We’re launching a new forum and the idea behind it is very simple – we want it to be easier for you to talk to us, and to each other.
Why a forum? And why now? Those of you who’ve been around for a while might remember when we could fit most of our members into one room. Now we probably need a stadium with over 20,000 members and counting.
We also realise that we have a huge pool of experts – you! Having a forum will help us answer questions people might have. We also love the idea of people being able to help each other, something that fits in with our ethos of being a coordination centre. As our membership grows (and grows younger) we also recognise that not everyone feels comfortable emailing thousands of strangers to ask a fairly basic question. The RIPE NCC Forum is a space that is welcoming for all, and there is no question too basic, starting from what is IPv4…
The Technical Side
The RIPE NCC Forum uses Discourse, an open-source discussion platform. Discourse not only has some shiny new features (push notifications if you install the mobile app, automatic spam detection), but it also welcomes more traditional ways of interacting with discussions (replying to posts via email, flat threading, configurable digests).
One of our favourite things about it, though, is its trust system that encourages positive behaviour and prevents abuse by the use of flags and empowering the users themselves to report unwelcome content.
The Discourse settings that we’re starting out with are pretty much the factory settings. We want the forum to be shaped by how people actually use it, and as that becomes clear in the coming months we can make adjustments if needed. At the start, anyone can create a topic, and as the forum develops we can make categories for the most popular topics that emerge.
We started our search for a forum platform a few months ago, and tried out three platforms – Discourse, NodeBB and Talkyard. Our preference was for an open-source solution that also works over IPv6. We also considered the forum solutions from an administrative point of view: What would be the most user-friendly and accessible? How easy is it for our staff to moderate? How well does it integrate with our existing platforms? We had our staff test out all three platforms, and collected their feedback along with our standard legal, GDPR and security checks. Discourse emerged as the clear favourite.
We currently have a RIPE Forum, but that is just an interface to our existing mailing lists. For a while now, the banner on the RIPE Forum has been announcing that it will be deprecated once our planned upgrade to Mailman 3 (the software used for our mailing lists) is completed. Mailman 3 has some great new features, which makes the need for a mailing list mirror redundant. However, if there are any features that you really find useful in the current RIPE Forum, let us know, and we’ll do our best to incorporate them in the Mailman upgrade.
The Human Element
Any forum is only as engaging and friendly as the humans using it. We’re using a combination of the RIPE Code of Conduct, common sense, and Discourse’s own Civilized Discussion Construction Kit to create guidelines for the forum. If you want the distilled version, it comes down to:
- You are valuable, your participation matters
- Be nice and improve the discussion
- Be agreeable even when you disagree
- If you see a problem, flag it!
- Use only your original content
Using the trust system, if a post receives more than a certain number of flags, it will automatically be hidden until our staff moderate the post. We hope to moderate as few posts as possible, but we will not hesitate to moderate posts and users if needed.
Most importantly though, we hope our new forum will lower the barrier to participate. We would like it to be as easy as possible for you to find the right answers, or feedback or people to connect with.