min read

Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: The Ultimate Comparison

Compare Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse — and learn why Bettermode is an even better alternative to help you build a fully customizable community forum.
Written by
Kerry Leech
Last updated
October 23, 2023

Choosing the right community forum platform is fundamental to the success of your community strategy. With that in mind, this guide compares the popular platforms — Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse — to help you choose the platform that’s right for you.

While there are several options on the market, Vanilla Forums and Discourse are two of the more well-known platforms. 

Both platforms have a strong reputation. However, the differences start to emerge when you look at how both platforms are built, and how that foundation contributes to ease-of-use and customization options.

Forums are critical to customer engagement, but it’s important to choose the right platform if you want your online communities to continue to flourish well into the future. 

And this is where Bettermode comes in. Made to simplify community engagement, our all-in-one platform provides everything you need to engage and delight customers. 

Ready to see the power of Bettermode’s community forum platform? Talk to sales for a demo. Or keep reading for a comparison of the leading community forum platforms. 

What is Vanilla Forums? 

Vanilla Forums — also known as Higher Logic Vanilla — is a cloud-based open-source community forum platform that gives you the ability to create interactive online forums. 

Higher Logic Vanilla platform interface
Higher Logic Vanilla platform interface

Higher Logic Vanilla key features

Higher Logic Vanilla’s key focus area is engagement management with user generated content, and help desk management with social media. 

Some people say it is more like an evolution of vBulletin (totally different code base, but PHP based). 

Higher Logic Vanilla pros and cons

To get a clearer picture, let’s look at the pros and cons.


  • Robust moderation tools to ensure discussions are clean.
  • Built-in gamification engine — although some users say that they would welcome more options. 
  • While there is a bit of a learning curve, it doesn’t require in-depth technical knowledge to set-up.
  • You can access some analytics and reporting insight. 


  • Enterprise cloud pricing is costly.
  • Customer support doesn’t include live chat.
  • Currently, Vanilla Forums doesn’t have a native mobile app.
  • No searchable member directory. 
  • Limited embedding options.
  • Limited personalization and customization options.

Comparison to Bettermode

While Higher Logic Vanilla is well-known and has some strong features, Bettermode is popular with community builders for its professionally-made templates, powerful design studio, and modular apps. 

community powered by Bettermode
A community powered by Bettermode

You can select from our professionally designed templates or create your own based on your specific needs.

Our easy-to-use design studio makes designing eye-catching spaces and content simple. You can drag and drop your way to stunning community forums — and save time without cutting quality. 

Turn every space into a unique customer experience using dynamic content Blocks. Simply select, arrange, and configure the Blocks to create distinct communities.

Dashboard mockup
Bettermode's Block-based Design Studio

With Bettermode, everything you need is configurable and you can access granular analytics. 

Bettermode analytics dashboard
Bettermode analytics dashboard

To see how Bettermode and Higher Logic Vanilla directly compare, you can see a quick comparison here.

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What Discourse? 

Discourse is a community platform that has been around since 2013 and is completely open-source.  

Built using Ruby-on-Rails, its functionality includes support for threading, categorization and tagging of discussion forums, configurable access control, live updates, plugins, and real-time notification.

Discourse platform
Community powered by Discourse platform

Discourse key features

Discourse’s key focus area is engagement management and user generated content, and community building with social media. 

Discourse also has a user trust system that aims to make moderating the forum easier, with member-driven moderation.

Discourse pros and cons

With that in mind, let’s look at the pros and cons of Discourse’s open-source forum software. 


  • Easy to administer and moderate discussions with community members.
  • Insight into metrics and health of the community.
  • Ability to define groups and have private categories. 


  • Discourse is oriented to developers and requires some sysadmin skills to host, and is a more complex deployment compared to other forum software.
  • Migrating from another community platform can be a challenge.
  • You won’t get any frills, but the learning curve is low, and you can start setting up your forum fairly quickly. 
  • Some Discourse users say data export is a bit clunky and there’s a lack of integrations, add-ons, and plugins.

Comparison to Bettermode

But, if you don’t have time for a steep learning curve and want more forum solutions with advanced features, Bettermode is a brilliant alternative to consider. Bettermode’s all-in-one platform enables discussions, ideation, Q&A’s, events, groups, and more — all in one place. 

Bettermode is well known for its customizable templates, which enable you to effortlessly build your community. 

Templates available with Bettermode Platform

In fact, you can visually customize and change every part of your community in real-time. 

And if data and insight is your thing, you will love the analytics you can get to track community health and measure the impact on your business. 

Apart from templates and customization, Bettermode features a rich ecosystem of app and integration through its App Store. This makes it completely easy for you to integrate your favourite tools with your community.

Dashboard mockup
Bettermode App Store

What is Bettermode? 

In short, Bettermode is the best all-in-one engagement platform for community-led growth.  

Bettermode is an all-in-one customer engagement platform

Think about it, while community forums have helped shape the internet, they are now feeling a bit dated. At Bettermode, we are trying to change that. 

Bettermode is best for: Mid-size and enterprise businesses that want to engage and educate customers through an all-in-one easily customized community.  

Key features:

  • User-friendly pre-made templates help you create a forum that looks great and get it up and running fast. 
  • Powerful Design Studio to fully customize the community and forum look and feel with unique layouts.
  • Ability to build multilingual communities with support for languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, etc.
  • Spaces with built-in posting permission settings help you categorize content and structure your community.
  • Featured answer function lets you highlight the best answers in the community.
  • Gamification tools such as badges and leaderboard engage your audience and provide rewarding experiences. 
  • With smart suggestions, previously asked questions are showcased when a customer asks a question.
  • Built-in SEO features like meta tags and schema markups help optimize your community content.
  • Community moderation tools, such as automation rules, help you keep your community safe and clean.
  • Admin dashboard with rich analytics help you identify trending posts given the number of replies, views, and reactions. 
  • Embed tools let you embed your forum into your existing website or app and login through your social network.
  • Integrations with third-party apps including Zendesk, Intercom, Zapier, Slack, MailChimp, Amplitude, Mixpanel, FullStory, Hotjar, and Google Analytics.

In summary, with Bettermode you can create communities with ease without compromising on quality.  

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Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse vs. Bettermode: The verdict

There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the right platform, both in terms of the ease-of-use and customization options. 

Fundamentally, the right platform for you is one that eliminates as many manual processes as possible, saving you precious time and effort. 

Instead of spending hours learning a new tool or stitching together multiple software tools — you can use Bettermode to get started in minutes.

Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: How to choose the right community forum platform

Most community forum platforms offer the same basic functionality. But looking beyond the essentials, here are the six key functionalities ‘must-haves’ when choosing the right community forum platform:

  • #1: Effective topic organization: Does the platform support multiple levels of nested subcategories and offers tools to help you manage these categories?
  • #2: Ability to differentiate certain content: Does it allow you to pin certain information to the top, to prevent important content from getting lost in a sea of posts? Or showcase best answers or most helpful topics? Is content management easy?
  • #3: Notifications and follow features: Does the platform allow people to follow certain threads or conversations and receive a notification for new replies?
  • #4: Advanced search: Does the platform provide advanced search functionality including tags and keywords to quickly direct customers to relevant posts? 
  • #5: Built-in SEO: Does the platform provide built-in SEO functionality so that people outside your community can benefit and you can keep growing your community?
  • #6: The right integrations: Does the platform integrate with other support tools you are using, such as your CRM, help desk software, chatbot, live chat, and other APIs?

Bettermode provides all of these more advanced features and much more for the best user experience. 

📖 For more on how to choose the right community building platform, take a look at our 15-point checklist.  

See the benefits of building your community with Bettermode

When it comes to choosing the right discussion platform both Vanilla Forums and Discourse are pretty much on a par when it comes to features. Discourse has created forum software that focuses on your community, gaining the power to moderate itself.

While Vanilla Forums gives creators of the community the tools to manage its members. If you’re just looking for a no-frills, easy-to-use community forum platform, they are both a viable option. 

Main differences between Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse:

  • Discourse looks better and is a more reactive interface than Vanilla Forum, with decent admin controls — but has a steep learning curve and requires some technical know-how
  • Vanilla Forums has robust moderation tools and provides analytics insight — but discussions are not easy to search and it lacks personalization options. 
  • The good news is — Bettermode simplifies and solves these issues with a super easy-to-use and highly secure platform packed with features and customizations.

Essentially, if you want to set-up a modern and brand-led customer community, you should use Bettermode for a more polished brand experience. 

Features our customers love include:

  • Easy-to-use interface with a well thought-out community structure including content categorization, easy navigation, and tags 
  • Frictionless and secure member authentication with Single Sign On (SSO) and social login options.
  • Professional and easy-to-use customization options, including beautiful typography, color palettes, and the right plug-ins to reflect your unique brand. 

The best bit? All of these can be done quickly and easily through our easy-to-use drag and drop content Blocks, and wealth of customizations — and regular upgrades.

If you are ready to get started, you can use one of Bettermode’s ready-made templates to get up and running quickly. 

Looking for more? 

📖 Check out our resources and expand your community engagement skills:

Still have unanswered questions? Take a look at the most commonly asked questions about Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Which is better for online communities?

When it comes to features, both Vanilla Forums and Discourse are on a par and come with a bit of a learning curve. If you need an advanced and yet easy-to-use forum software, then you could consider Bettermode instead. 

Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Are they both open-source?

Both platforms are open-source, but be aware that Vanilla Forums is written in PHP and Discourse is written using Ruby-on-Rails — due to being open-source this might limit your choice of hosts, if you want it self-hosted. 

Vanilla Forums vs. Discourse: Is there an alternative?

Bettermode is a brilliant alternative to Vanilla Forums and Discourse. Put simply, it is built for mid-size and enterprise businesses that want to engage and educate customers through a fully customized community.

get a demo
Kerry Leech
Content Contributor

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