Flarum as a future digital gardening alternative to Discourse?

Recently I started taking a closer look at Flarum, another open source forum-oriented platform like Discourse. One of the apps I am testing uses it for their feedback and discussion platform, and I’ve found it a bit clunky, so I wanted to see what kind of discussion their own community had on Flarum vs. Discourse. They’re quite similar in general use so unsurprisingly there are several threads discussing the pros and cons.

While I came away from reading them still feeling like Discourse is the better discussion platform right now, I also learned that Flarum has, in theory, a much more extensibility-minded approach. Essentially they want to create a strong, stable core, and rely primarily on extensions for a majority of functionality, even to the point of having emoji and file uploads as extensions!

Our vision is to provide a framework for people to attach any feature or function on so that every user can see their demands fulfilled quite thoroughly, possibly even to the fullest. All that without sacrificing quality, performance or visual attractiveness. The only way to do that is to focus on the framework and not the feature; enable others to develop the extensions needed by the many or the few.

To some degree this strikes me as a bit extreme. Discourse includes many functions in “core” that can simply be turned off if desired, and it still manages to be impressively flexible, as my simple work here partly demonstrates (and there are far more impressively customized Discourse instances out there). However if they can make it extremely easy to install and enable/disable extensions, and if the most important ones are well maintained by the community, it might actually become a system that is as good or better than Discourse for digital gardening in particular, in that it would be very flexible and you could theoretically not install lots of things that might be more oriented toward group discussion. Ultimately the customizability may be higher as a result, for example in terms of layout and design, though that remains to be seen.

If nothing else Flarum is worth keeping an eye on because it is based on PHP, which avoids some of the potential hosting and performance challenges of Discourse’s Ruby on Rails approach that I’ve written about before.

From my light use of Flarum, it does seem to have very good performance. Not necessarily better than Discourse when it’s hosted with enough resources, but it sounds like Flarum’s system requirements are lower overall. Evidently some further performance improvements are coming in future versions of PHP itself as well.

So I’ll certainly be watching to see how Flarum progresses, and will update here if anything interesting happens.

If you’re interested you can read more about Flarum’s approach, goals, and their community’s thoughts on Discourse vs. Discord in the Flarum forums: