Forum Software Options?

Thanks to @notplants for setting up this Discourse forum and providing us with a platform for discussion.

I don’t have any experience running a forum or selecting between the various options so I thought I’d start a conversation about Discourse and any alternatives which might be preferable. Are there any major downsides to Discourse? It’ll be great to ensure we have a foundation we’re all happy to build on.

Some positive of discourse I’ve noticed so far:

  • has tools for moderation
  • pretty easy to use
  • open source (we can export data later if needed)
  • ability to create groups
  • tags
  • search

Some negatives:

  • some kind of troubling surveillance-like features of users (will write more on this later)… I guess these tools are for moderation, but some of it seems a bit much to me. Perhaps it could be edited out of the code through forking the repository. For example, logging IP addresses of users
  • slightly more gamification and metrics than I would personally want to see in a forum. little things like seeing how many posts someone has liked and how many likes they have received on their profile.

Some dreams:

  • I have the feeling that something which is more oriented around “collections” would be really nice for mycology and citizen science. iNaturalist has something similar called “projects”, for example Bees of San Diego County. Basically something slightly more than a tag, because you can also give a description of the intention of the ‘tag’, and even control who can add to that particular project/collection. For example I imagine someone making a collection called “Low-Tech Cultivation” and then as they saw posts by other uses that fit this intention they could add those posts to the collection. Another collection could be “Monotub Collection” or “Experiments Which Measure Biological Efficiency”… maybe this could all just be done with tags for now, but something I’m thinking about (I also just really like how in you can connect blocks to channels, and also channels to channels)

Some alternatives:

Lastly I wonder if we could just use discourse to start, and know that its possible to export from discourse and import into something else if we later found a different tool we wanted to try…

here is a screenshot of the somewhat troubling IP logging (which I guess could be used as a moderation tool for a troll who keeps re-signing up … but also its not even necessarily an effective tool since they could use a VPN so I’m kind of skeptical):

and here is a screenshot of the even more troubling “impersonate user” button… which I guess is an admin feature? seems like something to remove

also wondering if there is a way the whole forum could just get folded into the gitbook as a “Lab Notebooks” section, or some other publishing platform, and get re-imagined less as a place to ask questions, and instead as just a place to publish experiments and cultivation logs hmm

Thanks for breaking down the positives and negatives and sharing your dreams.

I’m leaning in the same direction. It seems that Discourse is the best of the in-reach options at the moment, short of having to develop our own custom solution. The ability to export data is super nice. At least that gives the the flexibility at to transition at a later stage (I dream of an SSB-based solution which would be great in terms of data backup / replication).

I’m hoping to play around a bit more on here over the weekend and get a better feel for everything. I wonder if the tag groups could fulfill some of what you like about “collections”? I just noticed that there’s an option to create a tag group with a setting that “Tags are visible to everyone, but only staff can use them”. Maybe that would be a way in which we could curate collections?

Thanks for highlighting the IP and “impersonate user” features…those are creepy. We can definitely look into forking to remove those (maybe there are forks which have already done this).

I like this idea too. Maybe the forum could be a stepping stone to accomplish that? So the emphasis could be on publishing experiments and cultivation logs, with the bonus of being able to discuss the results, techniques etc. with other members, and then those logs could be iteratively added to the gitbook. I think that could be really cool, both in terms of ending up with a rad set of published experiments and offering support / collaborative-opportunity along the way.

I like this framing. I’ve already felt with the post I made about our isolation experiment, that this forum can be a nice first step towards getting documentation out there and getting feedback, and then I could imagine at a later date from the forum selectively choosing experiments to publish in a nicer way in the gitbook.

I would be interested in this too… maybe some type of forum-like client on top of SSB that is more geared towards search and categorizing than current ssb clients… I wonder if it would make sense for it to be in its own ssb-net… but, yes, getting ahead of myself… leaving open possibility to transition later

tag-groups sounds like a possibility for curating collections. this curated collections thing also isn’t probably super relevant in short-term while theres not that many people here. the experiments we choose to re-publish in the gitbook could also serve as a form of curation.