It's a road trip! It's a ship! It's a table of contents (kind of)! It's a roadmap!
In this episode, we talk about our 2021 Forem Roadmap with Lisa Sy, lead product designer at Forem, and Vaidehi Joshi, lead software engineer at Forem.
Ben Halpern is co-founder and webmaster of DEV/Forem.
Lisa Sy is Lead Product Designer at DEV
Vaidehi Joshi is Lead Product Engineer at Forem, and creator of the Base.cs blog series and co-host of the Base.cs podcast.
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[00:01:16] VJ: That would be the way to get people off of the internet overlords of these larger platforms where you don’t really have a choice because it is the best solution, even if it isn’t the solution that actually really works the best for you, you have to work around it.
[00:01:41] BH: Welcome to DevDiscuss, the show where we cover the burning topics that impact all of our lives as developers. I’m Ben Hoffman, a Co-Founder of Forem. And today, we’re going to be talking about our 2021 Forem Roadmap with Lisa Sy, Lead Product Designer at Forem, and Vaidehi Joshi, Lead Software Engineer at Forem. Thank you so much for being here, both of you.
[00:02:04] VJ: Thanks for having us.
[00:02:04] LS: Thanks for having us.
[00:02:06] BH: So we’ve had both of you on the podcast in the past, and we talked a bit about your career backgrounds. But as a refresher, I’m going to take a moment to talk about what Forem is because folks might not know what it is. So DEV, DEV.to, is a community platform where developers all over the world can come and post blog posts, discussions, questions, and really hope to create a conversation around software topics that matter to them. We also pride ourselves in inclusive moderation, making everyone feel as welcome as possible and to really uplift the software ecosystem. And as we’ve done this, we’ve worked really hard to actually open source the core code base and allow other communities to make use of all of these tools. So the same type of posting tools, the same type of moderation tools, the same type of search engine optimization stuff. We’ve done everything it takes to allow a community to grow from zero to as many folks as DEV has, which is just about 10 million individual devs consuming the content every month. And we really want this software to be broadly distributed, to have many folks running their own forums. We want it to be as efficient, as cheap as possible. And we’re working really hard for this. We’ve named our company Forem, even though we still run DEV, because we really believe in distributing the software and making our model around the distribution, hosting, and proliferation of free open source software. We now operate a few forums ourselves. We have DEV. We have a new forum called, “The CodeNewbie Community”, community.codenewbie.org is how you can find that. We run a forum called forum.dev, which is where we discuss some of the nuances of building DEV. We answer questions and we post our updates, and when we publish a product roadmap, that’s where it’s going to go. We might cross-post it to DEV itself for more reach. But really this is an experiment in finding breadth and depth in individual communities and not taking full ownership ourselves of the entire thing. We want everyone out there creating forums and it’s going to be a really exciting journey. Of course, forum is a generic term. Ours is spelled F-O-R-E-M though, and stands for “For Empowering Community”. And that’s just our little plan words. Empowering community was our mission from the get-go and Forem is how we’re trying to accomplish that. Now that we know what Forem is, let’s talk a bit about your specific roles here at Forem and how they have evolved. Lisa, do you want to start?
[00:04:53] LS: So as a lead product designer, I have a hybrid IC managerial role where I create what the design organization looks like at Forem. And so far, it’s me and one other person who is an IC designer.
[00:05:10] BH: What are the challenges of leading up design for the Forem product? And things were different when you came on, like before you joined. We didn’t necessarily have a lead designer and you had to build out that infrastructure. What’s that been like and what are your day-to-day challenges?
[00:05:29] LS: So when I first joined the company, like you mentioned, there was no designer. So I was in charge of finding what a design culture might look like at this company, which at the time had a lot of engineers and was led by engineering. And so I’ve worked in other organizations where I’ve worked closely with engineers and also with design teams with their own culture. So I was happy to figure out how to port that over to this company. And a lot of it means creating a culture where people feel that they can create ideas with each other and collaborate. And as designers, one of our superpowers when we’re working with teams is helping visualize what these solutions might look like that meets at the intersection of an organization’s business goals and their customer’s needs. And so that’s what’s been really empowering to do at Forem is working with our engineering team to let them know, “Hey, just because you’re not designers doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with interesting ideas. Our goal is to listen to what our teammates are saying and to piece everything together into a vision that inspires everybody.”
[00:06:45] BH: And in Season 3, Episode 7, we talked in even greater depth about this. Lisa was on and we talked about what design was and what it means to be a designer. So definitely check that episode out for a little bit more depth about everything Lisa works on and what that career path is. Vaidehi, can we talk about your role here and how it evolved?
[00:07:08] VJ: I started at Forem a little bit over a year ago. I started as a senior software engineer, eventually progressed into a lead software engineer role, which similar to what Lisa described is a hybrid between IC work and management work as well. And there’s a little bit of some mixed leadership responsibility on the engineering side that’s thrown in there. I think we have a few different lead software engineers within the engineering apparatus and some of them have different focuses. I think some folks are more focused on the front end. Some folks are really, really senior and have a lot of experience. I tend to think of myself as a software engineer who has a deep product focus, which is probably why I’m on the show today and why I was a part of the product roadmap. And to me, I think a product engineer is someone who’s like continually thinking about engineering choices in the context of the larger umbrella of the product. And I think a lot of generalists fit really neatly into that description where it’s not necessarily the case that you’re diving too deep into one technology or one part of the code base or one part of the product, you kind of have this holistic view whenever you’re working on anything, whether it’s implementation or engineering, decision-making, or larger technical decisions.
[00:08:33] BH: So we’re talking about the product roadmap and let’s first talk about what is a roadmap.
[00:08:41] LS: A roadmap is a plan for doing something. And one of the analogies that I’ve shared with Vaidehi throughout our entire collaboration coming to this roadmap is a road trip. So when you plan a road trip, you want to figure out who’s going with you, what’s the itinerary, where will you be stopping and what you’ll be doing there. And you’re defining this entire plan with the end goal, being that destination you’re trying to get to at the end. So you know that with you and the people that are in the car with you, you’re eventually going to get to the destination, but you’re all kind of open-minded as to how you’ll get there, but it all comes down to your resources. How much is our budget? How much time do we have? What is the schedule through which we will eventually progress towards the destination? And those are just two factors and there are many more, but I would say that essentially a roadmap is a plan for getting somewhere and it can apply to many places in the context of creating a product roadmap. It’s a definition of how we will plan what we do to design and develop the product we want that achieves certain business outcomes and customer needs.
[00:10:02] VJ: Yeah. Another analogy to throw in there is different perspectives and thinking at different levels of scale. And what I mean by that is it’s good to have a plan for what you’re trying to do and where you’re trying to get to, but a roadmap can help you break things down into different levels of detail. And an important thing to keep in mind with any roadmap is it’s a guideline for where you want to go. But as things progress, it’s very likely that your plan is going to change maybe based on business needs, maybe based on customer needs, maybe based on, I don’t know, the state of the world, like who knows? So many things can be influx. So it’s really a guideline. It’s sort of like your GPS, but things come up and you have to be able to adapt to them. And so a roadmap lets you have that long-term big picture view of where you want to be in 12 months or 24 months, but it also gives you the ability to be a bit more granular in the next three months. And I think that’s the kind of complicated part of a roadmap, which is that it’s like not one thing and it’s perpetually evolving and changing and you sort of have to be a little bit flexible to take into account the 5,000-foot view, which is like the more immediate term, and then the 10,000-foot view, which is the long-term, and then the 20,000-foot view, which is like something most people probably aren’t even thinking about, but you still need to have some scope for so that you generally know what direction you’re going into.
[00:11:28] LS: One of the values that we have at Forem is short-term opportunism. And I think that when we want to embody that statement, it might mean looking at what’s in front of us and being open to changing courses. If we think that there’s an opportunity, we should leap on that. It wasn’t in the roadmap before. And I think that really speaks to the flexibility, but ideally you’d want to act and leap on something as long as we know that it eventually is in service of the bigger picture. And that’s where having an understanding of the destination is really helpful.
[00:12:06] BH: Yeah. I mean, just today I found myself referencing our roadmap to like clarify some of the end goals, the difference between what we’re actually looking to accomplish in the big picture and what the state of the task as it’s being accomplished is. And knowing the big picture allows us flexibility in the problem at hand. So we actually know where we’re going and it doesn’t involve like this specific outcome. So if we encounter an issue with something being a little bit too difficult, we’d actually didn’t put this specific solution in such a micro way right in the roadmap. We were a little bit more broad and we were able to kind of speak specifically to, well, there’s actually some flexibility. The roadmap didn’t tell us to do exactly this. It told us this is where we’re going and this is what we want to accomplish. And we actually want to make adjustments in order to get to that point. Where do product vision and product strategy come into play?
[00:13:07] LS: The difference between a vision and the strategy is a vision is a picture of where we’d like to go, like that destination, and a strategy is how we get there. And the roadmap is this very tangible tool that combines both things altogether, because if you were talking to your team and you just stated what the vision is, like, “Okay, we’re going to create this app that gets 10,000 downloads on the app store a day.” They’re like, “Okay, I see that. But how will we get there?” And the roadmap is the more practical plan with both like the long-term strategy of how we get there, but also shorter term task that is required to achieve that, which means looking at the more immediate things like, “Okay, what are you doing this week? What are we doing in two weeks?” And I think that one of the psychological benefits of embracing a product’s vision, a roadmap, a strategy is it satiates the human need to have concreteness, but also to have flexibility and creativity. And I feel like having these artifacts really gives us the ability to embrace these different aspects of our humanity, which I think is really exciting to me personally as a designer because I think there is this stereotype of designers always picking in the clouds of the most aspirational things and then engineers have this stereotype of being extremely practical, extremely detail oriented. But I think for us to be effective as teammates who balance each other, we also can embrace tools that tap into different aspects of ourselves in that way. And I think that’s one of the coolest things about the product vision and the strategy.
[00:14:54] BH: Who’s the main audience for our product roadmap?
[00:14:57] VJ: Well, I think it’s a lot of different people, right? There are the people who are making product decisions every day, who definitely are going to be looking at that product roadmap and probably living and breathing it more than anybody else. But then there’s also people who maybe aren’t concerned with the story part of the product as much, but they are on the journey with you. Right? They’re the engineers, they’re maybe even the designers, maybe they’re the researchers, they’re the support folks. They’re the people that work in marketing. They do need to have a story to buy into. They do need a hook. So the roadmap is kind of like the plot. It’s like the chapter table of contents of like, “Okay, we’re starting here. We’re going here.” Like, “Okay, this is how we’re ending.” But of course, software is never done. So it’s not really an ending. It’s just like a predetermined stopping point until we reassess and it just keeps evolving. So my table of contents metaphor falls apart there. So you can scrap that part. But my point is that there’s different people who are going to consume the roadmap itself from the people who are interacting with it every day to the people who are helping build the product. But then even beyond the folks who work at Forem, you have people who are outside of that internal community. You have the general public, board members, current and future investors, honestly like future employees, our competitors, just the general public too, as well as the open source community because Forem is an open source project. And I say all of this knowing that we haven’t fully publicized the roadmap and I believe we do have a plan to, but those are the folks who you can imagine would look at that. And if you think about any product you’ve ever used, if you are a true user of it, especially like a super user, you’ve probably gone and looked at what they have coming down the pipeline. You maybe have a feature in mind or maybe you are like wanting to know how they’re going to flex that tool in the context of the larger ecosystem. A great example of this is like GitHub. As a developer, I have looked at the GitHub roadmap multiple times because I use that tool so much. It’s so much a part of my workflow. So similarly, the people who are the greatest consumers of Forem, people who have their own forums or who are members of other little forum ecosystems are probably the people who are going to be major consumers of the roadmap, even though they may not be part of that internal community.
[00:17:16] LS: To the last point, I feel like these groups of people, I might call them super fans. They are very passionate and vocal about the things they want to see happen with Forem. And we know that internally within our team, we have only a certain capacity. So I think it’s really helpful to share our roadmap to let them know what we are thinking about explicitly so that they see that we have an actual plan towards that. But also like when they can see things, their roadmap, it gives them a chance to spot if there are opportunities for them to collaborate with us. Right? Which I think is pretty cool too.
[00:17:49] BH: Yeah. And We’ve written every line of code that goes into Forem in the open. We don’t even have really like a closed section. We’re not like an open core company with like this part of the thing we do open source, like the whole thing is open source and we have open issues. We write code when we want to write it. We might put it behind a feature flag. We try to get things into the app when they happen. And so you can follow along and get a lot of insight into what’s going on, but to what you both are speaking about, that’s really not enough because people do want to know where things are going and what maybe the rationale is for the decision today. Without the perspective into the future, everything might seem like a little too ad hoc, even if someone might have that perspective. It’s only so helpful if there’s not more to unify around. Would you say that’s sort of an effective thought?
[00:18:50] VJ: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t want to overdo it on the analogy, but there’s an analogy I actually used with one of our co-founders a while ago. We were having a conversation about like what product’s role is. If you think about a company or a team as a ship, you have the engineers who are making the ship go. Like without them, you literally can’t go anywhere. You have the designers who are making sure the ship floats, and then you have like a product who’s actually steering the ship. So to speak to your point, Ben, people need to know like where we’re going. Right? And so that’s like the value of the product. When the ship is being steered really well, nobody really thinks about or knows about it. And when it’s not there, people really know it and they can feel it and they’re questioning like, “Where are we going and why?” And so the roadmap really helps answer that question. And I think when product is doing its job really well, and now I’m just talking about product as an entity, less about the roadmap, people aren’t really having to wonder that and maybe people don’t even really look at the roadmap too much because that vision and that direction has been communicated so well that you have the general idea and you don’t even care about the nitty-gritty of the story. You just know what the general arc is.
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[00:21:17] BH: So we have a breakdown of different paths on our roadmap. Can we start about what we call “The Creator Roadmap”?
[00:21:25] LS: So we’ve broken the roadmap into three distinct areas, The Creator Roadmap and Member Experience Roadmap and The Marketplace Roadmap. The Creator Experience Roadmap is responsible for all product decisions related to improving The Creator Experience so that creators can easily set up, manage and grow their forums.
[00:21:48] BH: Can you get into what we define as a creator?
[00:21:51] LS: A creator is someone that creates a forum on our platform. They are the first member of their community and they are the one that is responsible for customizing what their community looks like, inviting people to join their community, and making sure that the community feels engaging and also a safe place for people to thrive on that platform. These people might also be the ones who are responsible for moderating their communities, and ideally they might invite other people to also be admins on their community so that they can all help support each other as the community grows.
[00:22:31] BH: It’s really been exciting to see the advances in The Creator Experience and our alignment in terms of like what we actually need to get done here. Six months ago, twelve months ago, I feel like we were grasping at air trying to even figure out what our priorities were and to be able to put that into a roadmap and really understand like where we’re going has been really valuable for getting there.
[00:22:56] LS: Yeah. When we identify what a creator needs, which is to set up, manage and grow the communities, we then open up to the entire team to come up with ideas that can make that happen. And I think this is where if you have a good prompt that you can give to your team, it helps them be creative within a container so that they don’t get sprawled endlessly outwards, which is not very productive for anybody. And so again, this goes back to a vision and a strategy, being a good balance between constraint and creativity.
[00:23:33] BH: Let’s move to our next roadmap segment, The Member Roadmap. Can we talk about what that is?
[00:23:40] VJ: The Member Roadmap is a roadmap specific to the member experience and a member is anybody who can join and participate in a forum community. So this roadmap is really all about ascertaining how we can really empower people who join forums to better talk to and listen to one another. And so we have like lots of projects in this roadmap that have to do with the core functionality, like content creation, participation in threads and conversations, navigation, finding useful information. Those types of things are like core to the experience of Forem and they apply to any kind of user of Forem, right? Because if you think about it, a creator also is a member, but with really heightened responsibilities. So that’s sort of what the member roadmap is themed around. And I think just personally speaking, there’s some really interesting features coming down the pipeline on that end that are really going to sort of beef up the entire form experience from what it was, maybe even a year ago, back when it was just DEV.
[00:24:43] BH: And the third part of our roadmap is what we call The Marketplace Roadmap. Can we talk to that a little bit?
[00:24:49] LS: Ben, I feel like you would be the best person to speak from that because it’s something that kind of undergirds the entire cater and member experience. It’s more of like a foundation, right?
[00:25:01] BH: Yeah. It’s also probably the thing that’s least intuitive to the listeners, depending on what we might have released by the time they’re listening to this in any capacity. But when we think about what Forem is, it’s an extraction from a single publishing community, a place where developers can come and add their thoughts and have them organize next to other similar thoughts, gather feedback, have a dialogue, coordinate with moderators, et cetera. And part of the purpose of DEV is to be specific and helpful for developers in a way that maybe Medium wasn’t always, just to kind of speak to maybe the ecosystem before DEV existed. You had maybe a publishing platform like Medium, which didn’t necessarily orient around developers. So it was sort of generalist and DEV comes along and it’s a little bit more specialized. We were able to appeal to folks who wanted to do things in a certain way. We appealed to developers with markdown and syntax highlighting, and then a lot of neat embeds. We focus on GitHub. We focus on bringing a lot of content in, but then of course we decided we wanted to make this open source and we wanted to make other segments of the universe applicable. So we want to make this really accessible for all sorts of folks, developers, all sorts of use cases, different niches in development. So DEV has always succeeded in offering a lot of breadth. But you don’t get the same depth that you might get. You don’t necessarily get a deep dive into Nginx infrastructure in your home feed, because you’re going to get more content around like high level, like how do I use Nginx to solve a problem as opposed to what are the underlying components here. So we don’t want DEV to be a one-size-fits-all thing. We don’t want to consume all information with developers and have that be the business model. We really want to build and distribute software. And with that, we want to reduce the scope of what the core forum thing is, and we’ve called that the starter pack. So when you install Forem, you get the basic Forem and that basic Forem may or may not need a lot of GitHub integrations because this is not a developer community. You may or may not ultimately have say video as a supported format because you want to host this thing on the cheap and video is actually like a really expensive thing to transcode and serve. You may want any number of simplifications or different style, theming, et cetera. And we’ve really wanted from an architectural perspective to simplify what the core Forem thing is, and then really allow for building to happen on top of that. So we’re talking about creating the core concept of the starter pack and complimenting that with a really powerful idea of a marketplace for add-ons and for augmentations. And we’re very early on this. We don’t even necessarily have a lot of code work happening, but that’s why it’s on the roadmap. We actually want to anticipate building this so that by the time it comes, we will have thought about it. We will have kicked it off. And that’s basically where we are now. We’re kicking off the notion of segmenting the starter pack functionality to what can be extracted into a marketplace. We want to determine ultimately where we’re going with that marketplace and how we’re going to finalize the architecture and figure out who can write code for the marketplace and how they can do it. And some of that’s going to be us. Some of that’s going to be our awesome community of developers. And it’s a whole big part of the roadmap that compliments the long-term technical needs of the project. And that’s the third pillar of the roadmap as it stands today.
[00:29:12] VJ: There’s one thing I wanted to point out, which is sort of like a little meta. The whole process of making the roadmap started with a product statement. So a lot of the terms you’re hearing in the roadmap, the concept of a member versus a creator versus marketplace, the whole term starter pack, we didn’t have any of those terms before the product statement. To go back to the analogies, if you sort of think of the roadmap as a story or like some sort of narrative arc of a product, the product statement was sort of the thesis. It was the end goal of what we thought. We were building. And I think that was just from a hindsight perspective. That was sort of the moment where we really started to understand all the different moving parallel parts to our roadmap. And the reason I want to point that out is I want to be clear that your roadmap, if you you’re working at a different company or if you’re starting your own thing or if you’re just interested in like roadmapping, there’s no rule that says you need to have three parallel roadmaps. That’s just something we came up with because it mirrored what we were working on and kind of what we wanted to do and it was very easy to categorize all the different projects in these three verticals. But your roadmap should really speak to your own product statement. And I would encourage folks to take the time to sit down and try to write that product statement, write that thesis statement of that 32nd elevator pitch of what is the thing you’re building. You should be able to describe it succinctly. You should have everybody on the team be able to explain what it is. And then that is sort of like the impetus for creating that roadmap because if you don’t know where you want to go, you can never create a map to getting there. So I just wanted to point out that whole exercise of the product statement was super, super, super crucial in this whole roadmapping process. And that’s where the terminology came from. We came up with it because it was the best way we could describe these very abstract ideas of something that didn’t yet exist at the time.
[00:31:24] LS: When we make everything public, we’ll share everything out to the audience so that they can see how these things come together because I’m imagining right now, it seems a little bit abstract, but once you see all the moving pieces, it will be clear to people.
[00:31:38] BH: So let’s talk about where we are now and where we want to be by the end of the year. So what stands out to both of you two as elements on the roadmap that are interesting milestones?
[00:31:54] LS: I think the biggest thing that we’re working on right now is defining the strategy for how we will actually create the marketplace. And that means a lot of extracting of what is currently in a forum so that it becomes the most basic forum with its starter pack. And that’s definitely something that we’re going to be working on for a while because there are so many moving pieces there. But I think it’s going to be really satisfying the day that we get to like really look at that marketplace a few months from now and it’s like we see it, creators can go to the marketplace and turn things on easily or off. That’s going to be really good. For me, that’s the thing that I’m looking at the most forward to.
[00:32:41] VJ: Yeah. I think for me, it’s almost like one step before that, which is the slim down starter pack experience. I think the entire concept of what a forum is and what it is not is going to be redefined by that. And I think having the starter pack is also like step one to creating the marketplace because you figure out what is it part of the marketplace from the moment that you decide that it’s not part of the starter pack. So that whole crux of deciding what a forum is and what it is fundamentally not out of the box, I think that will be really cool to see, the finished product of the slim down starter pack, if that makes sense.
[00:33:20] LS: I’m also excited to see the launch of our iOS mobile app and see continued development on that experience. Ben and I have talked about this notion called “Progressive Enhancements”, which is a term I didn’t know about prior to talking to him about it. But I had the idea in my head of being able to take aspects of the web application when it’s in a web view and the native app, but then turning it into a mobile implementation of it. And I think it’s just going to be really cool to kind of see what that looks like.
[00:33:56] BH: Yeah. I’m really excited about our direction with native. So we’re starting with iOS and we will have Android soon after that. Both are representative on our roadmap. So once it’s public, folks can get an idea of when we expect to come out with that, and it’s been really fun to go forward with the approach we’re taking. So we want each forum to be its own individual thing, its data to be segmented. No one entity gets to control the whole ecosystem. It’s kind of like a specialized version of the web. So the web gets to be for a lot of things. There’s obviously segments of the web, which are a collection navigable by browsers, by search engines, et cetera. And we want to achieve a lot of that nicety, but we really want to ensure that we’re wrapping it in a user experience that’s going to be consumable and reasonable for the mainstream. And we just don’t expect our friends and family outside of tech to be using forums on their phone by like opening up Safari browser tabs on their iOS. There’s a certain expectation of experience and the way the Forem app, as we have it, it acts as a browser for the Forem ecosystem, just like a web browser acts as a browser for the web or the web itself is going to be pretty interesting and to try and compete with native via progressive enhancement, via ongoing development while allowing forums to be really independent and web first and for us to show off the ecosystem in a consolidated form. It’s going to be a lot of fun. And it will help drive the ongoing member experience discussions, creator experience. Being a creator is a different context when you know there’s going to be discovery through the whole mobile app, which is going to allow people to jump from one form to another. And I’m really excited about that. And I think it’s both so tangibly close, like we’re about to launch it. But also, we’re launching the first version and we’re going to learn a lot and it might not be the biggest thing we do on day one, but who knows in the future? It might be really like front and center and just how we think about, how we want to present the Forem ecosystem.
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[00:37:34] BH: Let’s move to a segment where we look at responses from you, the audience, that have sent us in relation to a question that we made for this episode. So the question we asked was, “What would you like to know most about the future of the Forem product?” Our first response is from Thomas. “Will Forem become a kind of CMS that can be easily installed? Will you set up cloud services to have its own node?” And so I saw this question online and I ask a clarifying question about really what was being asked. And the question is really like, “Are we going to make the Forem open source product easy and usable?” And the answer is yes, that’s what we’ve been really working hard on. We haven’t really talked a lot about this because it’s been a long time coming and we didn’t want to have this vaporware discussion where we’re constantly saying like, “Oh, this thing is coming soon.” The whole thing is open source, but it really is that installation process and that updating and upgrade process, which we’ve had to really ensure that we close the loop on before we start going broad and trying to encourage hundreds and thousands of forums to exist in the universe, but they’re going to be easy to install, folks using DigitalOcean, AWS, et cetera. And then in addition to that, we will have our own hosting service and that service is firstly going to be more available for professional use cases because we need to sort of offer something that can’t immediately scale to thousands and millions of individual users because we sort of need to get there with our infrastructure. So we need to give a more catered experience to fewer folks, but we will be expanding that product as quickly as we can. That’s kind of the deal. That’s exactly what we’re doing. So it’s going to be really easy to install on your own and we’re going to compliment that with our own even easier version, which will have its own ongoing roadmap over time. So that’s going to be really fun to see. Our next response is from Forest. “What platforms are serving as inspiration for the future design of Forem? Is there a mold for CMS platforms that Forem intends to break?”
[00:39:55] LS: So I can kind of speak to this from a design perspective. So one of the things we’ve looked at is the wealth of social networks that are out today and how a lot of them forced creators to conform to certain ways of how you can set up a community and the design of that. So a few examples I can list out are Facebook, Instagram. When you create communities there, you have to conform to the UI tools that they offer to you. Your post on a hiking community looks the same as a post on a developer community. But what if on the hiking community, you want to prioritize showing maps or photography or videos? And that might be different than the needs of a developer community. And so when we look at the different types of social networks that are out there today, they don’t offer too much in terms of customization for the different needs of different creators. And we are trying to offer that to people through our open source platform. And we know that part of it means also letting different developers contribute to this platform and that’s why we advocate for this marketplace. All of this is a reference to what the internet has always been for people until it began to become more narrow in what people could do on the internet. Everyone is funneled into these monolithic social platforms. I really want to untangle all of that and empower creators again to create little hubs for themselves on the internet.
[00:41:40] BH: It’s been really fun to just think about what the future of the open web can be like when you’ve got a little bit more shared standard in terms of like how these communities operate technically while kind of consuming it all like fairly holistically and it’s really going to be fun to reach some milestones, which will help us ideate towards further ones. Ravi asks, “How do you address fear of missing out?” So they visit DEV and Reddit and freeCodeCamp to make sure they’re aware of web application stacks, as well as emerging technologies like Rust, Julia, WebAssembly, et cetera. “If Forem becomes very, very easy to deploy on a $10 Linode server,” which is kind of exactly what we’re trying to do, “niche sites will proliferate. Will there be a single sign-on to navigate across niche sites? How about one dedicated Forem site for enabling membership across niche Forem sites?”
[00:42:40] VJ: I mean, it’s basically what they’re describing is like Forem authentication, right? Where you can be a part of a very distributed network. But then Forem authentication introduces an element of some centralization because that data lives somewhere within this Forem umbrella, whatever, ecosystem. But yeah, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I can speak to the FOMO aspect, but just from a technical perspective, I think it’s a fascinating problem that we haven’t solved, but we have discussed at great length. And I think it’ll be really interesting to see how that fits into the marketplace aspect because there’s larger technical questions there of like, “How does a Forem fit in with the marketplace and how do individual members of a Forem associate those memberships with the forums, with the marketplace? And that’s not even going into the concept of like how do you contribute to the marketplace and like verification of that, but the whole distributed social network with some element of centralization is a whole can of worms.
[00:43:49] BH: Yeah. And I think that speaks to why we’ve talked about this a lot, but we haven’t put it on the immediate roadmap because we don’t want to do something silly that kind of makes Forem have to be centralized. We want that to be a form of progressive enhancement. Maybe most forums will have a capacity for shared identity and a bit of shared context between forums. But when we talk about what happened with Cambridge Analytica, what happens when these things are poorly constructed or not thinking of the downsides and the abuse. It makes us not want to rush some of these things. And I think the unified mobile experience is going to be sort of baby steps in this direction. When I use what we have now as a test flight version of the Forem mobile app, it makes me really want this next thing a lot more because I kind of want to be able to zip onto a new Forem and sign up without having to manage the different identities. But once we get there, we’re probably going to have some clever ways to help unify forums, which are compatible with the existing different options we provide for authentication. It’s really going to be cool to see because we want to enable a future that is both technically, really privacy oriented and security oriented, but also something that our friends and family can use and understand. And we’re probably a couple of jumps from really that being like the full vision because managing the multiple identities is a certain complexity that’s probably like one step away from Forem being like really easy to understand I think from a mainstream user perspective. So I think this kind of comment speaks to that. Lee asks, “Why someone would choose to build their community on Forem over Slack and maybe Reddit?” I mean, I think this kind of also speaks to the feedback cycles we go through. We have a feeling that the Slack form factor is limited in its synchronousness, the fact that it doesn’t really break down silos super effectively. We’ve used Forem internally as a team, as a compliment to synchronous chat, and it’s been really interesting. I was offline last week and coming back to being able to sort of high-level sort by week and see the big updates in the form factor was really effective. A lot of the folks we’re working with to get onto Forem are sort of evolving off of a Slack, which has become too chaotic. And when we talk about what DEV is, that idea could never be a Slack. It’s just too massive. It’s not the same scalable thing. And then speaking to Reddit, I think the centralization of Reddit, the fact that it’s one monolithic moderation community working with Reddit has a lot of historical baggage, is one singular decision maker. I think you can talk to platforms like Instagram, which are fraught with similar like singular moderation practices, like a lack of individuals to take ownership over their space within the platform, a lack of capacity to grow and to build something you’ll own forever. You’re sort of renting space on a Reddit or Instagram, et cetera. And we really hope that this creates some alignment with some really creative folks who are natural community builders. And they know when they’re building on Forem. They own the domain. They own the infrastructure. Hopefully, they don’t have to do a lot of the work because that’s us, the Forem team, that continues to push code and evolve the platform, but they get to invest long term. And you really can’t do that with a Reddit. It’s kind of you working with Reddit in a relationship which can shift and adjust at any time. And if folks ever feel like Forem, if they look at the product roadmap and they see the wrong thing coming down the pike, they can kind of prepare to fork and go in, like there’s always that we’re working with and we have to embrace and we can embrace. And it’s going to be a challenge to ensure we live out to expectations and deliver on some of this. But there’s a lot of reasons to invest in the Forem ecosystem as opposed to one of these platforms like Reddit.
[00:48:16] VJ: I think for me, Forem is a little bit of an experiment and you see it change every few months. To me, I think the draw, if we can pull it off, is that it is so customizable to fit different communities versus communities having to fit themselves within these platforms. Right? You have communities that create workarounds for Slack or use Reddit in a certain way or only use parts of it because the feature that they really need isn’t there. And I think the whole concept of this out of the box infrastructure, which is that starter pack coupled with the customizability aspect, is what I think doesn’t quite exist in the world right now, in the way that I personally envision it. You have people who have used Meetup, you have people who use Facebook groups. There’s like creators who have like Instagram communities and like a marketplace aspect of that. There’s all these different things and there’s no real central way of creating a community that does all of them. And there’s lots of different community creating platforms out there right now and they all sort of serve different types of creators. And I think what Forem could be is a solution for different types of creators, but with some standardization around it, but lots of freedom and flexibility to enable things as you need them, to ignore things as you want to dismiss them. That’s what I can see it being. And I think that would be the way to get people off of the internet overlords of these larger platforms where you don’t really have a choice because it is the best solution, even if it isn’t the solution, that actually really works the best for you, you have to work around it. And this is not to say that Forem is at now. I think there are a lot of creators who do have to have workarounds right now, but that’s because it is very much an evolution and a work in progress, but that’s like when I think of the Forem product statement and that end state of I’m like, “Okay, that’s what it could be.”
[00:50:18] LS: Vaidehi, that was so eloquently said. Bravo. Seriously. I like what you said.
[00:50:25] VJ: Thank you.
[00:50:26] BH: Lisa, Vaidehi, thank you both for being here today.
[00:50:29] VJ: Thank you for having us.
[00:50:31] LS: Thanks. This is great.
[00:50:41] BH: I want to thank everyone who sent in responses. For all those listening, please be on the lookout for the next question on DEV. Also, we would love it if you would dial into our Google Voice. The number is +1 (929) 500-1513 or you can email us a voice memo so that we can hear your responses in your own beautiful voices. This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. Editorial oversight by Jess Lee, Peter Frank, and Saron Yitbarek. Our theme song is by Slow Biz. If you have any questions or comments, email [email protected] and make sure to join us for our DevDiscuss Twitter chats every Tuesday at 9:00 PM US Eastern Time, or if you want to start your own discussion, write a post on DEV using the #discuss. Please rate and subscribe to this show on Apple Podcasts.