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Community forums are a gateway for people to connect and discuss shared interests.

Discourse vs Reddit vs Vanilla Forums - The ultimate guide to community forums

Sofia de Mattia
Sofia de Mattia
Marketing & Community

Community forums are a gateway for people to connect and discuss shared interests. However, not all community forums operate the same way. Once you start researching, you will notice that they have varying capabilities, distinct audiences, and unique jargon. So you might ask yourself, "Which forum platform is the best for launching my community?". To help, we gathered the most important Pros and Cons of the three most popular platforms (Discourse, Reddit, and Vanilla Forums) and weighed them against each other. 

Discourse

What is Discourse? 

Discourse is a modern, fun, open-source forum-based platform that hosts large communities. You can use it for free with no hidden fees or restrictions. It is great for public discussions, chat rooms, mailing lists, and more.

Why use Discourse?


Why use Discourse? 

Pros of using Discourse

Variety of moderation features: Discourse relies heavily on its "trust system". The system is built to grant loyal members more access to community moderation tools over time. Therefore, the longer you stay in a distinct community, the more access you gain. Other moderation features include spam blocking, flagging, and a reward system where you can assign points and badges to members based on their participation. 

Open-source: Discourse is an open-source forum software, which is 100% free. Unlike other free platforms, this stand alone product does not require any additional payments to access higher-end features. If you want to contribute to it, you can do so via GitHub. 

Easy to use mobile app: Discourse is also available through a mobile app compatible with iOS and Android devices. The app is minimalist and user-friendly making it easy to navigate. It saves you time logging in and out of your browser whenever you want to use Discourse and informs you about what is happening in your community via push notifications.

Cons of using Discourse

Complicated setup: There are a few prerequisites before you can set up a Discourse server. It requires a certain amount of effort and technical know-how. So if you lack technical knowledge, it can betime-consuming and frustrating to set up. 

Privacy issues: This might not be obvious to everyone, but admins of a Discourse community can read members' private 1:1 messages. While Discourse argues this functions as a safety feature, it might cause concern among community members.

Reddit 

What is Reddit? 

Reddit is one of the most popular websites worldwide and combines forums, web content, and social networks into one. It is a massive platform where people can share images, links, videos, or texts as well as comment and up or downvote other people's posts. When building a community, you can start a subreddit that is essentially like a micro-community within Reddit. You can create a subreddit about every topic you can imagine. Every niche community has its own rules, subscribers, and posts. It's a small ecosystem within a big platform.

Why use Reddit?

Pros of using Reddit

Build traffic easily: It is easier to generate traffic on Reddit than on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media platform. So, the way Reddit works is that other users can either up or downvote your post, and depending on how your content resonates with users, it will rise to the top of the page (or not). This system guarantees that the most interesting topic will receive the most traffic. However, if your content is not original or not appealing to others, prepare yourself for some harsh feedback. 

Simple to use: Although, at first glance, it might look a bit poorly organized, Reddit is easy to use, even for beginners. You can effortlessly search for topics you are interested in by using the search feature and subscribe to different subreddits. Moreover, to establish your credibility, you can gain Karma points, which indicate your influence on the website. You can earn Karma by upvotes you receive on your posts or comments, but you can also lose them through downvotes.  

Plenty of content: Since Reddit has been around for a while and has a high following, it covers almost every topic and niche you can think of. So if you are passionate about a particular topic, you can most definitely find it on Reddit, and if not, just open up your own subreddit about it. 

Cons of using Reddit

Harsh criticism: Reddit users can either make or break you. If they are not interested in what you have to say or disagree with you, be prepared for some harsh criticism. However, if your content is to their liking, it can quickly lead to a great deal of traffic on Reddit.

Largely unregulated: A lot of subreddits are not moderated at all. With the absence of admins keeping users in check, content within different channels might be insensitive or offensive.

Poorly organized: Due to its basic layout, Reddit may seem badly organized to many users. Profile customization is limited and you are unable to create different folders to separate the various subreddits. At first, this might not seem like a big issue, but once you subscribe to many subreddits it can get messy.

Vanilla Forums

What is Vanilla Forums? 

Vanilla Forums was founded as an open-source project back in 2009. It aims to reinvent the traditional discussion forum and is considered to be a peaceful place for millions of people to interact. It is a cloud-based community software and entirely customizable for your community's needs. 

Why use Vanilla Forums?

Pros of using Vanilla Forums

Variety of moderation features Vanilla Forums grants you access to various moderation tools. You can delete, move and merge all the discussions in your community. In addition you can report any spamming or harassing behavior by banning a user from your forum. Community members can also help moderate by flagging content. 

Open-source: Vanilla Forums is available as open-source software, perfect for small businesses and community enthusiasts. You can download it for free, install and manage it easily, as well as host it yourself and contribute to the code. 

Different gamification features: Vanilla Forums reputation engine promotes good content, gives out specific abilities to members, and helps the automation process of moderation. You can customize badges and upload your own by using the Vanilla API. Additionally, the communities have different ranks and abilities based on the members' reputations. 

Cons of using Vanilla Forums

Technical limits to customization: Vanilla Forums is open to customization and gives  creators free reign over forum aesthetics, but only if you know how to code. If you have no HTML or CSS skills, you will not be able to create a custom-built community to your standards.  

Pricey: Although Vanilla Forums is available as an open-source software, there is also a business version with more features. It is costly for small businesses or solo entrepreneurs compared to other forum platforms.

Key takeaways

So, which of the three platforms is the right fit for you and your community? 

  • Discourse: Discourse is a community platform for civilized discussions on the web. It is a 100% open source, easy to use, and offers a great variety of moderation features. However, the setup is complicated for users who are not technically skilled, and user privacy is restricted since admins have access to users' 1:1 messages.
  • Reddit: Reddit is probably the most well-known of the three platforms and has been around the longest. It is easy to generate traffic, simple to use and covers every topic and niche you are interested in. However, it is also a place of harsh criticism, and largely unregulated due to a lack of moderation within the different communities. 
  • Vanilla Forums: Vanilla describes itself as more of a civilized community platform where peaceful discussions take place. It offers various gamification and moderation features, is open source and completely customizable to your needs. However, customization of the platform can become challenging and frustrating when you do not have any coding experience. Additionally, it might be a bit too pricey for solo entrepreneurs.

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