I started this forum back in 2003 when the club decided not to renew their original bulletin board and Sincas decided to hang up his boots.
Back then forum software was in its infancy, developed from the original bulletin boards of the late 90’s and suited a time where smartphones didn’t exist. This site, for example, uses phpbb as its software, while other forums like LeagueUnlimited use vBulletin. They are all great sites, but they are all still stuck on the original framework of the early 2000’s. They are all like petrol cars when everyone is moving to electric; yes, both are cars, both work perfectly well, but one is the future and the other is heading the way of the dinosaur. I don’t want our forum to be left behind.
Fast forward to 2018 and we demand more. We shouldn’t have to click “next page” and replies to threads should appear live while we are reading topics. The “thread” layout of forums is clunky and it’s easy to get lost. While I’m not a massive fan of facebook, blind Freddy can tell you how Facebook has changed the way that we converse and engage online.
So over the past few weeks I’ve been researching the direction that forum software is going. In essence, the online communities are moving away from the “bulletin board” approach towards an site of “conversations”. It’s a new space and the technology is evolving, but already the future of online forums is being mapped out.
While there are several options out there, the one that stands out is the Discourse platform. It is feature rich, open source and well developed platform. Their founders and developer’s mission statement reads:
We’re reimagining what a modern discussion platform should be, built for the next decade of the Internet
Here are some features:
*note, I’ve lifted some images and text from the plex.tv forum, who migrated to Discourse recently.
Stacks and Tags
The threaded nature of bulletin boards means that a topic is linear. A post is made, then the next one is in response to the previous. This means that it’s easy for posts to get lost, or for discussions to get hijacked. yes, we can split out posts from one thread to create a second one that’s more on topic, but imagine a forum where thats the fundamental nature of the software that runs it. Topic stacks are essentially topic where posts are tagged and filtered, much the same way that comments to a post on facebook appear. We still have threads, but it’s easy for a thread to split out into multiple conversations without either conversation drowning out the other.
It’s not just about fewer sub-forums. It’s about forums and topics that make more sense and don’t necessitate “drilling down” to look for what you want, only to end up in the wrong place.
Flexible posting drawer
Posting doesn’t require you to be viewing the topic you are replying to. Navigate to other topics (even across categories) without losing your progress. Reference and quote across topics and categories. The drawer can stay open as you navigate or be closed without losing your post. Use the included WYSIWYG editor or markdown to add images, links, and to style your post. Next to your post, you get a real-time preview that can be hidden if not desired. If new replies get posted to the topic you are replying to, those get dynamically loaded (even their edits) without having to refresh or wait until after replying to see what’s been posted. Discourse also shows you who is typing in real-time, similar to chat apps.
Dynamic thread reading
Say goodbye to static page loading and pagination and hello to dynamically loaded topics with simple tools for visually moving through time. Want to read more replies? Keep scrolling at your own pace. Want to jump to the end or a specific point in time? Drag the date slider to where you want to go, or click right on your desired destination. The URL is coded with your exact location in case you want to share or reference a specific reply or a place in time in the discussion.
Granular control over subscription notifications
More options with less complexity. Subscribe to a category, tag, or an individual topic. Control your notifications for each subscription based on how involved you want to be. Straightforward descriptions help in making the right choice. You can also use these subscription options to “mute” categories and tags so that no notifications are received and so they don’t show up in the topic listings.
Summarize a topic
Use the Summarize button to condense long topics to just the most interesting and popular posts. The estimated read time can be helpful in giving you idea how involving the topic will be, if not summarized. Summarizing is predominantly based on the number of likes a post gets, with the top 10% most liked posts in the topic getting included in the topic summary.
Smart search with categories and tags
Enjoy better searching with auto-completion, suggestions, and fuzzy logic to handle misspellings. This allows you to drill down to a specific category and/or tag to get closer to what you are looking for in fewer steps.
The trust system means that the community builds a natural immune system to defend itself from trolls, bad actors, and spammers — and the most engaged community members can assist in the governance of their community. We put a trash can on every street corner with a simple, low-friction flagging system. Positive behaviors are encouraged through likes and badges. We gently, constantly educate members in a just-in-time manner on the universal rules of civilized discourse.
Simple. Modern. Fun.
Discourse pares all the complexity away and puts just the essential stuff on screen – the conversations you care most about, based on your participation.
All the modern amenities you’d expect from a big social website like Twitter or Facebook are present in Discourse. Mention someone by @name. Paste in a link or an image, and we make it awesome on your behalf. Simple quoting and linking of replies and topics. Reply wherever you are, online or via email.
And it “just works” on your phone and tablet.
I’m going to do some more research and do the sums, but I’m feeling quite enthusiastic about this. I need to evaluate the other alternatives and then determine if it’s really all worth it.
And it would be no small task; it would require a dedicated virtual server and the migration of data (fortunately I do this kind of stuff for a living). This wouldn’t happen during the season, but planning would need to get underway now.
Of course, I would appreciate any feedback, any advice and comments.
But as the Discourse founders said, they are reimagining what a modern discussion platform should be, built for the next decade of the Internet. phpbb is 15 years old, 16 by the time the season ends.
I want this forum to last another 16 years.