Making the forum more welcoming for users

Here is a thread to discuss how we could make the forum more welcoming for users. It is a follow up to @Sandra 's remark:

One thing I have been worried about for some time is that on the landing page of the forum, the posts displayed on the right-hand side are the most recent posts from all categories. This means a big mixture of support requests, development coordination, community announcements and so on. Before we moved to the forum, user support and development were happening on separate mailing lists, so users would be able to only see support requests and not be exposed to project coordination. Perhaps that's something that we could try to bring back somehow.

Discourse is quite configurable so I suspect we should be able to change the landing page for that.
Perhaps the user-facing categories could be displayed first? Maybe the "Latest" bar on the right-hand side could be removed entirely?

We could also consider using a different platform for internal project coordination (going back to a mailing list?), or a different platform for user support.

@Martin I think I remember you being aware of other Discourse instances which did this better, would you be interested in looking into some of those options?

I have to say, if we just look at the "Support" category, it feels like a pretty healthy place where users are able to get high-quality support from a small but committed team. So I think it's worth making sure users trust themselves to post there. Big thanks to everyone who is helping out there!

We could also consider using a different platform for internal project coordination (going back to a mailing list?), or a different platform for user support.

I would support re-enabling the openrefine-dev mailing list. It had 217 members and only a tiny fraction of those have migrated to this forum where we have 357 users combined (the users mailing list had another 1835 members when it was shut down).


1 Like

Through my conversations with over 15 users during the summer, I received mostly positive feedback regarding the forum and community support. They mentioned that the community was responsive and that there was a helpful and positive atmosphere.

Regarding the platform we use for communication, users found GitHub to be more intimidating and tended to avoid posting bug reports or feature requests if they were not already familiar with the tool.

As for Discourse, the main feedback was that most users were not involved frequently enough with OpenRefine to visit Discourse on a regular basis. Previously, users relied on email notifications (most of which were set up to receive notifications for every message). Unfortunately, some users stopped using the forum because of the default Discourse set up with Activity Summary notification, which sent a lot of irrelevant emails to users, causing them to ignore the emails altogether.

For Discourse to really act as a mailing list, we need to:

  • Force the mailing list by default for all users (see documentation) to deactivate the summary mode. Users can enable the Activity Mode later if they are willing to. If there is consensus @ostephens, @antonin_d, @Ainali, or myself can make this change.
  • Further limitting the number of categories to a handful so it is easy for members to mute categories and not receive emails they are not interested in. We already discussed this topic here Adding a Design category - #10 by Martin

Alternatively, we can indicate in a welcome message or banner on the homepage how users can turn on Discourse's mailing list mode, as described here Using email with this forum

After using Discourse for one year, I strongly believe that we should keep using this platform. There are several benefits to using Discourse that I appreciate, including:

  • The ability to react to messages with emoticons, which allows for feedback without the need for additional messages
  • User profiles that help create a sense of community and provide information about other members
  • A cleaner user interface and improved user experience compared to email
  • Improved formatting options for messages
  • A better search experience that makes it easier to find older conversations.

One thing I've noticed is that new members read as "intending contributors" come in and we lose them almost immediately because the forum is not very welcoming for people without background knowledge of OpenRefine and there's a lot of technical stuff going on around here and asides introduction, there's no where else to join a conversation or even prompts to asl questions or get them to go read the documentations or watch tutorials.

I'm definitely speaking from a designers perspective as a few joined in the past month and haven't been able to get started because it's sort of like the forum "ignores" new comers.

I do think that a thread/post that welcomed new comers, details how they can get started, emcourage them to ask questions, point them to documentation and issues and sorts will be very helpful and lighten the atmosphere for prospective contributors.

1 Like

I do not know if it's possible but somehow, I think there's some need for say "a community manager" in this case.


@Lydiaofficial is it within scope of your tasks with @lozanaross to help review the onboarding process here as well? Perhaps both of you could note what specific areas with screenshots might be improved?

Onboarding improvements

  1. Visit with a private tab browser window and note how things look like or SHOULD look like. My looking at the state of things now, it is a bit overwhelming and the reason we put the banner Welcome with bullet points to help navigate. Maybe this whole initial landing page could be improved or complete customized to be less verbose initally?

  2. What does the Sign Up experience look like. Could it be improved? How? Create test accounts and login as that first time user and see how the create user experience is like or could be improved.

    • I see a definite difference between clicking on the "Ask a question or start a discussion relating to using OpenRefine" which if not logged in as shown below, does not let you ask anything without creating an account first. We might want to note that to users right on the landing page rather than telling them "Welcome back" when they are here for the very first time? Confusing
    • and the regular "Sign Up" button in top right corner.
  3. In other words, First Time users really cannot do anything except View and Search, but cannot Post without first Signing Up. Which leads to a default landing page for lurking and viewing and poking around the categories and searching to find your answers... but when you need to POST a question, or even just introduce yourself and haven't created an account yet it might be intimidating and confusing. Guest Accounts are frowned upon because of anonymous spam, which we already said we would avoid. What else could we do here? @tfmorris This seems to be the real reason we have lower numbers of forum members... they DO NOT NEED to signup to find answers, which is similar to Google Groups, but similar and different than a mailing list where subscribers can post. We don't want to require signup (that hurts our SEO for the forum, correct @ostephens?)

Defaults and Preferences

  1. Maybe User Groups also needs to be enabled also and regular users would have different preferences? Or other options might open up if we enabled more User Groups? @ostephens?

  2. Maybe Latest is the view that should be the default experience for initial logged in users, instead of Categories view? That would make it more "like" a mailing list view default if there is consensus on that default view? The New Post button is gone in the top right of Latest view if you are not logged in. This should ALWAYS be there "To post, please login"

  3. ???


Leaving it to our forum moderators to explore and see what improvement options we have. But first is to be very specific and get consensus and detail the actual current problems we see with the forum such as some of the above, and others, and then see what can be done to help.

@Martin I see this forum onboarding improvement task for you as the new Project Manager since this definitely affects the experience for our outreach, partner orgs looking around, and interns as within one of your blogged roles:

He will also coordinate various outreach activities, liaising with partner organizations, including internship programs,

  1. and maybe at some future time, we might also entertain adding sufficiently capable, trustworthy and willing forum admins to our existing pool.

@thadguidry Thank you for breaking down the discourse onboarding process. I will review it in more detail later.

Just to clarify, @lydiaofficial completed her internship with @lozanaross in late August. They helped lay a solid foundation for the onboarding process, but there is still much room for improvement.

I would suggest reverting last year's shutdown of the mailing lists and chat.

While I like the forum(for a subset of conversations) I think its format only compliments the past ones and that many users/developers will never be comfortable here.

I am not sure about having both mailing lists and a forum, unless there is a clear separation of scopes between the two platforms, otherwise it would quickly become a big mess, no?

Because we are basically using the default configuration from Discourse, I have made a quick survey of how other projects use Discourse, to understand if some tweaks to our existing forum could potentially solve the issues we currently have.


I have surveyed the following Discourse forums:

  • KNIME's Community Forum, which feels comparable in the sense that KNIME can be seen as an alternative to OpenRefine (although the user community and use cases are still pretty different I think). It's also an open source project, but driven by a company (so I guess that the development process and project management is not expeced to be public at all).
  • Figma's Community Forum. Figma is not comparable to OpenRefine and is not open source, but I think it's interesting because its user community is less programming-savvy that KNIME's, so it's useful to take inspiration from as well
  • NextCloud's community forum. NextCloud is a widely used data hosting platform, also appealing to a broad, non-technical user base. It is open source and a company is steering its development.
  • EVE Online's forum. EVE Online seems to be a video game (series?)
  • MetaMask's forum, about a cryptocurrency-related product

I tried to sign up to all those forums and get a sense of what the experience is. Here is a summary focused on various aspects of the onboarding process.

Forum scope

Are Discourse forums purely user-facing, or can some more technical/internal discussions also take place there without scaring users away?

  • Knime: the forum contains discussion both for end users and for developers. The categories are grouped into two families, "Software" and "Community". The most active categories are advertised in the left-hand side of the page. This seems like a reasonable way to point users to the best resources for them, while making it possible to also host more technical discussions on the same platform.
  • Figma: the forum does contain some more technical categories (such as the ones about using Figma's API), but they are definitely still user-facing and not about internal coordination of course, given that Figma is a proprietary product.
  • NextCloud: there are "Development" and "Installation" categories alongside other ones focused on the end-users, such as "Support", "Non-english support" and "Features & apps".
  • Eve Online: all the categories seem to be user-facing (I assume development is happening privately and I am not sure if third-party developers are able to do anything with the product, such as a "mod")
  • MetaMask: there is a "Developer Discussion" category, which seems to complement activity on GitHub, similarly to what we have been doing so far

Landing page

How can the landing pages advertise the right content/categories to newcomers?

  • Knime: the landing page prominently features pointers to various important resources (likely statically pinned somehow) and shows two columns further down, with the latest topics in all categories and the announcements. The left-hand side menu features a selection of categories, which is also useful to hide more internal/technical content.
  • Figma: the landing page shows the latest topics, likely in all categories. Because the most active categories are for end users, this means that basically only end user content is visible there
  • NextCloud: their landing page use the same layout as ours, likely Discourse's default one, resulting in the same sort of mix of topics
  • Eve Online: theirs uses a different layout, which I find promising because the latest topics are shown category per category (with only the latest three topics shown). This means that by making sure that user-facing categories are shown first, the first
    screen worth of content is only user-facing.
  • MetaMask: no recent topics are shown at all on their landing page, which is also a good way to keep the information displayed under control, I guess. The user-facing categories are shown first.

Email notifications

How can we make it easier for forum users to subscribe to the content they care about?

  • Knime: I was not able to sign up because their registration page seems broken to me, because I am apparently supposed to solve a non-existent Captcha (both with Firefox and Chromium)
  • Figma: they seem to be using a SSO at When registring to that SSO, I am given the option to sign up for the mailing list by ticking a checkbox. It seems like a pretty great UX to me, but it's unclear if we'd be able to do the same with vanilla Discourse though.
  • NextCloud: when signing up the experience looks pretty much identical to the one we currently have. The mailing list mode is not enabled by default. But there is one notable difference: as a new user, I am automatically subscribed to the "Release" category. This means that out of the box, I will get an email for each new release of NextCloud.
  • Eve online: I tried to sign up but accessing the forum apparently requires having a "character" in the game, and I think downloading the game for the purpose of creating a character to test the forum could be endangering my productivity, so I hope you understand that I stopped the experiment there
  • MetaMask: they seem to be using the default settings, with the weekly summary of activity. I could not find any category that I am automatically subscribed to.


I think it'd be worth trying out some of those alternate settings before we give up on Discourse. I am interested in the following measures:

  • Adopting Knime's, Eve Online's or Metamask's landing page format
  • Adding some "default navigation categories" like most other Discourse forums use, to promote important categories and hide more internal ones
  • Adopting NextCloud's use of the automatic subscription for select categories. I think we could do that for some low-traffic announcements category, but perhaps it's even concievable to add the Support category by default as well, to get closer to the "user mailing list"

If there is enthusiasm for trying some of those, I could do more research to figure out how to enable those settings.

There are other features that could be worth adopting. For instance, Figma seems to be using some sort of plugin which lets people vote for feature requests and display the number of votes in the list of topics. I think that could be fitting for OpenRefine too.

1 Like

I have just made some tweaks following the observations above, so that:

  • latest topics are shown per-category (like in Eve Online's forum)
  • categories are sorted using a fixed order, showing user-oriented categories first. I don't have strong feelings about the exact order: I would just keep the "Support" and "Announcements" categories at the top of the list, so that they are the most prominent.

I'd be happy to make further tweaks or revert if you prefer the previous configuration.

1 Like

Thank you for the update, @antonin_d. In my opinion, it would be better to position the Development & Design category as either the second or third option.

I suggest automatically subscribing users to the Development & Design, Support, and News and Announcements categories, with clear instructions provided in the welcome email on how they can unsubscribe or customize their subscription. We can also update this message Welcome to the OpenRefine community forum with details on how to manage subscription.

I think we can also reorganize categories as outlined in this thread Welcome to the OpenRefine community forum.