A trial of Discourse for Plain Text Accounting discussions

@simonmic is experimenting with alternative discussion tech for the PTA community.
This is a 14 day trial of a hosted public Discourse server with no commitment.

Why not…

Reddit ?

I have spent much time contributing answers on Reddit but it is increasingly unattractive to me as a place to build community content. Their UIs are bad, getting data out is difficult, and now they are licensing our community-built content to AI companies for large sums of money without significantly sharing it with the creators. This is a change in the social contract and a large power imbalance.
[Related: Don't Contribute Anything Relevant in Web Forums Like Reddit]

Lemmy ?

Lemmy is like Reddit but decentralised and run on a non-profit basis by many collaborators. This is great, and a much better fit, but it has problems of its own: it doesn’t work with my main browser Safari, the RSS feed is difficult to announce in chat, it is technically complex and immature, and it is not sufficiently different from Reddit to motivate reddit users to move there. I’m grateful it exists but at present I find it underwhelming for our needs.

A mail list or newsgroup plus website ?

These aren’t smooth enough for modern folk and for attracting a wider community.

A matrix chat space plus website ?

Too impermanent and not yet easy enough for everyone.

Zulip ?

I think it is more of a techie’s chat app for intensive discussions, and not as welcoming as we need.

Discourse ?

I’m a few hours in to the free trial and it has been very interesting.
It is state of the art forum software, mature, widely used and highly customisable.
A sysadmin can run their own discourse server on a VPS, but there are still costs: monthly hosting, mail-relaying, sysadmin time, liability and stress.
A public discourse server hosted by Discourse costs $100/mo. This is money but I think a community could find a way to fund it, and it means the business model and incentives are more in our interest than with “free” social sites like Reddit. It is also in some ways better for longevity (hand off to new admins is easier).
It is centralised unlike Lemmy, but the UX and integrations and dependability are far better.
It is so good that it would likely boost the PTA community’s growth.

I won’t invite logins/replies here at this stage; let’s discuss in the usual places, reddit/lemmy/matrix/irc. What are your thoughts ?


Discussed elsewhere: Reddit | Lemmy


Early reactions have been positive, so I think we should give it a go - that’s the best way to find out. Signup is now fully open, and all are invited to join and kick the tyres with me.

Based on chat feedback I changed the host name from “discourse” to “discuss”.

I have been turning off some of the standard Discourse hand-holding and gamification that we don’t really need, to make the place feel more calm and comfortable.

I hope to add a few more admins and moderators in due course.

Welcome to the PTA discourse-in-test !


Personally, I very much like Discourse and think this would be a superior solution for most users. Thanks for setting it up.


This is certainly a better UI. It is concerning how bad reddit has become.
However is it really worth $100 a month? That seems like alot for what you get.

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Indeed price seems a bit steep.

Wearing my unpaid FOSS contributor hat, I agree with you. Wearing my unpaid overworked part-time sysadmin and forum operator hat, it seems worth every penny for the time saved, support and peace of mind.

A good thing is, it seems to be easy to export the DB backup to migrate a discourse site to a new server any time. (Except for uploaded files/images; not sure how those should be handled.)

However, one thing looks ominous:

Page views: 2.2k of 100k

They don’t cut you off if you exceed the monthly page views quota, but if it happens repeatedly something would have to change. The next tier up is $300/mo.

related: Which Discourse hosting tier should I choose? - hosting - Discourse Meta

PS There have been offers of sysadmin/hosting help in #plaintextaccounting matrix chat already. So I think that is a fallback option. My experience in other FOSS projects is that volunteer/low-cost hosting/sysadmin can be a false economy, sometimes very much so, but it is good to know there are options. I feel we need to find a way to make the PTA discourse happen and give it a good run, at least while Discourse remains good.

[To be clear: we no doubt have some extremely good and dependable sysadmins in our community! I’m speaking generally; in online communities it can be hard to be sure who that is, how available they’ll be in future, how to manage access and transitions, etc.]

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In other news, I’m thinking of changing the naming again, from discuss.plaintextaccounting.org to forum.plaintextaccounting.org. :white_check_mark:
Since “forum” is a place, and “discussion” is not; it’s shorter and catchier (“go to the PTA forum”); it has a little retro vibe and/but we can make it cool.

A forum (Latin: forum , “public place outdoors”) was a public square in a Roman municipium, or any civitas, reserved primarily for the vending of goods; …
In addition to its standard function as a marketplace, a forum was a gathering place of great social significance, and often the scene of diverse activities, including political discussions and debates, rendezvous, meetings, et cetera.

A public forum also called an open forum , is open to all expression that is protected under the First Amendment. … Traditional public forums cannot be changed to nonpublic forums by governments.

An Internet forum , or message board , is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporarily archived.

Some good news on hosting options:

  • I asked Discourse if they might be able to help us out. They said

    It’s important to note that page views are always significantly higher during the first month while you’re setting up and they usually settle down.

    and mentioned their free FOSS plans, https://free.discourse.group plans . (Which won’t work for us I think, because we need a custom domain.)

  • Communiteq is another hosting provider who sounds pretty good, perhaps fewer plugins available but much nicer prices: Discourse Hosting Plans and Pricing - Communiteq

I first suggested a new name (domain) for here on Matrix, and although discuss.- is better, I still think forum.- is the best. The domain should be named just like you would name a room, building, etc., as the name suggests. Plus, as I said, forum.- gives us more of an official website vibe, whatever that means.

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If you’re open to other platform than discourse, perhaps Flarum with freeflarum can be a choice. Kagi Feedback uses Flarum(pretty sure they self-host) and it personally looks and feels little more user-friendly than discourse.

Freeflarum has fair use limit which is pretty tight though

FreeFlarum isn’t recommended for big forums. FreeFlarum’s main goal is to help you start from zero. Specifically, this means that FreeFlarum does not currently support more than 50 active visitors at the same time. This limit is not enforced…You will be notified via E-mail if your forum reaches more than 1 000 (offline) users, 5 000 discussions or 10 000 posts, which FreeFlarum considers to be “very active”.

More good hosting info in this thread.

I feel that free Open Source plan it is a good approach to begin with. In fact, I think the only thing we loss is the domain that would change from “forum.plaintextaccounting.org” to “plaintextaccounting.discourse.group”. This is not a great problem, we use the domain of Reddit for the reddit subreddit, the google domain for mailing lists…

Moreover, if we excess the 50K page views or 5GB storage, according to the faq they ’ll help you move to self-hosting, either on your own server or any Docker compatible cloud (a $20/month Digital Ocean droplet should suffice). Alternatively, you could upgrade to our Standard hosting plan at 50% off. . So no expense until the discourse is really successful and then we can choose between discourse hosting (50 $/month instead of 100$/month) or VPS (about 20 $/month).

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Welcome @zako. Good point, I had missed the offer of half-price Standard plan, it does sound like that would be available, and a good option. I do want to keep our official domain.

We’ll see how it all pans out. The data we are building up here is being backed up twice a day and will be preserved, whatever happens.

I think CloudFlare would be very helpful in minimizing the page views. My guess is that most views could be served from their (free-tier) cache, meaning Discourse-the-host hardly sees any traffic. I found it very reasonably easy to set up on a new instance last year.

The biggest pain point for anything like this is media: images, videos, etc. It probably won’t be an issue anytime soon, but for future reference, these can be hosted by Backblaze and served for free via CF. That requires careful configuration and, as with any host offering non-trivial storage, it means paying.

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It’s a good thought and I was wondering about it as well. I am using cloudflare, currently with proxying turned off since I thought it might break some things and Discourse already provides a CDN. Worth a try if/when needed.

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To ask a different question, what are your audience aims? Are you attempting to attract developers of various projects (beancount, ledger, guis/importers, etc.) to a central forum so it’s easier to bump into similar ideas? Are you trying to attract non-technical folks to PTA? Bits of both? Is some other resource being deprecated or being moved to this one?

As someone who goes through waves of being technical and has juggled mailing lists for various projects in the space, this forum does seem like a nicer step, though from experiences in hosting/contributing to various online forums the organization and easy pointing to resources will matter.

The one thing I might suggest is making the email default settings coming out of Discourse more ‘curated’ or low-volume unless someone opts-in.

Welcome @vivekgani, thanks for your input. Re your questions,

  • PTA app devs tend to be pretty busy and already have their project’s established comms channel. (I know, I invited two of them who are supportive but already have enough to do.) So that would be awesome but isn’t top of mind.

  • Yes I’ve always been interested in making PTA approachable and useful for more kinds of folks, and I think this forum will be helpful for that.

  • Yes that’s the simplest and most immediate goal, mentioned in a number of places: move the center of community discussion and our collective knowledge base (going forward) out of Reddit. There’s no community decision to leave Reddit, and with 5000 readers there, it will continue to be used for at least a while. (I’m hoping to mirror new posts here.)

So, for me the bar for success is pretty low:

  1. Be a better place for me to post support content where people can find it
  2. Be a more future-proof replacement for reddit for people who want that

Beyond this there’s a ton more that could happen here. It’s rather interesting!

I turned down a lot of the Discourse default chattiness, to be less jarring for the current mostly technical user base, but which emails did you find still bothersome ?

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