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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Libreplanet using Discourse for mailing lists

From: J.B. Nicholson
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Libreplanet using Discourse for mailing lists and web-based forums?
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2017 01:20:26 -0500
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:45.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/45.8.0

Please respect the format of replies being used on this list. Your quoting style (including top-posting) is not in keeping with how email or mailing list replies elsewhere on this list are done.

Connor Doherty wrote:
No doubt it's hard to manually inspect, again. And that may be the
reality, for now, for today's internet sites that do anything more than
display static info. That said, in this case we don't have those
problems - Discourse is a piece of software you can go and inspect right
now, and it'll be the same code running on any other instance you find
(including the JS) unless they tweaked it a bit (but the FSF's instance
would publish that too).

There are two problems with that bold claim: software freedom means you can't predict what any instance of Discourse uploads to the client, and users can't be sure the sites they get software from aren't uploading malware to them.

While there are certainly many bulky, poorly-optimized sites out there
that slow down old hardware, this is not the case with Discourse. It's
snappy, and the JavaScript features are what really make it a joy to

Some of the Discourse features strike me as undesirable: an editor that looks up websites as one puts in the URL, the "Narrative Welcome Bot" chatbot, user themes, badges, and more (see ). I wouldn't choose to have any of that stuff. This also makes me think that Discourse hackers don't share my values in judiciously using JS.

I wrote:
"I see "Powered by Discourse, best viewed with JavaScript enabled" on even though there's nothing about
logging into anything that genuinely requires JS to do that job."

Connor Doherty replied:
Thanks for pointing that out, I didn't realize Discourse works with JS
disabled. Cool! (Not that it matters if you're only interacting via

You've misread what I wrote. I didn't say Discourse worked without JS. The Discourse instance did not offer to let me login because I'm not running the site's JS. This is another example of the needless use of JS I referred to earlier.

Actually, the Trisquel forum, where I also spend a bit of time, is
exactly the kind of forum I had in mind when describing the traditional,
clunky forum software that's been around for over a decade.

What you disparage as "clunky" sounds like time-honored and working to me. Perhaps it's not doing everything the web side can (even for features a mailing list could implement) but I appreciate the effort. Their implementation preserves threads too.

I'm not really looking for a "works well enough" solution so much as a
completely improved experience all around, which hopefully Trisquel can
adopt as well.

As Mike Gerwitz said earlier in this thread, "Many of us don't want to see it reimagined. That's the opposite of what many want.". I concur with him. I'll need good reasons to justify such 'reimagining' and so far I'm seeing unbacked claims of forgoing supporters and risky software execution toward ends I don't want or need.

And yes, this isn't either/or, my point was exactly that we keep both
sides of it.

If Discourse is to be the choice (which, as far as I can tell from reading this thread, is not a foregone conclusion) I believe Discourse will require some work to become a viable replacement for the current mailing list hosting. I see multiple problems that I believe ought to be addressed before further consideration. Here's some of the problems I've identified:

The Discourse instance at (which I'm guessing is typical since it's being pointed to on Discourse's main website as a reason to adopt Discourse) has the same multiple source JS problem I referred to earlier in this thread -- pages on this site try to load over half a dozen JS files hosted on another site ( This increases the user's risk because if either site serves up malware in these files the user's browser will blindly download it and run it. This should strike proponents as a problem too: if any of the hosts is inaccessible the JS-based functionality that script provides isn't there.

Posts on web forums sometimes include pointers to other materials to be rendered inline (images, sounds, movies, 3D objects, executables, etc.). The user's browser will blindly download these files and do something with them (execute the code, run the Flash object, etc.). This is a vulnerability unique to using a web browser to read posts or using a poorly-written email program that mishandles untrusted input. And the material can be hosted anywhere (another instance of the above). Forum posts should not include inline references to any kind of data. I'd expect Discourse to help with this by restricting what posts are allowed to contain inline.

The aforementioned Discourse code pointed to by the site is license-unknown minified JS which is effectively non-free object code because minified code requires considerable effort to turn it back into the source code a programmer would edit (and even then has no comments). Code licenses should be labeled and complete corresponding source code should be available and pointed to.

Some Discourse features mean nothing in a mailing list and it's not clear to me what is really going on therefore I can't say I understand what tradeoff is being made:
- splitting/merging threads
- what's been referred to on Discourse forums as "collaborative editing" of something; I take it multiple people are editing something, but what are they editing?

In xiasummer wrote "I believe the mail should be from the sender, not from or other public mail box.". In Discourse do all mailing list posts appear to come from some user

Rob Nicholson (no relation) said on the same page "For me the /biggest/ plus of a forum is that I can edit my reply after posting. I'm crap at proof-reading before hand so often spot a typo.". Are users allowed to edit their posts even after a followup post?

I do this too, and every time I subscribe to a new mailing list I have
to modify the filters so I can save my inbox. I see this as a hack, not
really a solution, but I understand again that older folks are used to
what they're used to.

I'm sure users young and old are capable of examining the situation on its merits.

I'm interested in the implication you're giving off her. Are you saying
you have to really work to learn any new interface you come across, even
a website? That most sites aren't quickly intuitive or otherwise trivial
to "learn"? If you feel this way, it would explain the aversion to "new"
interfaces. It'd be interesting to study the demographics of this

I'm not implying anything, I'm outright stating that every website carries a different set of features and requirements to do roughly the same thing: discuss things with others. Some sites even carry browser-specific code to implement their functionality (for example, I'm told there is a task management website for tracking tasks that only works fully in Google's Chrome browser; this belies the entire point of the web).

It's even easier to sign up for an account on a forum, but see above.

Signing up for a mailing list on Mailman requires supplying an email address and clicking a link to confirm (or pressing reply on a confirmation email). Ease of signing up was never an issue before and I wouldn't expect it to become any more complex in the future. Besides, I'm already on this mailing list now and using it effectively; there's no need for me to sign up for any forum to keep doing what I've been doing.

You can't turn it off - to reply to a particular post, you hit reply.
Can't say as to whether the gear-heads care for proper threading though.

My guess is that more technical users will expect a threaded message display because they either already use a client that does this or they come to understand the value in identifying the natural tree of followups and using that tree to handle what to do with the posts.

What I meant is that you can use email to communicate through the forum.
Or, you can use the web interface. It sounds like you want to use a web
interface (at least a little bit) anyway [...]

No, I'll download a file from a web server if I'm given a URL to the mbox archive for a Discourse group (which I take to be the equivalent of a mailing list).

I'd love to know what magical Mail client you must be using if it's
libre software for GNU/Linux that somehow manages to be nicer than
Discourse, however.

GNU Emacs is also my regular program for a lot of activity (like Mike Gerwitz explained). It's not magical it's very capable. I'm experimenting with some other mail programs including Evolution and Thunderbird which also offer the ability to run user-written add-ons to better integrate them into my daily work.

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