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The DEV Team

For Empowering Community

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・6 min read

I'd love to let you in on the next step of what I hope will be all of our collective journey together.

Nearly two years ago, DEV went open source. It was a big step for a nascent organization and a decision based on the observation that the more we empowered our wonderful community to be a part of the journey, the better things turned out. However, what we open sourced that day was just the first step of a bigger idea. Our aspiration has always been to offer up our community platform for others to use as well.

Over the last few years, we’ve honed our values and principles, and have strengthened our resolve that while we want to support a healthy ecosystem, we do not want to unilaterally become the ecosystem. We don’t want to just power community software, we want to empower community. That means we want to own a meaningful, but relatively small, part of a bigger idea. And with that introduction, I want to describe the next part of our open source evolution.

Our platform — the one that powers DEV — is built for empowering community, and it's called Forem.

What is Forem?

Forem is open source software for building communities. Communities for your peers, customers, fanbases, families, friends, and any other time and space where people need to come together to be part of a collective. Being part of a community serves so many different purposes depending on context, and we hope the idea of what constitutes a community will expand as creators like you get creating.

Each Forem will live online as its own independent web application with its own standalone databases, authentication mechanisms, configuration, dedicated URL, etc. Alongside this independence, our vision is for Forems to be highly compatible with one another in order to build a cohesive ecosystem where members of multiple Forems can move seamlessly between community apps — even if those apps do not share any data about the individual.

This is where ideals around privacy, inclusion, and an open and equal web need to meet with a passion for product development and excellence in user experience — we expect we are only at the beginning of this journey. We don't intend to build niche open source software that only appeals to a technical crowd; we resolve, along with you, to build universally accessible, delightful, and enriching software for everyone.

A new day one

We're not here to immediately bestow perfect software on the world, we're here to bring you along on a shared journey. A journey to unbundle the power dynamic of social networks, to take some old ideas about the web and make them new again, to heighten the focus on protecting our society's most vulnerable, and to empower a diversity of cultures and ideas.

We have a never-ending list of issues, both technical and organizational, to address along the way, and we hope there will be enough ideological and technical buy-in from the community to effectively step from today to tomorrow in terms of our capacity to serve the mission.

What does Forem do?

A fresh Forem comes equipped with basically all the features of DEV:

Join the community, fill out your profile, write posts, read posts, leave comments, react to posts and comments, follow users, follow tags, search the site, receive notifications, create classified listings, listen to podcasts, embed rich content, ingest an RSS feed, report users, block users, become moderators, moderate, send direct messages, participate in group chats, receive achievement badges, configure fonts and themes, export your data, and the list goes on and on depending on what you'd consider a "feature".

If you're reading that list and saying to yourself "holy cow that's a lot", I can assure you that I felt the same way writing it. We have methodically built certain important features while also rushing some things and throwing some things at the wall to see if they stick. That's the nature of building a software project, a community, and a company all at the same time.

As an organization and open source community that works in a distributed, asynchronous style, it's only natural to be somewhat sprawling. But as we take on a big new challenge, it will be important for us to hone in on the kernel of the value and to architect software which serves the community in the most elegant possible way. I am really excited about what that will look like.

If DEV is the first Forem, ThisMMALife is the second. Community member Lee Wynne was the first to take our early indications that this was in the pipeline and to go through a lot of pain to stand up their own community instance. Lee has been a tremendous partner in helping lead the way. You might say the third community is community.benhalpern.com, and there are a few other prototypes and WIP projects in the ether.

We are not yet ready

This is important to say: While I'm glad we're finally putting a name to this next phase of the journey, and reiterating what’s on the horizon, we're still not quite ready for your community.... Getting to “ready” will be a gradual process. As we work out the details of how hosting, deployment, versioning, and compatibility will work, we will initially only support public instances that we host. It's the only practical way to get these spun up effectively right now, and we're not even 100% ready for that... but we're getting closer every single day.

To that end, we want to hear from you if you’re interested in the idea of spinning up a community. It can be for a passion project, a new commercial venture, as an extension to your existing business, or any other reason between and beyond. If that’s you, please get in touch with us by filling out this form. No commitment necessary, just tell us what you’re thinking about building.

Join us as we build

If you are looking to contribute to the software side of things, we have plenty of open issues, but we also ask that you be patient with us as we continuously relearn what it means to manage the code contributions as our platform evolves. As much as we are excited by contributions from folks building with a personal stake in this game, we’ll need to learn together how best to handle this all.

Our repo is still entitled dev.to but we will be migrating to forem soon, as that is the name of the software itself — dev.to is simply an instance (albeit an important one).

Some of the first Forems we launch will be meta-forems designed to help facilitate the software development process as well as the administration, moderation and promotion of individual communities.

A taste of the Forem ecosystem

If each Forem is its own web application with its own configuration and plugins, we foresee bridge apps within the ecosystem that help tie things together. Native wrappers, specialized browsers, extensions, etc.

For example, I have been running this browser extension locally as a proof of concept, and I have been pleased with the user experience, especially how it works with the service-worker-driven approach of how our pages are rendered. Speed moving between apps is almost as speedy as changing pages within an app.

Forem Extension

We have also been conceiving of the experience for a community creator setting up a new Forem. Here is a taste of what to expect from our most recent design critique...

New forem experience
New forem experience

For Empowering Community

It’s a privilege to work on software with purpose — If we get this right over the next few years it will have a really special impact on a lot of lives.

If you’re interested in joining us by building a community of your very own, let us know by filling out this form. Please keep up with our open source project and contribute if you care to. And keep an eye out for entrepreneurial opportunities within the Forem ecosystem.

Happy coding 🌱

Posted on by:

ben profile

Ben Halpern

@ben

A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.

The DEV Team

The team behind this very platform. 😄

Discussion

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Our aspiration has always been to offer up our community platform for others to use as well.

One major reason why I enjoy working for DEV so much is the company's commitment to transparency, integrity, authenticity and community. I cannot describe how EXCITED I am for Forem! I believe it will be a major game-changer in the online-communities space.

 

I totally feel the same way — I feel so lucky to be working here.

 

Ok y'all are making ME want to work there! Sounds like an awesome place!

 

Being part of a community serves so many different purposes depending on context, and we hope the idea of what constitutes a community will expand as creators like you get creating.

I grew up spending a lot of time in independent online communities hosted on vBulletin, phpBB, and other forum software. I went to some communities for entertainment, others to learn entrepreneurial and technical skills, and some just for a sense of belonging. I could find my place in these dynamic and culturally rich online spaces.

These communities have largely faded away over the last decade or so, as larger platforms offered a more modern consumer experience (that they're eager to offer in exchange for user data).

Many of the new communities being started these days are forced to build directly on the backs of these giants. They exist as a Group or a sub-space, but they lack the same character and sense of community of their earlier-internet ancestors.

I hope that Forem is able to level the playing field. That now community leaders of all have backgrounds and perspectives are able to build a space that is modern, safe, and independent. That community members can enjoy an engaging and delightful experience, while also knowing that their privacy and safety is being protected.

It's a very big task and it will be a long journey, but I can think of few challenges more worthwhile than working to build software for empowering community.

 

These communities have largely faded away over the last decade or so, as larger platforms offered a more modern consumer experience (that they're eager to offer in exchange for user data).

Exactly! It seems exciting that we get to work on us returning to the way that online communities used to be without the profitizing of people's data.

 

I've seen a number of small communities crop up lately outside of the major social media bubble. Many are Mastodon instances, but a few are old-style forums.

It's hard to run a community. Really hard. You have to have a mix of technical knowledge, social clout, and pure energy. It's that that is the blocker for creating ecosystems outside of major social media, not the software.

 

This is very true. Community building is a very special skill, but there's a lot of help an ecosystem can provide. The success of popular Facebook groups, subreddits, etc. is not entirely dependent on the generating buzz and banking on social clout, there's a discovery mechanism and network affect of the platform. Same applies to Slack and Discord.

Just like the web itself is buoyed by browsers and search engines and the native ecosystem runs through app stores etc. there's a lot the ecosystem can do to empower builders. Our hope is that we can provide ecosystem mechanics without necessitating that the ecosystem entirely runs through us.

 

I feel like I hit the Jackpot being the Lead SRE for DEV at a time like this while we roll out this new project. Not only do I get to instill good SRE practices for our DEV community, but I get the challenge of reproducing it so that it applies to many different communities.

We all know that creating a single software application is challenging. Creating one that can be reproduced with a click of a button hundreds of times, even more so. I look forward to tackling that challenge and coming up with new and innovative solutions along the way. I think it's safe to say once our world opens back up and conferences resume there will be plenty of new talk material coming from this girl 😉

 

We're not here to immediately bestow perfect software on the world, we're here to bring you along on a shared journey. A journey to unbundle the power dynamic of social networks, to take some old ideas about the web and make them new again, to heighten the focus on protecting our society's most vulnerable, and to empower a diversity of cultures and ideas.

Being a part of this journey, and working through the challenges to see the DEV codebase take shape for Forem has been absolutely phenomenal. I look forward to this phase where Forem helps to bridge the gaps between people and empower diverse communities. Let's continue writing good software that bring people together! 💜

 

Our learnings from DEV have shaped and help us understand exactly what we’re working towards with Forem. Thank you all for being part of the community, and continuing to build alongside us in the open. We hope you’re as excited about Forem as we are.

Like Ben mentioned, if you’re a community leader with ideals around privacy, inclusion, and an open and equal web, please don’t hesitate to reach out through this form. We’d love to hear from you. ❤️

 

We don't intend to build niche open source software that only appeals to a technical crowd; we resolve, along with you, to build universally accessible, delightful, and enriching software for everyone.

I'm really excited about this. As someone who started out as a DEV community member years ago who now helps build the platform itself, the technical challenges of extracting and constructing software that works for everyone is really thrilling. I love the idea of taking the great foundation of DEV and extracting it into something that is a delightful experience for any—and maybe one day, every—user of the web who is on the search for a community where they feel like they truly belong. 💖

 

that is such a great mission! Specially now, I think being a part of a community, whether it is to share your thoughts on a particular book, music taste or simply software stuff 😄. It helps someone to fit in and brings happiness to their lives, at least that's how I feel about it.

 

This is the coolest thing ever and I'm so excited to see where it goes.

 

We want to support a healthy ecosystem, we do not want to unilaterally become the ecosystem

As a new member of the DEV team (week two!) I can't help but feel that I've joined at the perfect time. I'm really pumped to help serve a community that really is by and for developers, which Forem will reinforce all the more. Being able to communicate a message that is true, through and through, makes my job as content manager enjoyable — and personally sustainable. This is gonna be an awesome journey to witness and participate in. Onward!

 

A journey to unbundle the power dynamic of social networks, to take some old ideas about the web and make them new again, to heighten the focus on protecting our society's most vulnerable, and to empower a diversity of cultures and ideas.

It's so exciting to be apart of a team / product / business who wants to tip the "control" of the web back to the people to empower community. I feel like these days — especially most pronounced during the quarantine — we're seeing the importance of people coming together in communities to find and offer support, to find a common ground, to learn something or enrich others. These days though, we also see the stratification of power in who moderates & polices these platforms, so it feels really cool that we can give people the tools to build the webbed communities they want to see.

 

It's been really neat to see this project grow and unfold. It was also really amazing how each DEV team member, even the much, much less technical ones like me, were given the opportunity to really collaborate on what this thing would look like, and not just from an aesthetics and functionality level, but from a values and ethics standpoint. I couldn't be more proud of the DEV team, and am excited to see what communities y'all build in the future. Hit me up if you make anything related to banjos, podcasts, art/sculpture, biking, or cocktails 😊

 

Uhhhhh YES I would like an invite to the cocktail community

 

Let's get the party going

cocktails

 

Levi, you could totally start those communities :)

 

True, I could make it for me and for 'em.

for 'em

netflix, get this person a special

 

If DEV is the first Forem, ThisMMALife is the second. Community member Lee Wynne was the first to take our early indications that this was in the pipeline and to go through a lot of pain to stand up their own community instance. Lee has been a tremendous partner in helping lead the way.

I’m stoked for Forem. Although I’ve only been working at DEV since January, I’ve been a contributor to the codebase for three years now, so even before the code was public! I’ve seen DEV evolve over these past three years as a code contributor, community member and moderator.

We still have lots of work to do, but seeing an instance up and running like Lee’s is really cool. So to future community administrators and community members, we're giving you the power to make awesome inclusive communities! ⚡

 

I still think you've been a DEV team member since forever :D

 

I am so grateful that the Dev team enabled me to build our Mixed Martial Arts community, it mirrors the same ethics. 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽

Forever grateful. Amazing platform, love the name, love everything about it 🌈

 

It's been so awesome working with you, Lee. Very excited to see ThisMMALife continue to grow in the coming weeks, months, and years.

 

😎😎😎😎

 

Some of the first Forems we launch will be meta-forems designed to help facilitate the software development process as well as the administration, moderation, and promotion of individual communities.

Very specific to my role here at DEV, but I'm super siked about developing a community platform that really gets moderation and user safety right. We're lucky that DEV draws in so many kind, inclusive folks — an excellent recipe for a healthy community — but of course we also regularly combat spam and conduct-breaking behavior. We're always working to better our tooling and reshaping processes here on dev.to to make us more efficient and effective at this, and I'm excited to link up with Forem community managers to continue this process and bounce ideas off folks with fresh eyes.

 

THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH UNICORNS FOR THIS!

 

hahaha awesome comment :D

 

I strongly believe in truly owning the data you put online and this is why I joined DEV! Being able to self-host your Forem gives the control back to the end users so their data doesn't get abused by large corporations.

I want to help enable people to build and grow online communities with Free Open Source Software. My systems engineering work here is focused on building a secure, stable, and reproducible platform for Forems to thrive. I am so excited to get to work on such a project with not only my awesome coworkers but our FOSS contributors.

Let's do this!

 

Awesome news! Good luck on the road ahead and getting it launched.

we want to support a healthy ecosystem, we do not want to unilaterally become the ecosystem.

I love this line and DEV's continued commitment to that vision, keep it up!

 
 

It speaks volumes that this feels like such a natural progression and, at the same time, an entirely new beginning. That's a testament to the team we have in place and how far DEV has come. I'm especially excited to see more bridges start to form across communities that have been more starkly separated in the past!

 

What would you say are the major differences, both conceptually and technologically, between Forem, Discourse, and any other similar-ish forum-type software?

 

A big difference for us is that we're trying to provide an experience which borrows from evolving expectations of social media that keep folks coming back, and make it easier to engage with the content and discussions without having to always be engaged.

The traditional forum is still valuable, but we feel like the way folks engage, make friends, and go deeper with the newer paradigms of social media are worth trying to capture in a way to build a constructive community that scales up well.

 

Technically I think a big difference is that this style of social media does more work for you to surface the right parts of the conversation. Separating signal from noise, as it were.

I think where the big players go horribly wrong is doing so with a total black box. Transparency in developing this kind of software is a huge deal.

 

My favorite parts of the internet are niche and fueled by passion. Over the last decade, I've seen those corners of the web shrink and become inaccessible. For me building a toolkit to revive independent hobbyist and niche communities is a dream true. I think the internet is (was?) about the free exchange of ideas and empowering individuals. A shift away from centralized content production and curation is overdue if you ask me. :)

It might be more important, though, that Forem is providing an alternative path to the terrifying model of surveillance capitalism. I hope we're able to empower communities, but especially alternative methods of making viable businesses around those communities that don't violate the privacy and rights of their participants. Instead of exploitation, those new businesses and communities can take advantage of the ethos baked into Forem to empower their users.

It also doesn't hurt that I'm pumped to build an open source project and make a bunch of new developer friends along the way. :D

 

It might be more important, though, that Forem is providing an alternative path to the terrifying model of surveillance capitalism.

Yes 👏🏼

 

I have a domain I am sitting on called the thedev.cloud and its cloud computing version for DEV. I today cannot spin up the DEV platform even though I am a Ruby on Rails developer of 14 years. I would rather leverage an open-source platform than build my own.

The question is what is the ETA? 3 months, 6 months 1 year?

 

Hey Andrew, part of my work here at DEV is to enable end users to consume the Forem software. I am still pretty new to the company, but I am currently overhauling our container setup so we can leverage them for what I call "Forem in a box".

This has a lot of components that we will need to iterate on to get right, so to answer your question, I hope to have some previews in a month or so with more consumable FOSS automation for setting up Forem on your own.

 

I respect that you took the time provide a soft ETA.
I know containers and the state of the app is a challenge.

No problem Andrew. We are working hard every day to make Forem easy to setup and maintain on your own. This PR github.com/thepracticaldev/dev.to/... is one of many that will help make this happen.

 

This is really cool Ben!

 

Very cool! 🔥 I remember being part of the IPB / vBulletin / phpBB days, all the way through Vanilla. It seems like everyone just has a Slack/Discord now, or maybe a Spectrum -- but regardless of the platform, none really achieve the success and accessibility that message boards have. Looking forward to see this platform evolve and become a standard for publication-based communities. Could easily see this being used by artists (like a DeviantArt of sorts), writing groups, lots of potential.

 

Yes!!! I learned how to code because I was part of an online writing group and I wanted to learn how to customize my profile better. That grew into developing plugins for the forum software, theming, etc. This announcement brings back a lot of nostalgia for me and I'm really excited to see what the Forem ecosystem ends up looking like with the Dev team leading the way.

 

Yup! And not to say we've cracked the nut... Our own feeds and algorithms still need a lot of ongoing UX improvements, but asynchronous, sprawling discussions are pretty important for the web. We're trying to bring modern expectations to good ideas of old.

 

I can't express how happy I am for all these changes.

This will really empower people to foster, grow, and enrich every possible niche.

Huge thanks to everyone involved!

 

Thanks David!! That is our hope ✨

 

Huge if true.

P.S: F*cking awesome!

 
 

You better believe it's true :-D

 

This is awesome!
@DEVteam: Thanks so much for your hard work and making the web a better place!
@ben : Time to update your GitHub profile 😊

old dev.to repo link

 

changed :)

 
 
 

This is... Sooooooo it's just great.. It's just awesome ! 🎉🎉🎉❤️

More decentralized, more community 🙌🙌🙌🙏☕

 

Great vision!

 

Y’all this is absolutely amazing and it makes me feel so proud to be a part of this community. ❤️

I’m very excited to watch this develop and hopefully help by being an open source contributor. Good luck!

 
 

Thanks for your support and being part of the journey :)

 

As someone who's been online since the days of Gopher and BBSs you'll frequently hear me complain about the surveillance capitalist dystopia the modern Internet has become. So working on something that is both open-source and trying to contribute to a more open and inclusive online experience is extremely motivating and fulfilling.