Questions that need answers

This post collects questions that I have been asked offline and am yet to document answers to. I will keep adding answers as replies and more questions by editing this post as I make progress.



Your own questions and answers are welcome as replies to this post.

Are you allowed to use UChicago Shibboleth / get information from it?

Allowed to use: yes (confirmed with IT services). Not sure of the latter yet.

New old question:

How is Discourse (this discussion platform) different from Slack?

Slack is for chat which you usually care about in the moment, while Discourse is for discussion that you may want to come back to. The founder of Discourse (and Stack Overflow), Jeff Atwood, put it best while sharing an analogy from Pixar’s Inside Out on short-term vs long-term memory:

Chat is the one exception, it is the Pixar Inside Out “short term memory” stuff which is decidedly real time / immediate / connected, and you actually want to forget most of what happens in chat every day. Only the long term core memories should be pushed into Discourse.

Source: Running a project or team using Discourse (instead of Slack, Trello, etc...)? - community - Discourse Meta

For more, see:

EDIT: There is also a long form answer in a dedicated topic: More on Slack vs Discourse

Not really, but that might be a good thing as we wouldn’t everyone to get spammed unless absolutely necessary.

The current officially recommended solution (for an admin) is documented at

Elsewhere @riza asked in a similar vein as above:

Why Discourse?
Why not Facebook Group, like Overheard at UChicago, or UChicago International Community?
And there’s a tons of mailing list :open_mouth:
University of Chicago Mailing Lists - lists


  1. You are the product on Facebook. Why not use an open source platform that can be customized to our needs without serving us any ads?
  2. Facebook or any other social media platforms are distractions in terms of what you are usually exposed to on them. A lot of people choose not to use Facebook, how would you convince them to join a group?
  3. Overheard is a great example of a big problem – who controls that group, I have tried to join several times and haven’t gained access. Here is solution that will work for literally any grad student with a UChicago email ID/CNetID.
  4. With tons of lists and FB groups the problem is they are all distributed and usually organized around particular topics – like ethnicity or being an international student. Where is that one mailing list or group that connects all grad students?

@gegallagher asked in a PM:

Great set of questions!

Ensuring that only members of UChicago community get access is fairly easy. We just need to enable sign up with email ID’s ending in a (or similar such as or domain. We can allow others to join such as local community members from Hyde Park on a case by case approval basis (which is expected to be a really low number and can be easily handled by a grad student admin).

If we wanted to restrict access to only UChicago graduate students, there is no precise way to do this, even using the university’s CNetID based authentication — see caveats listed for eduPersonAffiliation at Using LDAP Affiliations for Authorization – Knowledge Base – UChicago IT Services (requires CNet login to access). TLDR being the university maintains multiple affiliations such as student, staff, academic, alum, etc. for members of the campus community but there is no such affiliation as a grad student.

I want to make a clarification about this platform being invite only, it is not. Anybody with a uchicago email ID can go to the homepage and sign up.

I am happy to check with UChicago IT Services when we reach the decision to do a university-wide deployment whether more precise authorization for grad students alone is possible. But my opinion is that this community should not be tied to or restricted by the way university chooses to do its authorization and instead should be open and welcoming to members of the university and the local neighborhood who want to participate.

The way I envision this can be done is (as I mentioned in my first paragraph above) by initially only allowing uchicago email IDs to sign up and in the future approving non-UChicago email IDs manually (that only if we reach a consensus to allow). All the advertising channels for entering this community will be grad-only (be it @grad-council, UChicagoGRAD, various DSACs or even individual departments) which will ensure we have a primarily grad/professional student body here. Even if some some curious undergrads end up joining it doesn’t hurt anyone; we are not supposed to be discussing anything against undergrads here in the first place, see # Always be Civil in FAQ.

EDIT: These also cover the following questions in the OP:

I posted some excerpts from the long article criticizing Facebook: LRB · John Lanchester · You Are the Product: It Zucks!

What are the UI options for discourse? Does it permit different skins, or UI design? I feel like the current look and feel feels a bit plain, and that most modern web design does more to grab and keep my attention. It’s silly that people might choose one platform over the other due to style rather than substance, but i think it’s a reality that has affected my preferences in several cases (e.g. chrome vs ff).

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That’s a great question!

Yes, Discourse allows one to customize the look of the forum, if you go to your preferences and interface, you can choose among available themes. Since no one else asked for this before and I tend to value function over form, I did not bother to install any additional themes, so only one Dark theme is available right now, apart from the default.

Further, one can create their own themes. If you have ideas and can spare some time in future, we should collaborate. And if you find any of the already existing themes worth checking out, I will be happy to install them on the forum so that users can choose their preferred themes. Here are some: Topics tagged theme-full

I like this one: Daemonite Material Theme - theme - Discourse Meta - the colors don’t really match the UChicago crimson theme, but i do think it’s attention-grabbing

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I just installed the theme, you should try choosing it in your preferences.

The colors are not the same as in the screenshots, unfortunately. But that may or may not be a good thing. Further, I am aware that a new color scheme can be created to match the UChicago crimson colors.

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Hey @nickmc, do you like the new maroon color scheme? I also wanted to let you know that I removed the daemonite theme in this new installation of discourse as it had some extra maintenance overhead.

The dark theme also looks quite usable with the maroon color scheme afaict. Let me know if you still want the custom theme or something else.