation -- Discourse looks pretty neat, and extra ideas and diversity are always good. I'm not sure that it's going to spark a revolution, but it looks like a very nice bit of software.

Also note that you shouldn't use Discourse in the wild. Anything that lists IE10 or Android 4 as a requirement for bare-minimal functionality is inappropriate to use in a public-facing site. I'm not a graceful degradation nazi, but those requirements will make Discourse little more than an academic curiosity for the next 2-3 years (or until they patch the thing to work properly on older browsers).
posted by schmod at 6:48 AM on February 6, 2013

cellphone: "Infinite scroll is cancer."

This is true in almost every implementation that I've seen, but it doesn't necessarily have to be that way -- I've seen a few implementations that use pushState to actually allow you to return to your position if you navigate away from the page.

Honestly, that strikes me as a better compromise than reverting back to the old ways of pagination. Lazy-loading is something of a necessary evil on content-heavy sites. Bandwidth is expensive.
posted by schmod at 6:52 AM on February 6, 2013

It says it's free and open-source, but yet has a clear "Buy" button

These things are not mutually exclusive.

Anyway, the "Buy" link says you can't really purchase licenses/support/hosting yet, but it looks like those things are in the plans.
posted by scatter gather at 6:59 AM on February 6, 2013

It does look nice, but it's definitely a long way from ease of install that you see with some of the php packages like phpbb.

The rails code is pretty good with a little over-thinking in a few places and some non-idiomatic things that could bring up some frustrations in further development (things that look like they would return an active record query in idiomatic rails that just return an array, so much custom logic in the controllers).

I haven't dug in much further, but I would think this could be hosted for free on heroku if the dependency on sidekiq can be taken away. It's possible there's something that requires an async background processor that would require a paid runner along with the free plan now.
posted by ndfine at 7:23 AM on February 6, 2013

I wish I could favorite middleclasstool's comment more. I felt like this also in the snarkfest of the multiverse physics thread the other day. Those who cant do' teach (lol jk) and those that can't teach just snark.
posted by sfts2 at 7:27 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: I hate everything. Seriously, 3/4 of the comments on this post are negative, cynical things. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Forums are an incredibly important part of the Internet. Why, we're participating in one right here! And for folks who want to set up their own forum phpBB is by far the dominant choice (with Vanilla a possibility for discriminating people). phpBB is better than it used to be, but it's baroque and complex and it's really time to have something new.

So yay! New option! Here's a team with some expertise in running Internet forums and now they built a product to make your own version of a forum like theirs. And it's pretty good! Have some respect. There's lots to criticize, sure, and thoughtful criticism is a good discussion to have here. But a driveby "lol this one little button is a few pixels off" is an ugly, stupid, lazy comment.

On a quick test, some of the things I like are... Federated login via Twitter/Facebook/Google/Yahoo. Decent editor that's a nice mix of visual and dropping down to markup for precision. Drag and drop image posting! StackExchange-like structure to the forum. And it's open source, that's a bold choice on their part and great for customers. I'm not so wild about the visual design, it's a bit busy and colorful for me. I'm also skeptical that the StackExchange model of reputation works well for private communities, although Discourse only seems to have a little of all the badges and scores and stuff. I think the key thing for a forum system like this is to give hosts enough tools to create their own moderation systems while keeping it simple enough to work in practice. Every community is different.
posted by Nelson at 7:35 AM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Installing Postgres is as easy as typing apt-get install postgresql or yum install postgresql or using the one click Windows installer.

There is a technical advantage to the infinite scrolling thing: in general it's faster in the database.
posted by rq at 8:07 AM on February 6, 2013

It's got way too many bells and whistles, but looking past them, this is an admirable endeavour.

I think the point is that they provide all these features, and then whoever is the admin of the forum can decide which bells they want to deploy that make sense for their community. I must be the only one that hates the Google Groups interface; I find it so confusing. I even prefer Yahoo! to GG. But my colleagues all think of Yahoo! as a sad sister and won't use it (even though one of them once looked over my shoulder when I was using YG, and asked what that nice looking message board was).

Discourse seems simpler, though, perhaps they should have contracted a designer to give them a good sample skin just to show what is possible. (Also, why don't more people use BBpress? Is it a nightmare on the admin side?)
posted by bluefly at 8:09 AM on February 6, 2013

Haven't even looked at it yet, but if they're striking a blow against the Pagination Industrial Complex, they have my vote. Fuck pagination.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:52 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit disappointed it isn't .net. I know Atwood is sort of technology agnostic but c'mon Atwood, us sell outs have to stick together. Why rails, everybody and their grandma does rails. You could have at least jumped to scala or something.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2013

This is relevant to our interests
posted by davejay at 9:17 AM on February 6, 2013

I think it's awesome that someone has decided to throw their time and energy into making better forum software. Whether it's successful or it isn't is besides the point; this guy is making things and making things is a noble pursuit.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wordpress? So you're saying its another remote shell giving hackers control of your servers, with the side effect that it sometimes provides forum software.
posted by surplus at 10:30 AM on February 6, 2013

Whether it's successful or isn't actually is important to me, because that would mean interacting with the software on a regular basis. I agree, making things is a noble pursuit, and in my observation coders are more than aware of their influence which (invisibly to a majority of users) extends to virtually everything that makes up modern living. It's not out of spite or malice that I say "I think this is ugly" any more than someone saying "I don't like Radiohead" is equivalent to spitting in Thom Yorke's face. A piece of software with the backing of a well known entity like Stack Overflow, angling to make itself the de facto standard—the "Wordpress of forums"—deserves to be scrutinized, even harshly and even if some of that is nothing but snark. Shameful is a bit of a stretch.
posted by Lorin at 11:27 AM on February 6, 2013

I think the bit about Postgres and whether or not it is ubiquitous on finer self-maintained machines and forward-thinking shared hosting services is less about some objective mark of technical merit and more about what helps make software popular. Similarly, my observation about whether or not this is the kind of thing one can stand up in an hour on whatever shared hosting one has at hand is less about how critical little communities built around knitting astronaut suits for kittens are for a short-term business plan and how critical a collection of many, many such communities is for getting mindshare at all.

When someone says "we want this to be the WordPress of something," what I hear is "we want to build a tool that will eventually become the informal standard in its category, with enough flexibility to eventually grow out of its initial use case, and for which shared hosting plans have to have an answer re: ease of installation for their users." I hear "we want to build the AK47 of this software category," but this feels like an M16.

Personally, I like developing on Rails and I hate PHP-based "drop-n-go" software, because in my experience the cumulative misery it has caused in the last decade way outweighs anything Rails has managed to inflict on us. I also really like thoughtful design in forum software, because it's all part of this experiment we're conducting on how the world is going to work. But as much as I like Rails, I don't sense that it has a lot of success stories that match the particulars of this kind of product.

I'm sorry if my comments come off as Debbie Downerism. Part of how I receive anything new like this is to wonder if it has the right balance of accessibility and quality to take off. Surely that's a legitimate topic for discussion.
posted by mph at 11:39 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

vBulletin has been the standard in my area for a long time, not because it was The Best Ever but because it was a) not too expensive and b) well-established, so there were a ton of extensions and a ton of people with experience managing it. I kind of don't care what the base features of a forum are - what I want is the ability to change them to exactly the features *I* need.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:08 PM on February 6, 2013

Looks good and I'm pleased Rails is getting more love.

I've been thinking about snark recently, and the moves (from myself as well) to silence it. There was a time when I loved to pull out some barb about a band or a book or a television program. The reason for doing it was never to hurt or to put myself over and above someone else. I think there's just a satisfaction in saying the sneeringly hilarious thing that just popped into your head.

But the internet's a big old highly searchable thing and it's pretty easy to find the people who'll pull whatever creative thing you love to pieces. So we're developing this weird thin skin because now - not only is everyone a maker, but everone's a critic too.

I haven't got any answers, and on occasion I've been both anti- and pro- snark. But there has to be a place for the sneery put-down. Time was when people in the public eye looked forward to being savaged by the publically sponsored cynics.

Both performance and criticism has been democratised and I wonder if we spend too much time trying to limit the latter without realising it's the correct response to the former.
posted by zoo at 12:16 PM on February 6, 2013

Yeah, this is basically a relatively large, complicated, gem-packed Rails app depending on postgres+hstore, redis, and some background workers. I was able to get the app barely booted for a little hello Metafilter, but seems something w/ the front-end JS is fubaring up when logged in, preventing me from seeing my own posts. Also the API keys for FB/Twitter/etc aren't setup, so you just need to create your own login.
posted by crayz at 1:13 PM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think I've encountered a 'mobile view' that I've preferred over pinching and zooming my way around a 'native' site.

Really? This makes me so sad for you. Pinching and zooming is hell. I'll admit there are some serious stinkers out there along with bad design ideas, like randomly hiding useful content because someone lacks imagination and can't see users doing the same things they do on a desktop. But that's just bad design, which is not unique to mobile sites.

Pretty much the only site with a mobile view that I can at all tolerate is Metafilter.

Metafilter is "okay" for reading but a PITA for interacting with. Favoriting on mobile makes me want to cry. So does the code bar. Too goddamn close together.

I was a little harsh in my criticism of Discourse. I'm really glad its out there. Forum software has stagnated for years. I've tried so many packages to find one I liked. Even if this isn't perfect, it will undoubtably force others to compete. And if it's really similar to WordPress in template and plugin management, I could see myself switching to it down the road. Haters gonna hate, but WordPress so elegantly keeps plugins, themes and main site code seperated that I just adore it and get angry with other systems.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:07 PM on February 6, 2013

As somebody who has spent a great deal of time on the XDA-developer forums looking up information on rooting my android phone, I can only wish Atwood the sincerest best wishes in his effort to cause phpBB and similar software to go the way of experts-exchange. I guess part of the problem is that people insist on using forum software when they should be using a wiki or a bug tracker, but the software itself is just universally awful.

I don't care for the layout of the test forum much, but I will count Atwood as one of the great heroes of the age if this catches on and I can use OAuth for forums instead of creating a billion little one-off accounts. Usable search would also be pleasant.
posted by whir at 2:37 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got excited about this when I saw jessamyn mention it the other day, because I've been actively casting about for Something Better in terms of forum software for MefightClub than the very heavily customized 1.x branch of Vanilla that we use. Just in case there was something so much better out there that it was a no-brainer to go through the work of porting stuff over.

I am disappointed by design decisions they've made in Discourse. Normally I'm a great lover of the whiz and the bang, but here, the javascripty gewgaws are often intrusive, I think. It just feels a little overstuffed.

The idea of rethinking the way forums work is a noble one -- so many are so utterly cookie cutter, and ugly as sin almost without fault. Attempts to break away a bit (bbpress, Vanilla in the old, 1.x branch (not the crap-laden, half-baked 2.x branch, sadly) have been few.

But I'm not down with Discourse (fun as it seems on first blush) for a few reasons:

1) that's some pretty strict browser compatibility rules. I sympathize, but.
2) before you launch, or even soft-launch, any forum software, I think you absolutely must have a whole shitload of documentation on how to extend it, and how it's put together. More than just inline code comments. Forums are niche-community stuff, generally, and every community has its own special functionality needs. Perhaps there will be a rich array of extensions for this, and there's a relatively-easy-to-use extension model, but it needs to be there out of the gate for 'developers' like me to want to get on board.
3) yeah, infinite scroll, nah. And there's just way too much going on in terms of UI here. Simplicity with easy ways to complexify and extend should be the model, I think.

In my dreams, a new contender in the forum software world would take the ideas of Vanilla (again, 1.x, before the VCs gave them money and things went totally sideways in 2.x in terms of loading the core app with the Same Old Crap (badges and siglines and all the rest), and their developer community got colonized by vicious dimwits) -- an utterly simple core and set of core extensions, with a robust, logical extension model and good (well, better than Vanilla 1.x's) documentation, and a strong infrastructure for a community of developers to spring up around it.

Maybe Discourse will become a thing, and I wish them all the luck in the world. But I think they may have approached this reinvention thing from the wrong direction.

I still haven't got my head entirely around Branch since I looked at it a while back, and there are some ideas there that seem a little odd to me (and I know it's not exactly in the same sphere here -- it's not a productized thing you can run on your own server), but the minimalism of it appeals to me a lot. In terms of rethinking and paring down conversation threads to what's essential, I think it's a better model.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:54 PM on February 6, 2013

Stravos, branch look interesting. I can't believe I missed it when I was looking just a few months ago. Putting the conversation in front is super important and missed by so much forum software. Almost everyone I know goes to recent threads on forums they've bookmarked.

Btw, if anyone out there wants to collaborate on new forum software I'd be up for the challange. I'm a web designer - visual, UX, UI, IA, IxD, HTML, CSS, jQuery, along with some PHP, MySQL, and straight JavaScript. The latter, PHP/MySQL I know enough to build some custom projects for myself but wouldn't trust my ability to write scalable, secure code that something like open source forum software would need. I'm also a strong believer in responsive design so would make sure from the beginning it worked on all devices.

Just throwing that out there if there are interested mefites that hate current forum software as much as I do.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 5:11 AM on February 7, 2013

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