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On choosing a platform for an Open Source Community
May 24, 2024
3 minutes read


This blog is on my views around choosing a platform for an Open Source project’s community.

Spoiler alert: I like forums that can be indexed by search engines, can be read without logging in and doesn’t need additional software.

We moved our Mantis project community from Discord to Github discussions

Of late I have noticed a trend among lot of Open Source projects where they use collaboration or communication platforms like Slack/Discord for managing their communities. There are also projects using messaging platforms like Telegram. Examples include:

I’m one of the maintainers for a small Open Source project called Mantis. We started off using Discord for community management. However, I personally observed few pitfalls in using these platforms for community management instead of using “open” forums. We eventually decided to use “Github Discussions” forums instead of Discord as our primary point of community interactions. I’ll discuss a few points that led us to this decision:

Killing the “Wisdom of the Ancients”

Have you ever had to work on some niche technology or ran into some obscure error that you couldn’t solve yourself? In your despair, you had to turn to Stack Overflow or support forums for a solution. You most probably found your answers lying in some ancient forum thread. The “Wisdom of the Ancients” has come to your rescue!

A lot of technical troubleshooting relies on leveraging the “Wisdom of the Ancients”. Personally, I would have given up on using Linux as my primary OS in earlier days if it were not for the Wisdom of the Ancients on the support forums.

Most of the collaboration/messaging platforms are behind login and are not indexable by search engines. This means, your community needs to be on the platform and are at the mercy of the platform’s search. I personally noticed that we were solving the same issue multiple times because of the inefficiencies of the search and interface on these platforms.

I like forums that are open for reading by anyone on the Internet and are indexable by search engines or archival services like WayBack machine.

Walled garden vs Bazaar

Most of the new-age collaboration platforms act like walled-gardens. They are behind a login, running on platform provider’s infrastructure and they recommend using their new flashy desktop client.

This creates a significant barrier for hobbyist users that just want test the waters and get involved with your project.

I prefer forums that can be read by anyone with a working Internet connection and a browser.

The “chatting” mindset

This point is highly-opinionated. Most collaboration/messaging tools fixate the users into a mindset of “chatting”/“talking”. This sorta sets an unrealistic expectation on the project maintainers to respond quick and often.

The “chatting” mindset can be great to get conversations/discussions to kick-start but I noticed that these “chatting” quickly evolves into a banter that doesn’t add value and in turn drowns any meaningful conversations. This can also turn into a nightmare for moderation.

Although this maybe seem insignificant, this mindset can affect the project’s community in a long term.

Final thoughts

So, what would work for your Open Source project? Like with all the engineering problems, the answer is, “it depends”. I’ll conclude this blog with the closing points from a better blog post on this topic:

As alluded to initially, you can of course use both tools at different times in your community’s evolution. I think the longer you build, the more you’ll move to a forum or other public knowledge sharing solution.

Well, what do you want to emphasise? Long term aggregation of knowledge and a culture of completeness, or community and a culture of immediacy.

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