This page is kept for historical interest. Any policies mentioned may be obsolete.
This page mostly relates to a proposal abandoned in 2020. Adoption of mailman 3 is the main effort as of 2021.
Until 2020, there were two unstable Discourse prototype instances at Wikimedia:
- https://discuss-space.wmflabs.org/, which is "frozen" since March 31, 2020.
- https://discourse-mediawiki.wmflabs.org/ which was another place for developer support in Wikimedia and was made read-only in September 2020.
This page documents reasons why Discourse was considered to be used more in the Wikimedia movement.
There is a project page at mediawiki.org, see https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Discourse, though the main discussion is below.
One part of our communications infrastructure that is in serious need of improvement is mailing lists. We (the Wikimedia movement) have been using mailing lists since the creation of Wikipedia. The user interface of Mailman 2 has evolved greatly across the years, together with the evolution of NNTP and email clients.
Discourse is one of many discussion platforms. It still allows tags as listed by James and Delphine in 2008 in the proposal for a new internal e-mail lists system. Discourse was also mentioned as a possible alternative to mailing lists in a wikimedia-l thread in January 2016.
Some people speculate that the proponents of Discourse are looking for a prettier web interface for the tasks currently performed on the web, or perhaps for a web interface covering the entire mailman functionality (more than the existing web bridges allow), but this is not known for sure. (?! missing references)
Some prominent discussion threads on their Meta:
- Replacing Mailing lists: Email-In
- former threads that are now missing (2021-01-23)
What we'd keep:
- Discussions sorted by topics (mailing lists become tags).
- E-mail integration, threads
What we'd gain (user experience)
- Modern user interface that does not feel like time travel to the previous decade (HyperKitty) or century (Mailman). Markdown, link previews, avatars etc.
- Mature social features, curated by some ex-Stack-Overflow developers - community moderation, flagging and other anti-harassment features, @ notifications, pinning, profile pages, participation badges, a helper bot etc.
- Tools to signal support / say thanks without spamming the list with content-free "+1" emails.
- The ability to edit posts and summarize topics, as well as to turn them in wiki-like texts
- Elaborate tagging and category system, providing effortless cross-posting support, ability to move threads to another list, better filtering/digests.
- Discussions and archives in the same place, with mobile support, decent search and easy history redaction (no mass breakage of links when something needs to be suppressed); resulting in more open lists which do not privilege old-timers who have the full archive in their mail client.
- The ability to catch up for people to reply to topics that were posted before they joined the system (i.e. in a mailing list, if you don't have a copy of an original email it's not possible to reply in-thread to an something sent long ago; of course, it's always possible to reference it by URL).
- Technically you can do this in email, but doing so is not simple.
What we'd lose (user experience)
- First-class email support: Discourse supports reply by email and starting new threads by email, but at least in early 2016 that support was not great and in 2019 people faced issues.
- Email forwarding is not handled nicely, making transferring an ongoing conversation from mailing lists to Discourse cumbersome.
- It's not clear how to subscribe to specific boards (similar to individual "mailing lists" or "groups") without subscribing to the entire site. The results of watching a topic can be surprising.
- The rendering of emailed text on the web version can be surprising.
- It's not clear how to establish a two-way bridge where the mailing list would continue receiving messages from people who post on Discourse and relay messages there. (Compare the Telegram-IRC bridges which leave nobody behind.)
- Right to fork / data portability (own data is portable, but there is no easy way currently to export the whole site).
- Integration in people's routine workflows, often email based (which implies chances for people to reappear and contribute to a discussion even long time after they've stopped being hyperactive in a discussion venue).
- Access via newsgroups (although possible if really wanted)
- hashar: we have used gmane.org for a while. It is a mailing list archiving system with a nntp / newsgroup bridge. Unfortunately the service seems abandoned nowaday.
What we'd gain (systems administration)
- OAuth integration with MediaWiki credentials, a ticket to request SSO has been filed at Phabricator, see Phab:T124691.
- Easy access management with community moderation.
- Analytics for free.
- In the long term, maybe get rid of some legacy systems that are hard maintain (Mailman / Pipermail) or are not under our control (Google Groups).
What we'd lose (systems administration)
- Python, in favor of Rails. But Discourse's recommended setup is through an official Docker container, which alleviates many installation pains.
- Alternately, discourse.com has set up and hosted installations for other large open source projects.
- mw:Discourse for the possible use of Discourse for discussion about the MediaWiki software and related topics