I has been discussed twice that the current forum support system is not ideal for providing support. It constitutes the largest part of this wiki yet we sometimes get duplicated questions and it seems the forum may be a barrier to entry for people.

A few alternatives have been proposed, from a mailing list to using a StackExchange site. This post is to discuss the possible alternatives. The requirement is that the system may be available offline and on low-bandwidth connections yet enable conversations better than a simple web forum or mailing list; which may end up being the only solution considering the first requirements, but let's give it a try. :)

Stack exchange

i looked up how this works in stackexchange, and it turns out they provide regular dumps of the data hosted. unfortunately, it's a gigantic zip file and not really designed for low-bandwidth use. There's also a data explorer that was promising, until i realized that the query engine takes up 154KB, three times the space of the regular search engine (~54KB, which I guess is way too much for dialup).

Also: there is a mobile version of all the stackexchange sites, which take up around 3KB, but still only works online. There's an app for mobile devices as well, but it doesn't support offline access either - so another dead-end.

Stackexchange runs a garbled mess of IIS, MSSQL, ASP, Redis and Elasticsearch so there is probably little hope in integrating into something like git. I have asked for the proverbial pony in this stackexchange question (yes, it's all very meta), describing the use case, but i am not holding my breath for a change.


Besides, SE sites are based on proprietary software, and i am not sure we'd want to advocate that here. There are free software alternatives, of which i made an evaluation about 2 years ago after which we tried Askbot at Koumbit. it never took off: staff didn't seem interested in it so much and we never made people aware of it too much. plus, it didn't integrate with existing authentication mechanisms (which are a little bit of a mess for us)...

But it does seem like an interesting alternative, and has primitive email integration where you can ask questions by email, but not answer (!). I haven't looked at such support in other software, but i suspect it is similarly not a priority as they struggle to monetize their free software...

Most of those free software alternatives of Stackexchange are written in Python/Django or Ruby/Rails (iirc) with SQL backends, which would probably make git integration... also "challenging".


From that point of view, maybe discourse could be an interesting alternative. It has built-in email support, as it is designed as an alternative to mailing lists. With a simple setting, you can collaborate directly by email. What is interesting, compared to the mailing list model, is that posts can be collaboratively edited to (for example) arrive at a collective wisdom by refining an answer (or a question). There are also interesting community moderation and reputation systems.

There seems to be some offline tool for Discourse, but it's unclear to me how it works, as it seems to be a separate (nodejs!) application that connects with a discourse plugin. There's a discussion about offline suport in discourse in the meta site...

Discourse uses Ruby/Rails and PostgreSQL, and somewhat is only officially supported in Docker...

The discourse people do warn against switching existing communities to Discourse because of the resulting friction, so it is also in that spirit that I open discussion about this here, that is, in the hope the change can be acknowledged, supported and discussed by everyone here, in a spirit of consensus building. :)

Mailing lists

Of course, the forum could simply be moved to a mailing list. The would have the advantage of reducing the barrier of entry to the site, reduce the load on the wiki, at the cost of adding the additionnal "how do i subscribe to a mailing list" barrier of entry, which, oddly enough, exists for a lot of mailing lists...

Like it or not, web forums do enable a lot of less technical users to participate because they only need their web browser, and crossing that boundary can be hard for some people. Mailing lists also do not necessarily favor collaboration as much as the other systems, because they are articulated more towards discussion, as opposed to establishing common knowledge.

A good option may be Mailman 3 which, with the new web interface, allows forum-like functionalities. Mailman 2 also used to have a usenet interface, not sure what became of that in Mailman 3.

Web forums

There's a plethora of "php-bb-like" software out there, i am just ignoring them for now, as I am not very familiar with them and they have never been too attractive for me, but people are of course free to edit this page to add suggestions! :)