We are in the process of upgrading our forum software to an open source off-the-shelf solution called Discourse. Let me tell you a little about it.
As we have discussed in previous blogs CC is undergoing a radical transformation under the hood. Already the blogs, knowledge base and outside pages such as signup and login have been moved over to a new stack while the rest of the site is on the old software.
Our forums are next on the list of renovations having remained essentially unchanged since 2003 (yes, that is not a typo!). However, building forum software from scratch is a massive undertaking and since our forums aren't really that special in the feature set we must have we've been looking at integrating existing solutions rather than build our own. Our old forum software is around 8000 lines of code and represents roughly 10% of the code base. Being able to get rid of all that tech debt at once is a great boon.
The Discourse open source software is extremely good and fits very well with the rest of the software stack. This is a well established solution that is in heavy use throughout the world. For example, the Nanowrimo forums run on Discourse.
The way things are laid out in Discourse and some functionality is quite different from our old forums and it might not be immediately obvious how some things work. Take a look at the following video to familiarize yourself with Discourse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cHPjwMaqws
This will take a little bit of getting used to (at least it did for me) but once you are familiar with the way Discourse does things I think you'll find that it's much more natural than our old system. To navigate to the main CC site from the new forums site you can use any of the dropdown menus to go straight to the correct section or the 'home' icon to go to the front page. On the main CC site we have added a new icon in the notification tray which shows you updates from the new forums. In the next few days the old forum notification button will go away. In the Forums dropdown you now have a new "New Forums" link.
Already the comment section of blogs has been moved over to the new server and soon we will move the rest of the content (at least the last few months' worth). Once the forum threads are moved over the old forums will be placed in read-only mode for a while and then discontinued completely at some point.
We have our new forums currently running at forums.critiquecircle.com and you can take a look and see what you think. Feel free to use the comments on this blog to discuss the move and point out issues.
Since these forums will be operated as a separate website we will not be able to integrate it as fully with our existing site as the old forums. For example, when you open up the new forums page you will notice that the page header is different from the normal site and you don't have direct access to your user information from CC but rather there is another profile on the forums site for each user. The search feature on the forums site will only search content on the forums but not things like knowledge base and stories. There are other things of this nature that we need to be mindful of and this is a consequence of the forums being a separate off-the-shelf package that we cannot easily customize for our purposes.
Despite some shortcomings and the fact that the forums will not be as tightly integrated I belive this is definitely the right choice moving forward. For one thing it saves me literally months of work of building new forums from scratch and for another, there is a whole team of dedicated open source developers constantly making improvements to the software which will directly benefit us.
The first iteration of the forums is pretty basic with very light integrations from the CC side but in the coming weeks I will build some more such as better forum notifications on the main CC site, replacing hot discussions on the front page with the new forums (or removing it), integrating badges such as premium member and star critter and whatever else we can think of.
Later on we're thinking whether it would make sense to replace our internal messaging system with the private message feature in discourse change our news feed to use discourse threads. We'll see how it goes.
That's it for now. Let me know in the comments section what you think.
Here are some of the blogs that our members have been contributing recently.