Discourse

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Join the Discourse pilot at https://discourse.wmflabs.org/ and sign up for an account today![edit]

Discourse has been installed at wmflabs.org, see https://discourse.wmflabs.org/.

There is a project page at mediawiki.org, see https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Discourse, though the main discussion is below.

Issues are tracked at Phabricator, see Phab:T124690.

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Background[edit]

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 platform. 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.

What we'd keep:[edit]

  • Discussions sorted by topics (mailing lists become tags).
  • E-mail integration, threads

What we'd gain (user experience)[edit]

  • A 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.
  • A 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 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).

What we'd lose (user experience)[edit]

  • 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.
    • Email forwarding is not handled nicely, making transferring an onging conversation from mailing lists to Discourse cumbersome.
  • 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)

What we'd gain (systems administration)[edit]

  • 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 / Loomio).

What we'd lose (systems administration)[edit]

  • 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.

Alternative chat[edit]

While this is not the main topic of this page Yuvi did some work to find a backward-compatible replacement for IRC. He has been investigating Mattermost and set up a test instance in Labs at some point, but this is down now.

Another somewhat rising popular solution is Matrix / Riot.

See also[edit]

  • mw:Discourse for the possible use of Discourse for discussion about the MediaWiki software and related topics