What does it mean to "own your community"?

What does it mean to “own your community”?

Is it having a list of names, emails, and other contacts (twitter, linkedin, etc.) of your members?

How else can you “own” your community and prevent getting locked in?

And what can you do with that information once you “own” your community? Can you move them to another forum / community / tool? What does that even look like?



It generally refers to using a decentralised platform that processes data that you control. You can pull your data when you leave and expect that the vendor will delete any copy that they have, in compliance with the data retention agreement you have with them.

You can generally use that data to migrate to another platform, yes.


Are there any platforms that currently support these features?

I guess there’s two kinds of ownership:

  1. for Community Builders to own their community data (can you get the list of users and a way to communicate with them off platform, or can you migrate away?)
  2. for Users to move their data to somewhere else

But depending on the data on the platform, does it always make sense? E.g. does it make sense for me to migrate my Discourse data from Rosie Land to Twitter? or from Discourse to Discord? Not sure…

Most community platforms offer data portability. It’s something you should ask about before signing anything.

Typically you won’t be able to migrate to or from private platforms like Discord, Twitter, etc. At best you can ask them to complete a form to capture their data, but you never truly “own” communities built on those platforms.

Yeah owning your community means little more than owning the email addresses of members. I just think the phrase “own my community/audience” is silly.

1 Like

No – what we’re talking about in this case is the entire community, not moving your own personal data from one community to another.

People generally say “own my data” which I think makes sense.

Thanks, that makes sense!

To think of it, for newsletters it makes 100% sense to “own your community” if you can export your email subscriber list and move it to another newsletter tool (e.g. Mailchimp <> Substack). I think this makes sense because both those are interchangeable, because they both use the same protocol for communicating with members. I guess same goes for old school “mailing lists” and “listservs”.

Maybe it makes sense to move a community from old school PHP forums (e.g. vBulletin) to Discourse, or from Discourse to Github Forums, since they have “similar features”, but not t the same protocols. Back in the day we used Lithium forums, and I remember being locked in because we couldn’t migrate all the use cases and features off of Lithium.

Does this generally mean that you’re locked into a community software, not necessarily because they prevent you from downloading your list of member emails, but because the moat lies in “they provide a certain kind of features that others don’t”?


No in my experience. We migrate communities from pretty much every other platform (and many from Lithium/Khoros) these days. I suspect the same goes for the other players.


Oh! That’s cool. I just looked at your profile and didn’t know you actually worked for Discourse — that’s awesome.

I’m curious — once you’ve rolled out your “real-time chat” functionality to everyone, will that be something that can be exported as well?

Also, is there a generally agreed-on data schema that all systems import/export?


I do. :slight_smile: I’m COO so I’m not super useful when it comes to technical questions these days, but I’ll help where I can.

We have already rolled out chat (very recently) and yes, that data is exported as part of a full backup. By default we retain public channel data for 90 days and personal messages indefinitely so unless someone changes that retention setting, they won’t have a full history (chat is ephemeral by nature) but they could do.

No, not really. We have to write a custom migration script for each different platform, and sometimes each version of a platform. Most data is generally transferrable in some form, but occasionally things like bespoke gamification modules etc are not.


Can confirm this to be true. We maintain a core group of convertors that need minor changes to keep in step with platform updates. We do a few custom jobs when we’ve not seen a platform before or a platform is being a dick and sends over 25gb of XML exports from the database.

We do our best to get as much data migrated as possible but sometimes there are gaps in functionality or significant differences in how features are built that makes it not possible. As a rule, all members, topics, posts, subscriptions, etc are migrated just fine.


You’re alluding to the fact that exporting the data won’t be of much help if you can’t then import it to another platform that would take the content and distribute it to similar product features (eg. if A has threads, B has threads too). And this is true.

There are a few things to consider:

  1. If you have an audience, and not a community, say a newsletter - then it’s easy to simply export all your data (since it’s just yours), and lay it down with another provider that will need the same thing - your posts, your audience contact details.

  2. Open source platforms - some may take their data off a platform, then fork it, and host all this stuff themselves. Others might use the open source platform offering directly, but host the content from the start. This is mostly about having a safeguard that if the platform dies out somehow, you still have the data - it would be quite useless though if your community won’t adopt the forked version though.

  3. Closed platforms - like Discord, or Slack - they allow you to export the data, and you might pair some of their schema elements to other platforms. While not perfect, you’ll keep some of the data and migrate some of the user accounts. But most likely your community won’t migrate. It’s hard to push new tools to people.

What might be best is to start another community on the platform you’re looking to migrate to, and try to offer exclusive content there, linking from one community to the other - and hoping many will do the transition themselves and the older community platform will eventually die off.

1 Like

It looks like @rosiesherry has shared this same idea with starting another community on a different platform, but for different goals - Mirror Your Community Flywheel.

1 Like

Thanks for the mention.

I also wrote this which is related to the idea of (not) owning community: