Discourse is the Future of Web Forums

Discourse is the Future of Web Forums


Brandon Hopkins, Creator of Tech Hut

Suparna Ganguly

What are Web Forums?

Web forums allow its users to connect with one another via posting messages. Forum posts can be seen by any number of anonymous visitors, but to post messages, you need to have an account in that particular web forum. Within a web forum, you can either create a new post or post replies on other users’ posts, also called Threads. Many web forums go well beyond typical threads and messages with advanced features and tools. Some of these extras may include blogging, file management, photo galleries, and much more.

Why do you need one?

So, why do you need a web forum? You may need one for the following reasons.

  • Encourage Discussion: The main advantage of a web forum is that it encourages discussions. They are a powerful way for you to communicate over shared interests with your team members, clients, or other businesses. You could also create different communities of different groups. This would help people find topics and resources of their interests.
  • Mutual Interest Groups: Web forums are a great way to create a sense of community. People ask questions and share their own experiences about any subject. Thus web forums play a vital role in cultivating interest groups.
  • Seek Assistance and Support: Whenever you need help you ask a colleague or manager. But what if they aren’t available? Then you need to solve the problem by yourself. With a web forum, you don’t need to. Simply reach out to your community. Create a discussion thread asking for help. And you’ll get a solution without having to wait long.
  • Members Only: Discussion forums provide private access to only its members. None apart from its members can contribute to the discussions.

Web Forums Should be Free and Open Source

Web forums should be free so that they can be used by like-minded people to seek support, exchange ideas, and have discussions at the time of need. Discussion forums provide a space to discuss something which can’t easily be found on the Internet.

If you run a startup or a mid-sized enterprise, you may have to hire developers to build your own online discussion platform. This increases your cost. Fortunately, we have open-source web forums. Deploy open-source web forums directly on your server. And then customize to use them as per your requirements.

Some of the most popular free and open-source web forums are Discourse, Talkyard, MyBB, Vanilla Forums, Simple Machines Forum, phpBB, FluxBB, bbPress, etc. In this article we will be discussing and installing one of the best web forum solutions over on Linode.

What is Discourse?

Discourse is a free discussion forum that’s 100% open-source. And there’s no paid version having secret additional features. You get to use the entire package just by creating an account for free. Discourse is built in such a way that it can support the coming decade of the Internet. You can use Discourse not only as a discussion forum but as a mailing list, long-form chat room, and others also. Discourse is “from-scratch reboot”. It’s a civilized effort to reimagine an Internet discussion platform in the modern era of tablets, Facebook, smartphones, and Twitter everywhere.

Discourse has an “immune system” to keep itself safe from spam, trolls, and bad actors. You can find a trash can in every corner that has a simple and low-friction flagging policy. You get a Like or a Badge for your positive attitudes within Discourse. Discourse keeps on educating its members about the global civilized Discourse rules.

Who Uses Discourse

Businesses that are currently using Discourse are Car Talk, Frostbite, WD, CCP, Manjaro Linux, Mozilla, Ubuntu, Codecademy, and many others.

While Car Talk uses Discourse for discussing cars with experts, game engine Frostbite hosts a Discourse-based private forum for discussing company-specific internal toolsets and technologies. CCP uses Discourse for EVE gamers. WD offers a public support platform based on Discourse.

Discourse Features, Style, Plugins

When it comes to features, style, and plugins, Discourse has no shortage. Are you looking for a web forum that’s less complex? Try Discourse. Discourse is simple, straightforward, modern, and fun. It only includes essential stuff on the screen based on your conversations and participation. All the features that you get from a big social medium like Facebook or Twitter, are available on Discourse.

Discourse’s android application offers real-time push notifications, a central spot for viewing unread counts, new counts, and other notifications. And it uses the Google Chrome web browser, hence it saves you from logging in again and again. Here’s a list of features and plugins offered by Discourse that are worth mentioning.

  • Conversations, Not Pages: Discourse offers a just-in-time loading. So you won’t get any unwanted pages in the middle of the conversations.
  • Dynamic Notifications: When anyone quotes your post, mentions your @name, or sends you a reply you’ll get notified.
  • Simple, but with Context: In Discourse, you can expand the context at the top and bottom of each post or in quotes to find the full conversation.
  • Built-in Mobile Layout: If you own a high-resolution touch device, Discourse would be good to go. You can post from your phone, tablet, or laptop using the Discourse Android app and Discourse iOS app.
  • Links Expand Automatically: Links to Amazon, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia, GitHub, Flickr, and other big websites expand to bring out additional context and information.
  • Spam Blocking: Discourse has Akismet spam protection and heuristics with user flag blocking, new user sandboxing, and standard nofollow.
  • Summarize: With the Summarize button, you can condense long topics to the most interesting posts.
  • Admin Dashboard: Admin dashboard shows you essential and the most relevant community health metrics.
  • Official Plugins: Discourse offers a bunch of officially supported plugins including Cakeday, Akismet Anti-spam, Math, Chat Integration, Advertising, Patreon, GitHub, Subscriptions, Spoiler Alert, Footnote, Yearly Review, and Solved

Apart from these, you also get a comprehensive API, one-click upgrades, two-factor authentication, single sign-on, social login, trust system, community moderation, and others. Stay up-to-date about their latest features with Discourse’s Twitter handle.

Discourse is as easy as having your very own instance of discussion space. The interface is one of the best software platforms. For checking conversations, just keep scrolling instead of clicking the Next button again and again. Hope you find this write-up helpful.

Setting up Discourse

Before we begin there are a few prerequisites to note. that you have a domain name and access to a personal SMTP email server before installation. This requires either having access to a pre-existing SMTP server, or setting up an SMTP Relay through a third party. In the video guide I use a service called Mailgun. However, if you have a domain name hosted over on Linode, taking advantage of an Linode API token to help automate the process is recommended. To learn more about the SMTP requirements you should check out the ''Before You Begin' section on the official Linode guide, Deploying Discourse through the Linode Marketplace | Linode. This guide is also a good reference point as this text is more of a summary of everything you need to do.

Full Step-by-Step Video Guide

If you don't already have a Linode account you can use this link to get a $100 credit to get started. To get this started you only need to use the Nanode tier, but as more users join your forums you can always upgrade.

Once you've created your account, login and click on create Linode. Next, head over to the app marketplace and select Discourse. Once this is selected you will have some option to help you configure the instance including the required SMTP information. In the video I skip these options and set this up though the discourse-setup script, this is recommended if you don't have your domain or email servers set up quite yet.

When connecting this to a domain you can use the Linode hosted method and easily connect the domain to a preexisting Linode. alternatively if you have a separate CPanel or domain host you can add an A record pointing a subdomain to the Linode IP address. 

Once you create your instance using the one click installer you will need to login to your Lish console from the dashboard or connect via SSH from a local terminal client. From here you'll navigate to the installation directory for Discourse.

cd /var/discourse

Now that we're in the correct directory let's run the setup script.

sudo ./discourse-setup

This will pull all the necessary files and  prompt you with the setup wizard. Here you will need to input your domain name, admin email, SMTP server, SMTP port, the SMTP username, password, notification email, and notification email. Once you complete this it will begin setting everything up. If successful there will be no issues and you can head over to your forum domain name. 

Now all you need to do is follow the prompts setting up their forum and the site specific settings and customization. That's it! You now have your very own free and open source web forum hosted on Linode. Have fun exploring the settings, plugins, customization potential, and everything else you get with this fantastic software.

Get started on Linode today with $100 in free credit for 60 days.

Brandon Hopkins is the creator of Tech Hut.

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