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Last post Author Topic: Thoughts on "next generation" forum systems? (Discourse, nodeBB, etc.)  (Read 6605 times)

JavaJones

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With the coming upgrades to DC that mouser is working on, I got to thinking about the future, the long view, how to future-proof a community like this. I run a couple of forums myself, all based on SMF (and have administered vBulletin, phpBB, and other forums as well), and while I've found SMF to be my favorite overall of the free options I've tried, its development now seems troubled and its design a bit archaic.

With the current dominance of social media and new methods of interaction that are evolving (short Twitter posts, @mentions, tagging, video and photo posting, coming interactivity/VR, who knows what else), I started to feel like traditional forums might be on their way to becoming antiquated in the way that Newsgroups are now - they still exist, people still use them, but they're relegated to a seldom-used part of the Internet where most people seldom venture. I have seen traffic diminish on the forums I manage and am part of over the past 5+ years, which might support this idea...

So I started to wonder what might be next. If SMF and the traditional forum model are losing popularity and not as appealing to new users, and perhaps younger users, then what is out there to replace these systems? What can you download and run the same way you run SMF, but with more modern features, design, interaction methods, etc? I found a few obvious answers in the most popular of such "next generation" systems, notably Discourse and nodeBB, along with a few hybrids like BurningBoard, and even (just today) some forks of SMF like ElkArte that add some needed features to SMF's base code.

Discourse seemed a bit alien to me at first, but also rather exciting in its potential. Once I found a Material Design theme for it, it looked a lot more appealing too. The others I've looked into a lot less, but from my not-very-well-researched position Discourse still appears to stand-out in features and goals. Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to try *any* of these systems yet though.

I'd love to hear thoughts and experiences from anyone who has been looking into similar systems, or better yet, who have tested one or more of these (doesn't have to be ones I mentioned, just a system that is more "modern" and "progressive" than SMF is, and ideally free/open source).

- Oshyan

ewemoa

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I started to feel like traditional forums might be on their way to becoming antiquated in the way that Newsgroups are now - they still exist, people still use them, but they're relegated to a seldom-used part of the Internet where most people seldom venture.

As a side note, I've come to value mailing lists and newsgroups (and forums) much more than before -- (untargetted -- i.e. not using things like site:) search results via search engines really haven't been working well for me for some time, whereas the aforementioned 3 types of things often give much better results.

rgdot

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The move towards short and quick like twitter and snapchat or places where you know everybody is there like facebook. There are certainly big forums still around but the average user is less inclined. Not forgetting media is not really a forum's strength. Users create galleries and post videos in a much personal way using more web 2.0 tools than a thread or a reply on a forum.

Target

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isn't the difference in the attention span of the respective audiences? (and consequently the content)

Tuxman

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Oops, I missed this thread. To quote myself:

Quote
Discourse is an annoying try to do everything differently even if there was no actual need for that before. The UI requires Javascript which sucks for  security reasons; but, even worse, the whole thing grew so fat that the only supported installation method is a pre-configured Docker container (!) which limits Discourse to Linux although it does not require any other Linux-only package.

Their so-called community does not seem to care about people doing things in a different way.

Pointless technical restrictions of usability just because it's more modern is not something anyone should want to achieve; although I must admit that I really like the Misago board because it's outstanding in some ways.

The Usenet and mailing lists (mentioned above) are different things than web forums, they also target a different audience. I use newsgroups on my Android device, so I'm probably out of the picture. -- That said, today's board systems make it easier to stay trendy. I fell in love with the Invision Power Board a while ago because its user interface is one of the greatest I've ever seen - even on my smartphone.  :-* (A pity that DonationCoder doesn't have a responsive UI yet; but maybe mouser will use the new opportunity...)

Board systems like Discourse and Vanilla have a different target audience again. The first time I've read about Discourse was when I set up my first Pelican blog, it seems to be a nice Disqus replacement. Such boards may work nicely for commenting stuff or as software support forums, but the lack of structure (like immediately visible subforums/categories) makes it really hard to think of them as viable replacements for real forums™.

The world's biggest (regular) board (ConceptArt.org) uses the "classic" vBulletin software, its inofficial "successor" (after vBulletin 5 was FUBAR) XenForo already gained much traction and market share. Don't even dare to assume forums are dying. They're consolidating.

JavaJones

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Thanks for your thoughts Tux.

When you say "pointless technical restrictions of usability", are you just referring to needing Javascript, or more than that? Because I think it's a very conscious and - to some people, including myself - worthwhile choice that Discourse, nodeBB, and others are making to use modern web development technologies and methods to enable the best "normal" interaction and responsiveness. Without Javascript or some equivalent, many of the valuable (IMO) features of Discourse simply wouldn't work. It's clearly not a forum designed for those who fear Javascript, nor is it one designed for accessibility, but those two problem cases remove only a relatively small minority of the potential user base. That seems to include you, which is understandable, but I don't think it's an indictment of the system(s) as a whole. If there are other, better ways to get the kind of functionality and UI interaction they've created then I'd love to hear more about that. Hell, at least it's not Flash. ;)

As for using Docker, it's not actually a *requirement* of using Discourse as far as I know, it's just the easiest way to deploy. For me use of Linux for hosting is *the* right way to do it anyway, so it's not a concern. But if it's a worry for you (and you're actually still interested in Discourse :D ), it looks like Docker will be Windows compatible in the future: http://thenewstack.i...ndows-is-on-its-way/

Meanwhile, I'm not quite sure where I stand on the argument that these different systems are for different audiences, different types of communities interacting. Technically it is true right now, but I would be quite surprised if many of the current forum communities had not migrated from newsgroups previously, and surprised as well if the trend I'm seeing in some of my communities - to move onto Facebook (Groups), etc. - is not reflective of a greater overall trend. Which means that *the same users and communities* are migrating from one system to another (and have done so before).

Systems *do* often replace other systems, and the same people who used an older system may switch to a different, newer one for various reasons. The fact that some percentage stays behind and becomes a "hardcore" community still using some older technology may indeed actually mean that for those people the newer system is *not* an adequate replacement, much less upgrade, but they are often in the minority in my experience. The question for me is not "where are the hardcore hanging out?", it's "what is the best system to use to serve a modern community that will best be able to gain and maintain popularity, offer smooth and enjoyable interaction for the users, and be capable of long-term maintainability?".

I never liked IPB myself, but I'll have to take another look at it on your recommendation. I suppose part of what put me off is the cost, hehe. vB is IMO atrocious, which just goes to show that popularity isn't the sole and best metric on which to judge a system. :D

I'm a bit confused about your comment on "lack of structure". Discourse definitely has categories. The default UI may not do the best job of showing them, but it's easily configurable, and there are themes out there that better mimic (and IMO improve on) more traditional designs. There is a "Material Design" Discourse theme I mentioned above that I quite like, for example.

Image 2015-05-15 at 7.45.30 AM.png

Final point, consolidation is a sign both of a maturing technology landscape, but also sometimes of one in decline. Again I'd be surprised if it were true that forums are anywhere near as popular now as they were 10 years ago, at least in English speaking countries (I say that because I know e.g. many Asian countries seem to have really different online interaction preferences than those in the US, and I just don't have familiarity with what they're doing or why).

Curious to hear more from those who may have tested any of these systems. But recommendations for more up-to-date and well maintained "traditional" forums (like IPB) are welcome too. :)

- Oshyan
« Last Edit: July 20, 2015, 12:13:22 PM by JavaJones, Reason: Addressing Discourse lack of categories and providing example theme image. »

wraith808

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My experience with Discourse has been good and bad.  The good- I like the features.  Some might say that the changes and such were not necessary, but I like the ability to start a new topic from a response, especially.  I do find that without using a host, it can be problematic to install and keep up- I just want a board that works.  To that end, and because I know a lot about wordpress, I've been using bbPress.  It can be a bit clunky on the admin side, and you can see behind the curtains at times to the wordpress background, but the integration and ease of maintenance and admin is worth it to me.

JavaJones

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Interesting to hear from a bbPress user. I must admit I pretty much wrote it off due to its Wordpress plugin nature, I figured it'd be a bit clunky, not as full-featured, etc. Does it have some of the Discourse features you like (e.g. new topic from reply)? Or are you more choosing it for ease of management?

- Oshyan

wraith808

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Interesting to hear from a bbPress user. I must admit I pretty much wrote it off due to its Wordpress plugin nature, I figured it'd be a bit clunky, not as full-featured, etc. Does it have some of the Discourse features you like (e.g. new topic from reply)? Or are you more choosing it for ease of management?

- Oshyan

Ease of management and integration with wordpress.  I do like using discourse better.  But I just don't have the time, nor do I want to pay more for dedicated hosting from a discourse hosting service.

A few images from it in use and the admin side below:

bbpress1.pngThoughts on "next generation" forum systems? (Discourse, nodeBB, etc.)bbpress2.pngThoughts on "next generation" forum systems? (Discourse, nodeBB, etc.)bbpress3.pngThoughts on "next generation" forum systems? (Discourse, nodeBB, etc.)bbpress4.pngThoughts on "next generation" forum systems? (Discourse, nodeBB, etc.)

1. It looks very similar to how you manage posts.
2. It repurposes a few things from posts to use for the bb
3. It does have the admin things close
4. It can be a pain to set up private boards (have to use a plugin)
5. You can embed forums in pages and posts.

Like I said, it's not perfect... but for a forum to go around a blog or cms, it's perfect for me.

JavaJones

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Makes sense. I don't know what hosting you use, but Digital Ocean has $5/mo "droplets" that can host a Docker Discourse instance quite easily, for whatever it's worth...

- Oshyan

wraith808

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Makes sense. I don't know what hosting you use, but Digital Ocean has $5/mo "droplets" that can host a Docker Discourse instance quite easily, for whatever it's worth...

- Oshyan

I'm on my own server, already paying a lot for the 'privilege', so I'm really not looking to pay more.  Especially for something that couldn't be seamlessly integrated into the current sites that I'm using.  That's not to say that it couldn't as it stands.  But that gets into the whole learning to admin something else for something that's for fun in the first place, and is a production server.

But thanks for the info!

TaoPhoenix

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Isn't the difference in the attention span of the respective audiences? (and consequently the content)

This has a lot of words in it! Can you make it simpler? Like in a meme gif?
:P

Target

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Isn't the difference in the attention span of the respective audiences? (and consequently the content)

This has a lot of words in it! Can you make it simpler? Like in a meme gif?
:P

bjpak.jpgThoughts on "next generation" forum systems? (Discourse, nodeBB, etc.)

Tuxman

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When you say "pointless technical restrictions of usability", are you just referring to needing Javascript, or more than that? Because I think it's a very conscious and - to some people, including myself - worthwhile choice that Discourse, nodeBB, and others are making to use modern web development technologies and methods to enable the best "normal" interaction and responsiveness. Without Javascript or some equivalent, many of the valuable (IMO) features of Discourse simply wouldn't work. It's clearly not a forum designed for those who fear Javascript, nor is it one designed for accessibility, but those two problem cases remove only a relatively small minority of the potential user base.


Why do you assume "modern" means "inadvertently requiring you to make your browser insecure"? A web forums is not much more than a text area with a Submit button, this is the fallback behavior for sanely developed AJAX things AFAICS. So it basically is a pointless restriction.

Hell, at least it's not Flash. ;)]


Oh, well... :) Javascript is still really, really bad. In 2015 it's known as the most common security hole for browsers.

As for using Docker, it's not actually a *requirement* of using Discourse as far as I know, it's just the easiest way to deploy. For me use of Linux for hosting is *the* right way to do it anyway, so it's not a concern.


Docker is the only supported installation method though, and there won't be a Docker on OpenBSD anytime soon. That said, Docker basically mimics old BSD features anyway.

Curious to hear more from those who may have tested any of these systems. But recommendations for more up-to-date and well maintained "traditional" forums (like IPB) are welcome too. :)

I tested quite a lot of board systems recently. IPB, to stick with that example, has grown into a full-featured suite by now, including galleries and blogs (similar to Woltlab). Things are moving.

JavaJones

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Fair enough, so a strike against it for anyone who dislikes having Javascript enabled (even on specific, trusted sites I suppose). That's not me, and it's not most people, but I grant that it's a legitimate security concern. Still, since I *like* the advanced features and don't browse with Javascript disabled (and an increasing amount of the Internet works in "degraded" mode at best if you do), I remain interested in the pros and cons of these systems.

IPB being a suite is almost a disadvantage for me. I don't trust them to handle any single aspect of the suite ideally. Focus on the forum, make it great. I don't need them making a gallery, blog, or whatever else. Similar concern with Woltlab (BurningBoard). Of course overlooking them *solely* for that reason would be foolish, so I'm not. ;)

- Oshyan

rgdot

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Speaking of message boards in the traditional sense.... Looking purely at frontend interface something like Mybb is simple, nice and clean but it will not come close to commercial ones or the likes of SMF or phpBB in wide selection of addons and feature possibilities.

As for forums not dying, if dying is not the word something close to it is. Of course very large ones still exist but I confidently say "traditional" forums internet wide are easily 50% of users of 10 years ago, active users is probably closer to 25%.

Tuxman

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I don't need them making a gallery, blog, or whatever else. Similar concern with Woltlab (BurningBoard).

You're not required to buy a license for all the products, but you can if you wish. :)

JavaJones

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Well so far it sounds like people are not into the new trend(s) in "message boards" like Discourse then, eh? Has anyone actually attempted active participation in a forum running Discourse or nodeBB and the like? As-in, the topic interested you enough to try it despite the forum system it used? I'm curious about real-world experiences here, whether from a user *or* admin perspective.

- Oshyan

Tuxman

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I have accounts with some of such forums.
I never managed to discuss there.
I don't find interesting discussions there ...

JavaJones

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I see. So do you feel like that's somehow related to the systems themselves (i.e. they don't encourage discussion), or just the way the particular forums you are a member on have been?

- Oshyan

Tuxman

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I guess it's the structure. I tried discussing on discourse.org once and failed several times to find my discussion later. It just lacks clarity.

JavaJones

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Hmm, I haven't had that problem. Do you know what made it difficult for you? I'm curious, from a usability standpoint. Missing features (e.g. finding own posts when viewing own profile), confusing "watch"/notification functionality, something else?

- Oshyan

Tuxman

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All of them.
You know, I've been using "classic" forums for about 15 years now; maybe new people who are used to Facebook's way of displaying your messages (i.e. you're lucky if you find what you were looking for) have less problems than I do.

New forum software developers seem to think that everything has to be different - even the good parts.

JavaJones

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I've been using classic forums for about 20 years, and I hate FB. Discourse I am not yet sure about, I *really* like some aspects, dislike others. But it's a young system and they're actively improving it. Watching the Meta forums on Discourse.org you see a lot of interesting discussion and development and it's encouraging, to me at least.

- Oshyan

wraith808

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I've been using classic forums for about 20 years, and I hate FB. Discourse I am not yet sure about, I *really* like some aspects, dislike others. But it's a young system and they're actively improving it. Watching the Meta forums on Discourse.org you see a lot of interesting discussion and development and it's encouraging, to me at least.

- Oshyan

I've been using 'classic' forums for quite a while, and have liked some, and not liked others.  In the end, it's a matter of the community rather than the features to me as a user.  On the admin side, that's a different ball of wax.  But in use, it really doesn't matter- each has things I like and don't like.