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Forem

We are the Forem Team, Ask Us Anything

peter profile image Peter with Ben Halpern and Jess Lee (she/her) ・1 min read

We are the Co-Founders of Forem, the open-source platform powering The Community Club and other inclusive communities. PBJ (@peter , @ben , and @jess ) are the Forem Co-Founders and will mostly be answering questions, but we might have a few other core team members chime in as well.

You may know us from DEV, a community that is currently serving ~500k registered software developers of all backgrounds and experience levels. We initially developed Forem to serve the community on DEV, and we've benefited tremendously from the open-source collaboration with over 500 contributors to the project.

Ask Us Anything about:

  • Developing our own community platform
  • Leveraging social media channels for growth
  • Establishing new lines of revenue
  • Managing open-source dynamics and technical collaboration
  • Using Forem "for empowering" your own community 👀
  • And anything else between/beyond

Discussion

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tessak22 profile image
Tessa Kriesel

I love this. I am a BIG fan of Forem. The encouragement to welcome new members is TOP NOTCH. Y'all really nailed a true content-driven community concept. Looking forward to diving deeper and learning more.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Ask Me Anything

If there is a single thing that drives Forem to get this kind of stuff right is how thoroughly its mission originated around inclusion within the software industry via DEV.

Over time as we saw the value in distributing the software more broadly via open source, we have done ample work to ensure the expectations of the non-developer community can be met, but very little we did applies specifically to software folks, so we've designed a lot of features with the needs of our own community in mind.

I think this evolution was very natural and different from a lot of products which focus on abstract use cases or pure growth over the process of discovery over years and learning how to foster communities by facing up to the challenges and responding.

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tessak22 profile image
Tessa Kriesel

That is so great to hear. I do agree that the same engagement techniques can work with all audiences. I'm here rooting for you and your team!

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jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her) Ask Me Anything

Thank you for the kind words, Tessa!

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mac profile image
Mac

I think I have a sense of this myself, just from having spoken and worked with you all, but I think a lot of folks in the community space would love to hear from you all.

Where do you see Forem fitting into the broader community landscape? Who are you building it for?

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jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her) Ask Me Anything

Great question! We’re building Forem with extensibility in mind, so we fundamentally see the platform serving many types of use cases.

We’ve seen the platform scale to large communities like DEV, where we’re home to hundreds of thousands of registered users and conversations, but we’ve also seen success for much smaller communities. For example, we have an internal private Forem that we use to stay connected with our colleagues - as an async team, it’s been an extremely powerful tool to facilitate cross-time-zone discussions. On an even smaller scale, I plan to one day have a personal Forem just to keep in my touch with my family.

With that said, we’re most excited about supporting entrepreneurs that are growing their communities -- folks who want to go beyond a successful Facebook/Slack/Discourse group to truly build the idea experience to serve their community’s distinct needs.

I’d say Community Club is doing a great job with this so far 🙂

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tessak22 profile image
Tessa Kriesel

Agreed. I am very excited about Forem existing in this purpose. This community is going to be invaluable.

I'm looking forward to watching Forem grow in the community space.

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Marissa Dimino

Really impressed with what I've seen thus far!

My two biggest questions are around design/customization and data. What is the lift for turning this into a highly customized branded community? I work for a very visual company (photos and videos are everything!) and our members are looking for a fun digital experience that just oozes our brand. I like that Forem is an open-source platform because I think that lends itself to more flexibility outside of the niche platforms out there.

Data! I'd love to know more about the level of reporting that's available out of the box. I'm talking something that's geared towards the community industry and packaged in a format that's easy to place in reports, rather than just receiving a lump of data in many excel spreadsheets and having to figure out how to manipulate it into something useful (I'm not scarred from prior data experiences at all 😛 ).

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Ben Halpern Ask Me Anything

We are adding more and more customization all the time— but we're doing it slowly in order to ensure we don't turn into Myspace (or, more realistically, a difficult-to-maintain Wordpress/Squarespace implementation)....

The last thing we want are implementations which can't cleanly upgrade as fast as we can make improvements, or can't keep up with user expectations as they evolve.

In terms of photos and videos and everything, we already do have variations on how the feed can be presented, (currently "rich" and "basic" are two options, with "compact" being another that may ship)... We purposefully make the config high level enough so that our product team can reinterpret "rich" if we need to make slight adjustments vs getting too granular.

We have other configuration options as defaults, many of which can be overridden after the fact by users based on their personal preferences (which IMO is the best of both worlds)... But again, longterm maintainability is key.

With all that being said, we do have a concept of "html variant" which can be placed in a few places to offer ad hoc customization— including a/b optimization in certain areas, we just don't want to lean too heavily on this.


Regarding data reports, we have a built in interface which provides data reports, ad hoc queries, as well as internal audits which are really important to us in terms of insuring no rogue team members access user data they shouldn't have access to.

The data interface also hides a bunch of fields to minimize the amount of user-specific info folks can gather, e.g. email for all users, and a bunch of other data that should not be needed for data analysis.

You'll find we have a lot of good tooling in place, but haven't closed the loop on all the docs and guides, because we built all of this first and foremost for ourselves, so the ultimate usefulness is really high, even if some of the presentation is a work in progress.

We're open source and rely on other open source, so if you're curious, this is our abstract data reporting tool: github.com/ankane/blazer

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alex profile image
Alex Angel

Forem x Commsor integration when 👀

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Ask Me Anything

To point to one Forem feature: If anyone wants to follow along, they can subscribe to the thread, or more a subset of the replies if they like 😄

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ildi_x profile image
ildi

I bet everyone is pleasantly surprised when they discover this feature!

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link2twenty profile image
Andrew Bone

You must get hundreds of applications when you post a job, what sort of things do you look for when interviewing?

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Jess Lee (she/her) Ask Me Anything

Hey Andrew, great to see you here, and thanks for all of the awesome OSS contributions :)

We are indeed really fortunate to receive a lot of inbound interest when we publish new job listings. We've tried to tune up our process to be really scalable, while remaining very empathetic, human, and communicative to the candidate.

Instead of take home assignments or any sort of white board interview, we use questionnaires as part of our application process. We do our evaluations in a blind manner, where no one can see results until everyone has left their feedback.

The questionnaires also allow us to look apples-to-apples to each person, and to assess the skills of:

  • Direction & Organization
  • Versatility & Adaptability
  • Autonomous & Takes Initiative
  • Communication
  • Self Awareness & Humility

Each of these buckets map back to our company values and principles, and they are important traits that we look for in all of our team members (in addition to role-specific skills).

While all of these characteristics are important, we especially want to determine whether a candidate will be able to work effectively in an asynchronous and remote environment. That is a huge factor in their individual happiness here, and a big part of how we communicate and get work done.

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Andrew Bone

Thanks for your response ☺️. It's been great learning by contributing to Dev/Forem. I think it's amazing you manage to keep your human element even as you rapidly grow.

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Ido Shamun

This is so great seeing another use case for Forem. You're doing an awesome work and doing it fast!
My question is what's going to be with dev.to? I guess your focus now is to build Forem and to spread the word around and onboarding new customers.

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Ben Halpern Ask Me Anything

Our focus with dev.to is really to leverage the technical/product momentum of forem and make dev.to that much better. We're working hard to improve the algorithm in general and dev.to will benefit the most from it.

We are looking for opportunities to do more in the dev space in that dev.to doesn't have to gobble up all the dev-related content. Hopefully there will be more specialized areas. But we still have a dedicated community team for dev.to and a renewed capacity to focus on some product enhancements for the platform specifically.

All Forems will have certain types of functionality to help grow and foster the whole Forem ecosystem, but dev.to is first-and-foremost focused on usefulness for devs and community inclusion and safety. It's its own thing with its own dedicated team members, and Forem the ecosystem won't overly encroach on any individual Forem.

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Ido Shamun

Oh, that is so great to hear! Thanks for the detailed answer 🙏

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John @ YEN

great software and even better community over at dev.to — well done. 👏🏻

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Ben Halpern Ask Me Anything

Thank you! From a community perspective, we have several awesome folks whose job is first and foremost to care for DEV, work with mods, and do as much as we can to ensure community health.

Technically speaking, most of the team has been very Forem-focused for a while, but I'm excited to circle back on some feature improvements which I think will specifically help DEV improve in several ways— In terms of moderation evolutions, and smarter suggested content algorithms.

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Josh Rozin

Forem is awesome! What made Forem pick between Non-Threaded vs Semi-Threaded vs Threaded Display Formats?

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Sherad Louis-Charles

What are some things that kill communities or inhibit growth?

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Peter Ask Me Anything

After writing this out, I think it makes sense under three headers.

New Communities:

I think a common mistake which impacts growth out of the gate is having an "if you build it they will come attitude." IE, your community may be useful at a certain scale, but it's not useful for that initial set of early users, so you can't actually get to that inflection point.

Sometimes, communities will build for "single player mode" by having great content, useful tools, etc. There's an essay called "Come for an Action, Stay for the Community" which expands on this idea.

Budding Communities:

I think that something that can inhibit growth of a budding community is losing focus on the basics of what your community wants and why they're here. It's easy to think that the key to unlocking new growth will be building more and more killer features, but that's rarely the silver bullet.

More often, you need to stay focused on the basics, listen closely to your community, do things that don't necessarily scale, and ensure you're truly serving the community and their needs.

Established Communities:

Lastly, what can "kill" an established community? I think that corrupting the trust with a community can be tough to recover from, especially when that's paired alongside a formidable competitor.

The sudden fall of Digg comes to mind. IIRC, they took on some very aggressive marketing campaigns which made their userbase feel like "the product," while at the same time Reddit was coming up with a better alternative.

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Sherad Louis-Charles

Thanks for this write-up! It'll surely be useful especially the parts on focusing on the basics and avoiding aggressive marketing. Thank you!