Praise the Lord and pass the Diet Mountain Dew! Jeff Atwood, founder of developer hive Stack Overflow, has aimed his mighty brain at forums.

“Forums are the dark matter of the web, the B-movies of the Internet. But they matter,” Atwood writes on his personal blog.

The problem: They’re hideous, with design templates that haven’t changed much since the dawn of the Internet. The solution: Discourse, an open-source product Atwood & Co. have been brewing for about a year.

Atwood says Discourse will eventually do for forums what WordPress did for blogs. Remember how hideous blogs were in 199N? Remember LiveJournal? Imagine that forums are currently in that state, and Discourse will eventually bring them up to the state of blogs today, where any John Q. Consumer with decent WiFi can have a beautifully designed forum up and running in short order, complete with one-click paid hosting.

“Hah!” you scoff at us, interrupting our rapturous, forward-looking reverie. “‘Beautifully designed forum.’ What a ridiculous concept!”

The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Behold, the pudding:

One downside: Because Discourse relies heavily on JavaScript magic, very modern browsers are required. We’re talkin’ IE 10 or better. And the whole setup isn’t yet optimized for mobile screens under 7 inches.

Another downside: If you’ve already got a robust online community forum, you can pretty much get your hopes down. Discourse isn’t currently in a state where you can just migrate your whole community and its content from another system into Discourse. But that’s half the fun of open-source software: the journey, man. Migration tools will probably be built eventually. Until then, it’s best reserved for new communities only.

From the Discourse About page:

Discourse is a from-scratch reboot, an attempt to reimagine what a modern, sustainable, fully open-source Internet discussion platform should be today – both from a technology standpoint and a sociology standpoint.

We tried to build in all the lessons learned from the last ten years of Internet web forums, so that the community has a natural immune system to defend itself from trolls, bad actors, and spammers. There’s also a trust system, so engaged community members can assist in the governance of their community.

The act of participating in a discussion should fundamentally feel good in a way that it currently does not on all existing forums and mailing lists. It should be fun to have discussions with other human beings, not a chore, or something that’s barely tolerable.