Continuing the discussion from About the Meta category:
Why Discourse? As their FAQ begins, Discourse serves as a mailing list, a forum, and a long-form chat. Mailing lists and IRC (chat) have worked for decades for thousands of projects, and forums are looked down upon by net old timers. But forums seem much more usable by everyone else, and WIFO wants everyone to be involved.
Discouse also serves as a lightweight wiki (posts may be turned into wikis editable by all but the newest users; this is one), and wikis are another very useful communications tool that nonetheless aren't very usable by everyone. Discourse can also provide the commenting feature of a blog (forthcoming).
One day WIFO may outgrow Discourse as its primary communications tool (that'll be a good problem to have) but until then, we're very happy to use a forum-centric tool that subsumes mailing lists, chat, wikis, blog comments, and has improved the forum state of the art.
Still, it's worth noting a few concerns that came up while evaluating Discourse:
- A nice feature of mailing lists is that they are easiy archived by many parties, and lots-of-copies-keeps-stuff-safe. A centralized web forum is not as amenable to such distributed archiving. Web archives such as the Ineternet Archive's wayback machine do archive Discourse forums, since Discourse provides a very plain HTML interface for non-JS clients. We try to remove one tiny obstacle to archiving completely, by requiring posts to d.wifo.org be public domain.
- Discourse doesn't federate.
- It isn't clear after some extremely cursory research what the best practice is for supporting forums in different langugages on the same Discourse site (another problem we'd like to have), nor just how accessible the software is by default (update: apparently now pretty good). As Discourse is becoming super-popular, it's probably a fair bet that these will be addressed, as they're things that large numbers of users do care about and some organization will eventually want to (perhaps for some policy compliance reason) pay for.
- Discourse is getting super-popular. It could be just a fad, marking any site running the software a decade from now as a mid-2010s vintage site. The Discourse developers seem to have a solid business supporting ongoing development, so there's some reason to hope that Discourse will be more than a fad and will stay fresh for more than a decade (as for example WordPress has).
If you enjoy this site or Discourse generally and feel strongly about one of these concerns, consider getting involved in Discourse development or learn about and help us better implement current best practices achievable with the software on this site.