Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Q&A network Stack Exchange, announced today via blog post that he’s launching a new startup called Discourse, which offers an open source platform for running discussion forums.
The full name of the company is actually Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., and its goal is indeed to improve the quality of online discussion. However, Atwood writes that he’s following a very different strategy from Stack Exchange, which aims for “the absolute minimum amount of discussion necessary to produce great questions and great answers”:
Almost every design decision we made was informed by our desire to push discussion down, to inhibit it in every way we could. Spare us the long-winded diatribe, just answer the damn question already.
After spending four solid years thinking of discussion as the established corrupt empire, and Stack Exchange as the scrappy rebel alliance, I began to wonder – what would it feel like to change sides? What if I became a champion of random, arbitrary discussion, of the very kind that I’d spent four years designing against and constantly lecturing users on the evil of?
I already built an X-Wing; could I build a better Tie Fighter?
In other words, while Stack Exchange tries to help users find the best answer to a given question, Discourse tries to support a broader discussion without falling victim to the trolling and spam that afflict many other forums and comment threads.
Apparently, Atwood and his team have been working on this for the past year. The system is designed for “hi-resolution tablets and advanced web browsers,” and of course it includes moderation tools. Other features highlighted on the Discourse website include just-in-time loading, notifications whenever someone mentions you, the ability to remember where you were reading in a thread, automatically expanding links, and more.
Citing the popular open source blogging platform used by sites like TechCrunch, Atwood said that it’s “not a stretch” to say that he wants to create “WordPress for forums.” He also announced that he has raised funding from First Round Capital, Greylock Partners, and SV Angel. (Atwood told me that he’s not disclosing the funding size.)
Discourse offers its software for free, with plans to charge for hosting and other enterprise services later on.