Meta Discussion Post: Renaming Discourse?

The purpose: Discourse is an online forum and a space for the Code for America Brigade Network to share resources, lessons, and tools with each other. In our Network, Discourse fills the role of a library; it’s a place where someone can go, look up a topic, and find documentation and resources relevant to the topic. Unlike Slack, Discourse is organized in a way that’s not entirely chronological. It’s meant to keep information accessible over a long period of time.

The problem: Discourse is the name of the platform that this information is stored. It doesn’t tell the user what its purpose is. There is confusion for new and existing Brigade members, and even CfA staff, around what belongs on Discourse and how/when to post on Discourse. On top of that, another popular and existing chat service, Discord, has a similar name and ends up being confused with Discourse.

How do we help people use our common resources more effectively? What would be a name for this platform which would help people understand its purpose better?

Potential names:

  • CfA Library :books:
  • CfA Commons :seedling:

Please chime in with your thoughts and ideas!

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@elb I really like CfA Commons!

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We need a bold name with a call to action built in.

I have done listening interviews with CfA stakeholders from 7+ year brigade leaders to newbies. Their word choice blurred discourse with discord and other tools that link into here: Discourse has never existed tangibly for them. I think part of this is due to the name. “Slack” uniquely works because it has notability beyond CfA. We need something different for this tool.

Commons might be okay. Transaction cost political economist Elinor Ostrom is amazing inspiration on collective ways that hugely work. But I’m not completely convinced it has an obvious call to action for anyone that hears the name (sadly, see the washed up popular trope and piece “Tragedy of…”). On similar lines, libraries are something we like to use but not as often contribute to.

First, my proposal should be accompanied with purple elephant branding to counter the accidental violent connotations :elephant:. Out there in the world, some things we try leave a mark. The creator of Ruby on Rails (Basecamp, recently Hey!) once blogged “Don’t scar on the first cut”. By that, he referred to organizational learning, institutional memory, and risk of org policies.

Here’s a curve ball: When something goes wrong, have a chat about it, embed the learning in the organizational memory as a story instead of a policy. — DHH

I think this same metaphor works well for this tool here: we’re most motivated to write about things that we know others after us should be aware of. On the internet, we want to be consulted and heard about all the impossible volunteer effort we’d exerted.
Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but here’s the sweet scars we have to show for it and you can learn from it, too.

  • :mouse: "Scar tissue" :elephant:,
  • or any other name based on this metaphor ,

would be names that have a clear call to action.

Bonus: that the first has an remarkable hook to it. Another bonus: it makes it clear we’ve been around for a little while.

Thanks for these thoughts @thadk!

I have a different take on the metaphor of “scar tissue”: while there is a certain appeal to the idea that we (and many of you far longer than I) have been around for a while, there’s a certain connotation of needing to prove yourself before you’re welcome. The idea of being unwelcome in civic tech until you have proved yourself is already too pervasive in this space, and I think it’s something we want to be pretty careful to avoid.

I like CfA Commons in a way specifically because of the tragedy of the commons framing. Here, we’re breaking out of the tragedy: this isn’t a collective action problem, it is a resource documenting collective action itself.

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I’m finding some interesting readings on Commons and also on indigenous library classifications. Given that this is a community created resource: how might we be aware/ cognizant of the bias we insert into our names and classification systems. And how could we change them?

Here’s an interesting article on indigenous library classifications:

Rather than shelving books alphabetically, X̱wi7x̱wa organizes their collection by geographic location. Books on coastal nations are grouped in one section, while information on northern nations are in another.

One thing I’d note about the Commons naming idea is that this name itself is already part of a robust community including Creative Commons. So we may want to be aware of that; this doesn’t necessarily erase the dynamic of sharing a name or similar name.

This is a really interesting article on de-colonizing the Commons and cultural preservation.

What would it look like to imagine a commons that is not totally open, but one that has an informed and engaged approach to openness; one that foregrounds the histories and exclusions embedded within calls for openness and open access. What would it mean to ask questions about the privilege that openness calls for and embeds?

Tagging in @bentrevino because I think you’d appreciate this conversation!

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I like CFA Commons. Or maybe CFA Knowledge Bank… CFA Brain Trust. CFA Situation Room.

I agree 100% that Discourse is probably not the best name to use, given that many people may be unfamiliar with it as a platform and also its similarity to Discord (which I think is probably more well known).

The first term that comes to find for me is Forum. Both from a blank slate, and in a context where “internet forum” is an established concept that matches what this is.

I’m somewhat hesitant about Commons. If I heard Commons, I’m not sure I’d know what it is or what its purpose is. To me, Commons represents a social space — usually in-person, but even for an online context, I would think of it as a place that somehow facilitates casual connections. Whereas I find that “Forum” connotes something more involving knowledge-sharing.

I like terms that evoke reference information, and information storage.

  • Concordance
  • Atlas
  • Repository
  • Hub

I think pairing that with terms the evoke the living dynamic nature of open collaboration are cool too.

  • Live
  • Fluid

Not the best brain storm, but maybe someone else wants to riff in this direction?

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Hi all,

I appreciate all the comments in thread and the ideas. I want to add a few more as well that I thought sounded in-theme with what Discourse is.

  • CfA Index
  • CfA Archive
  • CfA Pages
  • CfA Wiki

I am hesitant of words that may sound too technical like “Repository” mostly because this is a space that is open to all, non-techies included. Although, I do like it, but I think it’s important to be mindful of that.

@cfischerbenitez I like that feedback, you are right! Open to all.

Its hard because through the history of the internet, all of these words have been used and now bear meanings that aren’t exactly what we are looking for here.

Cafe, Forum, Wiki etc . . .

Often languages other than English have single words which represent more nuanced ideas in a nice way. (ex: German - Schadenfreude, or the many Greek words for different types of love).

That could bring some nice flavor into the name.

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I do like Commons – a space to bring, find and share resources as the collective, untethered by the chronological, cramped function of the Slack space. I’m not sure “Commons” communicates this is to be used a place for discussion, too, as much as another choice might, but I don’t think it confuses the matter too much, either.

I would caution against using any word or phrase that requires too much abstract interpretation or may read as an insensitive use of the word or phrase. Although I certainly see the value in the points behind a choice like “scar tissue” as a way of communicating what can be learned from a resource like this, it’s too indirect for anyone who may struggle to understand figures of speech (those for whom English is a second language, or those with cognitive or neurological conditions, as example).

And, I’ll note (since I know CFA at large is interested in lived-experience DEI points of view) – there’s a lot of tech-culture vocabulary that reinforces some unfortunate stigmas for certain marginalized communities. The one I can speak to personally is that metaphorical references to scar tissue, or battle wounds, are not considered motivational or edifying for many members of the disability community. I know this suggestion is only that – a suggestion. However, it also presents me with an opportunity to share from my experience and my knowledge on this so that we can stay aware of nuances like this elsewhere.

I also thought of Forum, as I have seen others mention. I wonder, too, if Network might be of interest – I don’t think it would confuse matters to have a space called the ‘Network’ in addition to referring to the collective brigades as the network since the ‘Network’ is meant as a tool for the network to network?

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These are great points, @renejoywrites! You expressed the hesitation I have around the “scar tissue” metaphor much better than I was able to.

As I continue to think about this, I think that the main concepts that the name should communicate are openness, accessibility, welcoming, discussion, community, resource. I would avoid Network, just because it’ll cause confusion with the Brigade Network and the Network Team–it’s a good word for what this is, it’s just one we’ve already used for something else.

The words that I’ve heard thus far which feel best to me are Commons and Forum. Both combine a library-like sense of being a resource with an open, democratic, accessible space. They also have the bonus of referring to concepts that already exist online, which are fairly accurate to what this platform is intended to accomplish.

Wiki is a similar concept, but one that I think connotes a less active/discussion-based space, and more of a collaborative how-to type resource. That said, I do think that Wiki would be a good name for the group of Brigade organizer’s resources that currently exist, and are being “renovated” by @ExperimentsInHonesty, @thadk, and others!

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I’m really wary of trying to be too clever about it, but I also have no idea how commonly understood the things I think are obvious are to our target audience (and possibly none of us even know the full extent and mix of our target audience yet)

I found some lists of Discourse communities:

The most popular names for Discourse instances seem to be:

commons does sound cool to me too, and there was originally a thing called the commons that was really cool. It kinda doubles as saying “library” and “town commons”. But I worry its not as obvious in telling you how to engage with it like forums/community is. Maybe that’s only true for people who have been on the internet for a while, but maybe that’s most of who we’re going to reach through an internet forum anyway?

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I like commons. There are some prior uses of commons in civic tech that might make that hard to google for. Maybe “CfA Commons” would be distinct enough though.

I also like forum, and that definitely does describe what Discourse does, so it would be nice and clear. I’m not sure it captures our intended use-- which is something more like a living library-- but maybe it’s more important for a name to describe how to use something than what the intention is?

Some other thoughts:

  • Maybe some combination of the words already suggested-- “the archive forum” or “the archive commons” or “the network archive” or “the network forum”
  • The civic biblio-tech (probably too cutesy, couldn’t resist sharing this pun though)
  • Something related to institutional memory-- “memory warehouse”? Maybe that’s too sci fi sounding
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Thanks for your feedback Rene, I see what you mean about “battle scars” and that is a very much the unintended association we tried to avoid with :mouse::elephant:. We want to represent the result of healing, and avoidance of the trauma.

Still I think forum is very much too abstract and would push back against that. Archive is also something a bit passive.

We need something that captures “memory”, retrenching of lessons, or organizational learning through practice, not just airing unstructured thoughts.

Riffing on @mmazanec22’s idea, what about something like memory-repo? (Also wish to avoid corporate knowledge management.) Or story-repo.

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I just read back farther and realized that @cfischerbenitez was hesitant on repository that @PaulthRobert put forward, because of its sometimes-technology-bound connotations.

We need to build off some shared meaning and maybe story-repository counterbalances/humanizes it from your concern? We do have “code” in the brand :slight_smile:. That union is actually what makes us unique.

Repo is nice because it has a very clear call to action to all: you put stuff into it.

Aloha kākou – Iʻve really enjoyed reading through this thread. So much thoughtful DISCOURSE!

I want to kakoʻo (support) the ideas that @thadk offered: institutional memory as stories as opposed to policies (or “documentation”) and what @elb ʻs offering about decolonizing our institutional memory. Those feel powerful to me.

What comes to mind for me as the most powerful expression of this tool is a place to house Code for Americaʻs “oral history”. That might seem like a contradiction given the use of written language oriented tool like this, but perhaps less so when viewed in the context of our storytelling tradition in the way that @thadk has pointed out and as a decolonized form of governance and organization as @elb has.

stories.codeforamerica.org
mythology.codeforamerica.org
history.codeforamerica.org
hertory.codeforamerica.org
knowledge.codeforamerica.org (per @nFlourishʻs suggestion)
livedexperience.codeforamerica.org

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I am very interested in Stories, @thadk and @bentrevino! I think this captures the sense of this space as a knowledge continuum AND active discussion forum with an easy to interpret word. I also sense from it that human-centered focus CfA brings to the tech sphere. I deeply appreciate this suggestion.

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FWIW, there have been at least two things called the “CfA Commons” before, that are in various states of mothball/ghost

If we have to get clever about it, +1 to library – it’s civic, it’s participatory, it propagates knowledge through the generation. Though I worry it and most of the other ideas convey a sense of “don’t break it” and “leave it to the pros” that can be the death of engagement. I think the hardest and most important thing we can do in the naming/presentation is encourage people to add their own voice and maybe break things. That’s what leaves me coming back to forum or community, at least for me when I see those words I feel like I have permission to share my dumb thoughts and questions

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Not a :-1: on other ideas here, but just wanted to viscerally :+1: “commons” as a term I’d feel really proud to see used.

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