Starting a forum for a local community

Starting a forum for a local community

Hi, love this initiative.

You write that this forum is for those with medical expertise at this testing time, or for those with appropriate technical expertise who are capable to dive in and help the former. I have a bit of relevant technical skill but not to the point that I’m in your league. I am however tweaking together a Discourse instance to help my local community offer and find help from each other. It’s coming together at and I’d love to get it out there this weekend.

My community has 35,000 people, and it’s likely that offers and requests for help will be very local — same street, or a few streets over. I’m also very aware of privacy and personal security, so don’t want users to impart their address or anything. Rather, on signing up, the member could select from one of our five postcodes — W4-1, W4-2, W4-3, W4-4, and W4-5 — and that might help group people together a bit. Or perhaps the member could select a handful of their nearest streets from a drop down?

Then I need it to be obvious to site members how they can filter for Discourse topics in their postcode area, or related to posts from others who have identified one or more of the same streets.

The set-up to now has been easy enough (well, getting email to work was more challenging than I thought!) … and this might be too technical. And I can’t find any detailed documentation of the custom wizard plugin, which I suspect will be in the mix, so thought I’d drop in here and see if the pros had any ideas on how to achieve the above “easily”.

If this is successful, I’d love to learn how to use Google cloud to package this up for other areas to deploy “easily”.

Best wishes.


Hey @sheldrake, welcome!

I’m actually dealing with a similar problem at the moment for They’re trying to sort medical professionals into the appropriate group on signup.

In Discourse, both category access and auto-watching (via another plugin) can be controlled on a group-basis, so sorting folks into the right groups is useful.

I’m making a few updates to the Custom Wizard plugin to make the first part of this possible, i.e. sorting people into the right group on signup.

I hope to be finished by tomorrow. I’ll let you know!

p.s. We’re also in the process of writing the documentation for the Custom Wizard plugin.


That sounds very similar indeed. Cool.

Hi @angus, just went to check out and can see how you’ve adapted the sign up form. Neat. Did you get to finish how this then helps group the conversation on Discourse? And while it’s the beginning of my Sunday I appreciate it’s towards the end of yours, can I ask if there’s anything you can share here that a newb (me!) might hack?

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I have now uploaded the 322 streets in the London W4 postcode as tags (hyphenated, lower case).

Thinking that I need to ask people signing up to select a minimum of two of these tags, and a max of say five. :thinking:

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Hi @sheldrake I’m @pacharanero (Marcus Baw) I’m a GP based in the UK, and I’m one of the Pavilion team as well. If I can help in any way let me know.

I’m just off to test out @angus’ updates on Custom Wizard.

@angus I did not know about this auto-watching plugin. I’ve written one of my own: WatchMute, which does the same thing, but allows for Muting and the other notification levels. Maps of which Groups should (for example) Watch which Categories are hardcoded in the plugin at the moment.

I have reached out to Mozilla to see if we can capture both use-cases and work together. I am working on adding an admin UI to WatchMute.

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Hi @pacharanero, thanks for jumping in here, and with a much more compatible time zone too :slight_smile:

I think I have configured everything else now to get this instance circulating in my community except for this facility to have a member associate with 2-5 ‘street tags’ on signing up, and so have topics raised by others sharing at least one of these tags highlighted some how. In fact, exactly I think as @angus has done here for

I am however fairly certain that I don’t have the technical know-how to riff off his work alone, so any assistance you can lend would be most gratefully received. I’m not even sure quite how long it would take for someone more expert? If you are up for it, I’d be more than happy to ping you a SSH key.

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One more thing — and again this may show my newb status in the world of Discourse and Google Cloud — it would be wonderful to ‘bundle’ the process of starting something like so that anyone with a bit of tech know-how can get one up and running for area of, say, a population of 20-40,000.

  1. Spin up an instance
  2. Connect an email service
  3. Install plugins
  4. Follow a checklist of all the aspects that require customisation
  5. Appropriate privacy policy and terms of service (for UK non-corporate)
  6. Guidance on how to compile a list of streets in the area
  7. Preload the tags
  8. Go live.
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Hi @sheldrake I’ve signed up for your CIC site
Interestingly I couldn’t see any tags at all listed in

I was imagining that in the first instance we might be able to get users to search for their street in the Tags and then Watch the tags for their local area. But there aren’t any here, unless it’s because I’m not Admin?

In the future, one might be able to imagine a Google Map or Leaflet.js with pins for each of the Street Tags, so that users see their location and can click on nearby pins, and Watch the tags. But this is non-trivial work especially when everyone’s so pushed.

At Pavilion this is exactly what we’re looking to do - ready-made sites with all the plugins you need for a certain type of Discourse use-case. Keep in touch and stay involved if you want to help with this. Some of the most important parts of that work are not necessarily the coding but the deciding of what plugins and customisations are needed, and documentation of all of those features and tools so that the new site owner can make use of them without being completely overwhelmed…

You are right. All the tags display for me at that URL when logged in (as admin of course), but not in another browser. Interesting. I have little idea of Discourse’s architecture so wouldn’t know why that would be.

Let me register as another user account in the other browser.

Done that, and no tags are displayed when logged in as a non-admin either. :thinking:

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Ah, OK, I think I understand how it works.

/tags only displays tags in use to non-admin users. However, on creating a New Topic, when I go to add a tag, the dropdown offers five of the pre-existing tags for the user to select from, updating the options the more letters the user types.

Hi @angus @pacharanero

I didn’t “launch” the site today as I really feel the capability discussed here would make a world of difference. But at the same time not launching at all helps no-one! I have 2 hours Monday evening (UK time zone) to hack this, but will definitely need your smarts based on Anything and everything you can dump here to that end most welcome indeed. Otherwise, perhaps it can be retrofitted in a few days time?

Best wishes.

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Hi @sheldrake

Ok so i wouldn’t worry about the tagging thing for now, although it is a decent idea for handling this.

I would suggest:

  1. definitely set up Google, Facebook, and maybe Twitter social logins

  2. In the Welcome post, which you can ‘pin globally’, ask people to put Street name in each Topic title. That way people can use Search to find relevant stuff. Later you could manually match these up with the tags.
    Despite the emergency, user numbers will build slowly anyway, so there will be time to fix things as you go.

  3. Make sure file uploads allowed file extensions includes the kinds of files people are going to want to add. Users seem to get quite annoyed when they can’t upload what they need to.

I’m around today but am working on other stuff (Royal College of GPs is launching their own COVID Discourse today, I set that up for them) But if you have queries i will try to respond ASAP

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That seems like a plan my friend! Thanks.

Will do on the file extensions, although limiting uploads to 1MB is just as important. Not sure I understood the additional tweak in apache that is needed in this regard, will have to see if I can upload a 2-hour movie! :laughing:

I didn’t prioritise the social logins because my day-job is effectively a web 3 (cryptonetworking) response to surveillance capitalism. So it goes somewhat against the grain. But then perhaps this isn’t the time to be purist.

Best wishes for the launch of the COVID Discourse for the Royal College.

Yeah, I’m pretty into privacy stuff and I get your point. But if you want to make it easy for Joe Public you need social logins, particularly Facebook I think.

1Mb is a very small upload limit! Reducing the limit though should not require changes to server (it’s NGINX not Apache if you are using standard Docker install) it’s only increasing it that requires changes. There is some help here on setting the uploads limit in containers/app.yml (from which setting Discourse creates the NGINX conf fileinside the Docker container each time the app is rebuilt)

Ah thanks.

Unfortunately, I went backwards rather than forwards during my ‘lunch break’. I had installed Discourse via Bitnami and every time I searched for a way to do something, it didn’t work the way Bitnami has it working. Sigh. No-one tells you this upfront. So then I did a backup, did a fresh install of Discourse the ‘proper’ way, and now I can’t log in because I can’t get email working again for the life of me.

This stuff really isn’t for people who don’t spend their days in SSH. !! Will try again this evening.

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Pulling my hair out! :slight_smile:

The SendGrid test works perfectly, Postfix is running, but can I get Discourse to email my gmail account to set up the admin account, no!

Quadruple checked DISCOURSE_SMTP_USER_NAME and DISCOURSE_SMTP_PASSWORD. Port set to 2525. Everything. Agh.

Sorry, just sharing my frustrations. Not looking for help.

I’m otherwise occupied, but you might get help of you all in Discourse Meta’s COVID-19 help thread, or just generally in Support there. What is postfix doing? I’ve never needed that before.

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I tried to use Postfix to debug this bloody problem, but not successfully as you can tell. Will jump onto Meta now. Thanks @pacharanero, and hope your day went as planned.