Professional Networks

Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse

Forums helped shape the internet into what it is today. But now they're feeling a bit dated. We’re exploring two platforms trying to change that.

By Mighty Team

April 12, 2023

8 min read



    Forums have been one of the most important forms of communication since the birth of the internet. In the past, they were a gateway for people all over the world to connect with one another through a common interest.

    But, these days when there are social media platforms out the wazoo, traditional forums are feeling pretty antiquated. If you’re a creator looking for a modern forum platform for your online community then you might have come across Vanilla Forums or Discourse.

    Ahead, we’re comparing Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse to see which platform will provide you and your community a better message board experience.


    Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Who are they?

    Before we breakdown how we will be comparing Discourse vs. Vanilla Forums, it’s important that we introduce the two platforms. Since there are so many community forum platforms out there, it’s good to know how long these two have been around and what they are known for.

    Vanilla Forums

    Vanilla Forums was founded as an open-source project back in 2009. They have helped hundreds of top brands provide community experience to their supporters. Today, Vanilla is a cloud-based platform that tries to embody its name “vanilla” by providing a customizable platform that brands can build from the ground up. They promise faster speeds for their platform thanks to it being based in the cloud, and they emphasize their commitment to creating a very secure and safe platform.


    Discourse describes itself as a community platform for civilized discussions on the web. The platform has been around since 2013 and emphasizes that it is completely open-source. They have tried to build a platform that can morph and flex into whatever a brand wants it to be. That means you can build a mailing list, discussion forum, long-form chat room, or something else.

    Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s unpack the criteria we will be using to compare Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse.

    Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Judgement criteria

    When you’re looking to understand the pros and cons of a given platform, it’s good to have some criteria in mind to judge them on. Since Vanilla Forums and Discourse are both primarily forum-based community platforms we’ve chosen three aspects to analyze:

    • Customization and features. When you’re building a community forum for your brand, it helps to choose a hosting platform with a lot of customization. Why? Because you want your forum to look like the rest of your branding, and you want to tailor your features for what you know your members will want. Choosing a platform that gives you tools to make your forum your own and experiment with new things is valuable.

    • Community management features. It’s no secret that one of the most important parts of managing a forum is having robust community management tools. No matter what platform you’re on, you’re going to want powerful moderation options to deal with issues that might arise on a message board. But you also want to easily and seamlessly communicate with your members.

    • Availability. When you’re dealing with a fast-moving message board, your members will want the capability to reply on the go. Choosing a platform that allows your forums to be available across the web, iOS and Android is a game-changer. Why? Because with great availability to your brand comes great interactivity from your members.

    The three criteria above should give you a good indication of which platform is right for your brand and what you’re trying to build. So, let’s dive deep into our Discourse vs. Vanilla Forums showdown.

    Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Customization and features

    When it comes to choosing a platform for creating your community forum, you’re going to want to make it look like the rest of your brand. Having a lot of options for customizing the look and feel of your forum is important. On top of that, you’ll want to have a robust set of features for your members to use to communicate.

    Let’s see how these two platforms compare.

    Vanilla Forums

    Vanilla Forums CommunityVanilla Forums Community

    As we stated above, Vanilla Forums is a completely open-source platform that believes creators should have control in how their forum looks. You can build something simplistic or you can create something utilizing your brand assets so it lines up with your website. Additionally, Vanilla Forums allows you to embed integrated widgets, blogs, discussion boards, and create small groups.


    Discourse- SnipDiscourse- Snip

    Discourse is a completely open-source platform that allows you to customize your forum however you want. Aesthetically, however, what you can do in terms of branding is fairly light with simple features like being able to utilize your logo. The rest of the platform is pretty sparse.

    If you build your community on Discourse, you’ll have access to a variety of plugins that you can implement like a community calendar, chat integration, subscriptions, and more. But all of these things are largely accomplished through using integrations instead of being natively supported.

    Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Community management features

    An important element for all creators looking to build or grow their online community is having the tools you need to manage your members.  When you have great moderation tools you’ll be able to handle problems that might come up. But you also want features that will help you build connections between your members too.

    Vanilla Forums

    Providing good community management tools to creators is a big proponent of Vanilla Forums’ ethos. On their platform, you and your moderators (if you have them) have access to online moderation tools which allow you to delete, merge, sticky, and move discussions in your community. They also have tools in place to quickly and easily remove and ban trolls and spammers.

    vanilla forums screenshotvanilla forums screenshot

    Additionally, you’ll have options for member-driven moderation through flagging content.  But Vanilla Forums isn’t just about moderating problems that come up, they also have solid community management tools for communicating with your members on a large scale through notifications and private messages. You also have the capability to schedule and plan events.


    When it comes to community management features, Discourse embodies its message of keeping civilized communication. Their moderation software is largely based on building community while making sure that everyone feels safe. They have a “trust system” where the longer members are active in your community, the more access they have to help with moderation. Other moderation features they have are spam blocking and flagging.


    In terms of other community tools, you’ll be able to summarize longer topics for members looking to jump into the conversation. Members can use emojis, reply via email, and gain badges for encouraging positive interactions.

    Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Availability

    When you’re building an online community it is always best to choose a platform that will allow you and your members to access your community anywhere. That means that the platform you choose should be available on web, iOS, and Android devices with as much of the same functionality as possible.

    Vanilla Forums

    Currently, Vanilla Forums doesn’t have a native mobile app for creators to use. You can access the forum through a web browser on your computer, phone, or tablet, but they haven’t developed an app for the App Store or Google Play Store which means you’ll have to use a third-party app to make it possible.


    Discourse is available through web, iOS, and Android devices. Their app offers a clean design with easy-to-use features and scaled readable text. The app is more of a no-frills experience, but it works for what most members are using it for.

    Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: The winner

    When it comes down to choosing a winner between Discourse vs. Vanilla Forums it largely comes down to their availability.

    Both platforms have done a solid job of creating a customizable service, although Vanilla Forums has a bit of an edge over Discourse. Why? Because their platform allows creators to more fully brand their community space.

    In terms of community management features, the two platforms are pretty much on par and it comes down to what you value more. Discourse has created a platform that emphasizes your community gaining the power to moderate itself. While Vanilla Forums gives creators of the community a bunch of tools to manage their members.

    But the big deciding factor for Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse is which one has a mobile app. In this day and age, it’s becoming increasingly important for all online community creators to choose platforms that allow them access to native mobile apps. When you have your own app your brand gains legitimacy and your members will have fewer distractions. Unfortunately, Vanilla Forums doesn’t offer one. This means that between the two platforms we think  Discourse is the better option.

    Want a better option?

    We realize that was quite a bit of information to take in, so we’re glad you’ve stuck around. After going through the judgment criteria for Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse, it’s pretty clear that what we’ve built at Mighty Networks is just better than these two platforms.

    When you build a Mighty Network, you’re getting almost all of the features we’ve talked about today with these two forum services plus so much more. We believe that online communities are connecting more people than ever before and helping them achieve things they never thought possible.

    Mighty Networks - Graphics - Discovery CourseMighty Networks - Graphics - Discovery Course

    Our platform has world-class community building features so you can build and ground the online community of your dreams. But we also offer so much more. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some features we love:

    • A native mobile app that works on both iOS and Android devices with the ability to upgrade to a completely white-label branded community mobile app.

    • Discussion boards, polls, Q&As, and direct messaging.

    • Member profiles, detailed analytics.

    • Flexible Spaces.

    • Robust features to create online courses as well as paid memberships.

    • Virtual events & live streaming.

    Most importantly, everything listed above can be done quickly and easily. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

    Schedule a call with us and we’ll show you what you can do!

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