The enshittification of the internet strikes again. Last decade if I had to setup any kind of online tool for supporting community discussion I’d have had a range of free and open source options (including e.g., Wordpress custom sites, facebook groups, google groups, etc.), and paid services. Looking now, it’s hard to work out what to use, many older options disappeared (e.g., yahoo groups), stagnated (google groups), or are just not really viable in 2024 (facebook). Meanwhile, it’s harder to justify running something like a wordpress custom site on my own hosting given likely user experience, and concerns re: compliance (privacy, etc.).

What I want is a platform that will keep an archive of threaded discussions, ideally with sub-groups so messages can be targeted where appropriate, and possibility to both view in a dedicated site/app and receive full-text email notifications. It needs to be sustainable for me, which unfortunately means it needs to be low/no cost (because I’m unlikely to have funding, and I’m unwilling to invest given I don’t know if we’ll want a long term group).

Community fora and group mail

  • Google groups does still exist, but the free version hasn’t seen any changes recently, and it’s never supported sub-groups in that version. It’s great for one-role groups, but…

I went through the installatron apps and:

”Community apps”

There are some paid options, including:

  • Slack - free version is limited, paid is expensive
  • - paid for tool similar to google groups (looks nice) - can’t justify the minimum (20 USD a month) and the free version doesn’t have sub-groups
  • Teams - which I have access to, but external access is a nightmare to setup
  • Discourse, but either need to self host or pay

Mailout tools

  • A mailing list (with reply option) via any number of platforms including salesforce (which my institution uses) - complex, and limited functionality, with no preserved copies of mails
  • substack (which could be syndicated from an rss) or Dada Mail (cpanel) or if I upgraded hosting, Ghost mail - ditto, complex (although they’d at least preserve the content)


Discord seems to be the best option, offering similar functionality to Slack but without the restrictions Slack has on free accounts (e.g., message histories).

Discord’s main issues are: (1) image, it’s emerged from (and is still widely used by) gaming communities and that means it may be blocked on some networks, and it has a particular visual appeal, (2) if people don’t, won’t, can’t, or would prefer not to use it, unlike with e.g., googlegroups there’s no easy alternative such as email (i.e., receiving and sending messages via email).

The email issue can maybe be resolved via: