Let’s face it: Internet forums have not improved much since the heyday of USENET in the early 1990s. And when web-based forums came along, things got worse, not better: say goodbye to threaded discussions, killfiles, crossposting, UUencoded binary attachments and many other features wonderful that had worked their way into the newsgroup-based technology over the years; but say hello to pages and pages of unstructured messages, clunky interfaces and endless, unreadable, unwrapped lines of text.
And all because, you know, the web.
Now Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror fame), Robin Ward, Sam Saffron, Neil Lalonde and RÃ©gis Hanol have decided to change all that. Meet Discourse, a framework that brings forums into the 21st century. About time.
With an interface slightly reminiscent of the defunct Google Wave (now Apache Wave), Discourse has the lofty goal of bringing civilised discussion to the Internet.
The list of features is impressive and includes live updates as you read, threads, never-ending scrolling, community moderation capabilities, heuristic spam blocking, and special layouts for mobile devices, amongst many others.
Although you can host your forum at the Discourse website (many options, plans and prices are available, including having the team install the software for you on a server in the cloud), you can also set up your own forum for free, on your own server: Discourse is distributed under the free GPL license after all, and uses exclusively free software on the back end. Download the software from GitHub and follow the very comprehensive instructions to start hosting your own site from Ubuntu.
Head image: The Forum Romanum by DannyBoy7783 for Wikipedia.