Discourse on Discourse

I just got out of a client meeting with a non-profit, who have need of something like a Discourse forum.

I would classify the actual non-profit employees as “power users”. That is, they would be comfortable modding a discussion forum like Discourse, they have a good high-level understanding of how things like “sign in with Google” works, they get topics, threads, flagging, etc.

They could probably modify site-wide settings eventually, and other admin-type stuff. What they are not ready for is installing a new instance of Discourse on their web server and attaching a login page to their existing site.

Having said that: they are actively seeking grant money to get their web site revamped, and want to have setting up some sort of forum space for their members as part of the scope. So they could get someone else to install Discourse for them as part of their revamp.

My question is: does this sound like a reasonable way to do things, or would it be too much? They do have a regular webmaster who takes care of major updates for them, and so would be in charge of Discourse updates. So the non-profit people would be in charge of creating categories, creating at least the starting threads under those categories, and modding (at least until their community is big & strong enough to have volunteer mods).

Thoughts? Alternatives to Discourse?


Any forum is going to require both technical maintenance (your webmaster) and social maintenance (admins and moderators). That’s just the nature of the problem you’re solving. Those are solid requirements regardless of the software. It needs to be maintained both on the front and in the back.

Discourse is a modern system, very chatty in the sense that the browser very frequently connects to the server to check/update stuff. If the target audience is mostly on archaic equipment or mostly on slow dialup, it may not be the best choice vs. simpler forum software.

I haven’t run a discourse instance, but it seems like a reasonable choice to me, if the users are expected to be on modern equipment and connections.


Discourse is a phenomenally built piece of software, albeit one with relatively high resource requirements compared to contemporaries. Still, I would recommend it very much. I mean, it’s good enough for Mozilla, so it scales very well. And the rich plugin environment is definitely a plus.


Thank you! This was exactly the kind of considerations I was hoping people would raise.

I’ve been researching alternatives so I can give them a pros and cons list.

I don’t have to deliver the research until next week if anyone else feels like chiming in.


I’m just a user, not an admin or tech wizard, but I have to say, Discourse is one of my favorite platforms in the twenty-some (good grief) years I’ve been online.

Cons: Markdown takes some getting used to, and I still look up how to do things. But there are lots of resources on the Web, and once you get the hang of it, it gives users a ton of control on how to format posts. Mobile use can also be tricky compared to computer browsers, but not too tricky to manage.

Pros: The Tracking/Watching/Muting controls make following topics (or not) quick and easy. I also like the ability to PM others, which some other systems don’t allow. Trust Levels work well to protect the community, though having the right Moderators is key.

I’m a mostly-lurker on another couple of boards. One is on Proboards, the other uses SMF/Simple Machines. Both use a blend of HTML and bbcode for user formatting, which works well enough, but they aren’t as feature-rich as Discourse. Proboards seems stable, but the SMF board had repeated trouble with crashed databases and lost posts a few months back, so I don’t think I’d recommend it. And of course, I have no idea how hard to run either of them would be, or what requirements they demand.



They also offer free hosting for Open Source and Crowdfunded projects. No non-profits, though.

Their pricing isn’t great in my opinion. This place costs around $35 per month to host, and there’s probably room for optimization and tuning, especially with a smaller or less active community.

The Discourse team has done an excellent job of making it easy to install and maintain. Most of the time, everything works smoothly. If you’re not prepared to deal with things when they don’t go smoothly, I’d strongly recommend against going it alone. $100 per month is not a lot to not have to deal with those issues.

I don’t have any opinions on any other forum software. I wouldn’t run anything else but Discourse at this point. I actually originally joined BB because it was a way to get to try out Discourse.

If you have any other questions about setting up a Discourse instance, etc. I’d be happy to answer them.


Thank you!