Procuring Discourse Hosting from CDCK

This guide is a short introduction to the Discourse open-source forum software and Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., the firm behind it, for companies familiar with 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 software and wonder how it plays out for Discourse, 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. Giving Discourse away for free helps us 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 all that 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 terms, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, doing work for hire prevents us from sharing with the broader community of Discourse users. That hurts Discourse and the community as a whole. Conversely, sharing new work with the broader Discourse community allows the whole community 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, one-off 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 asked for. 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 software. Others specifically prohibit “reciprocal”, “share-alike”, “copyleft”, or “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.

Fortunately, there’s no risk of that with Discourse hosting from CDCK. 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. We offer Discourse to the world on the terms of the GPL, but we ourselves own full rights in the software, and can use it as we see fit.

As as result, the concerns of traditional “no open-source software” clauses don’t apply to Discourse hosting from CDCK. Read in context, those clauses simply wouldn’t make any sense. We can’t promise to run Discourse, which is open-source software, and also promise not to use any open-source software. So we remove or correct clauses that set up this conflict.

Open-source software makes transition easy.

Like G Suite, Salesforce, 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. Then you can run it for itself, or hire another company to do it for you.

Source code escrow is totally unnecessary for Discourse, because your company already has access to all the source code 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 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.

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