Procuring Discourse Hosting from CDCK

This guide is a short introduction to Discourse forum software and Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., the firm behind it, for companies familiar with more traditional software procurement. If Discourse hosting from CDCK is your procurement team’s first open source deal, or if you’re familiar with open source and wonder how it plays out for Discourse specifically, this guide is for you.

We develop and host open-source discussion forum software.

Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., or CDCK for short, develops Discourse, the Web’s best software for discussion forums. Thousands of organizations, and millions of people, use Discourse to discuss what matters to them online.

Discourse is open source software. That means everyone is free to download Discourse and run it to host discussion forums of their own, completely free of charge. Releasing Discourse as open source enables us to make Discourse better than we ever could on our own, with the help of ideas and code from a broad and passionate community of communities spanning enthusiasts, nonprofit organizations, and multinational corporations.

While it’s possible to download, install, configure, host, and upgrade Discourse on your own, many prefer to pay the experts here at CDCK to handle it for them. In some ways, deals for Discourse hosting through CDCK look a lot like hosted software, “software as a service”, or “cloud service” deals with other firms, such as for G Suite, Dropbox, or Slack. But because Discourse is open source, deals with CDCK look a little bit different, and a little bit better, in a few specific ways.

We sell services, not software licenses.

Your organization doesn’t need to buy a license for Discourse. You’ve already got one—for free!—on widely accepted, standardized open source terms!

Hosting Discourse for customers, rather than licensing it to them, puts CDCK in the category of “hosted software”, “application service provider”, “software as a service”, or more recently “cloud services”. Your company’s procurement dollar buys our time, expertise, and diligence in setting up a Discourse forum for your needs, plus making sure it stays up-to-date, secure, and accessible at all times.

The vast majority of deals for CDCK Discourse hosting close on our standard hosting terms. If your company needs Discourse for Enterprise, we may agree to work on your terms instead. If your procurement process has forms for both licensed software and software-as-a-service, the software-as-a-service form will be a much better fit, and help us close far more quickly.

We make open source, not work for hire.

Typically, CDCK doesn’t make any changes to Discourse or its plugins for customers. Rather, our job is to set Discourse up correctly, and keep it running smoothly.

On occasion, we do agree to add or accelerate items on our development roadmap for Discourse itself, to improve or develop Discourse plugins, or to develop new themes and styling to meet Enterprise customer needs. When we do so, we’re often presented with standard “work made for hire” terms that require assigning all intellectual property in our new work to the customer. We replace those terms with more tailored rules about rights in new work, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, doing work made for hire prevents us from sharing with the broader community of Discourse users. That hurts Discourse and the community as a whole, which is about to include your company!

Sharing new work with the broader Discourse community allows them to test, feed back, and improve upon it. Rather than siloing your company off from the community and its benefits by effectively running your own version of Discourse, sharing improvements back allows your company to continue benefiting from the work we and others do for standard Discourse.

Second, it’s usually the case that Enterprise customers ask us to do things we already have in mind, and that other customers have already requested. We listen very closely to our hosting customers in deciding what’s next for Discourse. But if we assigned ownership of each new feature or improvement to the customer who happened to ask for it first, Discourse would end up chopped into little pieces, each belonging to a specific customer, rather than a complete package that everyone can use, rely on, and improve.

Discourse is open-source software, and that’s a very good thing.

Largely as a holdover from the 1990s and early 2000s, many procurement forms ban the use of open source in licensed software, or even software services. Many of these terms particularly call out “reciprocal”, “share-alike”, “copyleft”, or even (sensationally) “viral” licenses, such as the GNU General Public License Version 2, which is the license for Discourse.

Some of those terms made perfect sense in the kinds of deals they were originally written for. When you hire a contractor to develop software to sell as part of your company’s product, you don’t want the contractor using software under licenses that require new work be open source instead. If you give that contractor some of your company’s own software to work with, you expect them to send more company software back, not to post all the software—yours and theirs—on the Internet.

Fortunately, there’s no risk of that with Discourse hosting from CDCK.

First and foremost, we can’t violate the terms of our own open source license. We own intellectual property in all our employees’ and contractors’ contributions to Discourse, and require broad licenses for contributions from community members before incorporating their work into the project. While those broad licenses don’t require us to share changes back to the community, that is exactly what we choose to do, to make Discourse better.

Even if somehow the GPL terms did apply to our work, those terms require sharing code back to the community only when distributing copies of the changed software to others. That’s very rarely the case. We run the Discourse software to host forums, and forum visitors use that website. We don’t distribute Discourse software to your company to run for yourselves.

Lastly, the GPL requires sharing back only when changes are made to the original software. For the vast majority of customers, CDCK doesn’t make any changes to Discourse, but rather installs plugins and configures settingss to make the forum work as the customer wants.

In sum, the concerns of traditional “no open source” boilerplate provisions don’t apply to Discourse hosting from CDCK. Read literally, those rules would make no sense. We can’t promise to run Discourse, which is open source, and also promise not to use any open source at the same time.

Open source makes transition easy.

Like G Suite, Dropbox, and Slack, Discourse hosting is a service, not licensed software. But only Google can run G Suite, only Salesforce can run, and only Slack can run Slack. By contrast, your company already has all the software and permission it needs to run Discourse for itself, or to hire another company, like CDCK, to do it for you.

That’s part of the magic of open source software: no vendor lock-in. Your company doesn’t want CDCK to host its Discourse forum because we’re the only company that can do so. Your company wants CDCK to host its Discourse forum because we’re the best team for the job.

All the same, we know that it’s important to manage risk, and to think about what might happen if our service relationship comes to an end. Fortunately, many of the typical, complex tools for managing that risk become totally unnecessary with open source software like Discourse.

For example, many savvy software-as-a-service contracts require code escrow. Under code escrow, the service provider gives the source code for their software to a trusted third party. If the service provider goes under, or the contract otherwise falls apart, your company can get the source code out of escrow, and either run it for itself, or hire another company to do so.

Source code escrow is totally unnecessary for Discourse, because your company already has access to all the source code for Discourse, and all the permission needed to use it. You can think of open source as “super escrow”. We don’t give our source code to a trusted third party to keep secret, only to be released in specific circumstances. We publish our source code to the Web, under open source license terms that give everyone permission all the time.

Discourse’s open source nature also reduces need for transition services. If for some reason our hosting relationship ends, you won’t have to worry about finding technical expertise to make data from your Discourse forum work with some other kind of forum. You can take the data from the Discourse forum that we host for you, and import it directly into a new forum running exactly the same version of Discourse, without a hitch.

We do our part for compliance, and rely on customers to do theirs.

A great discussion forum takes more than just great hosting. Configuration, participation, and moderation are all essential. CDCK provides great hosting. It’s up to our customers to configure, participate, and moderate the forum we host to meet their needs.

For other kinds of hosted software services, the host keeps control of how the customer uses the service. Terms for those offerings put full legal responsibility on the provider, because the provider has full control.

Our standard terms require both sides to acknowledge and accept their roles in operating the forum as a whole in a compliant way. CDCK stands responsible for the computing, networking, and software infrastructure of the forum. Our customers stand responsible for configuring, moderating, and participating in forum discussions without breaking the law or triggering regulations about use of highly sensitive data, like health records or credit ratings.

CDCK participates in the Privacy Shield programs, complies with GDPR, and includes a number of settings and features to make it easy for forum administrators to comply, too. We also run a bug bounty program and use a variety of tools, practices, and services to keep Discourse and our hosting safe and reliable.

While CDCK stays busy behind the scenes, we put our customers out front, in full charge of their forums. Our customers decide how to configure their forums, who to invite, how to moderate discussions, how to respond to feedback and requests, and what legal and privacy terms to publish. Our customers decide which kinds of visitors and conversations to welcome, which to discourage, and which to prevent or remove.

Procuring Discourse Hosting from CDCK by Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.