Best Free Forum Software to Start a Community

Looking to start an online discussion forum?  What is the best free forum software though?  There are a lot of software and script options out there that are free and open source (FOSS) but these are the 4 that I would recommend to a friend.  Since all my readers are my friends, these list should help you, my reader friend. :)

MyBB

best free forum softwareOut of the box MyBB, My Bulletin Board, has many great features. This includes calendars and events, user promotions, mass email newsletter, moderation tools, reputation management, and more.  It also allows users to easily correspond via private messages. There are also a healthy amount of plugins to help you extend the functionality of your MyBB forum.

While MyBB is my first choice for free forum software there are some drawbacks.  The developers will claim it is “easy to use” but I’m going to tell you from experience it is not.  The disadvantage to MyBB is that it has a somewhat steep learning curve.  I personally do not find the administration interface and backend intuitive.  If you decide to use MyBB you will have to spend time reading the documentation and figuring out how to do a lot of things.

Luckily what makes MyBB the most ideal choice is what makes forums great, the community around it.  If you have questions or issues about MyBB you’ll get them answered in the support forums in one day or a few hours most of the time.  You will find people are helpful and eager to answer questions to help out fellow MyBB administrators having trouble and needing advice.

If you want to see what you can do with MyBB go visit HaraJuJu, a community for Japanese fashion.  While the site has an extreme amount of customization it is still built on MyBB.  It is absolutely mind blowing how good HaraJuJu looks and it is one of the best designed forums I’ve ever seen.

MyBB is quite stable, has been around for a long time, is actively developed, and should be a top consideration if you are looking at free forum software.

PhpBB

Probably the oldest and best known free and open source software out there is PhpBB, php Bulletin Board, which seems like it’s been around forever.  That’s mainly because it has been and likely if you’ve joined any forums, at least one of them was running on PhpBB.

PhpBB is powerful and has nice features but it is somewhat tricky to learn to use.  Ideally you should have someone help you setup the forum and help maintain and upgrade it when needed.  PhpBB upgrades from what I’ve read can be tricky especially when there is a lot of customization with plugins and modifications.  If you are completely new to building a website, I don’t think PhpBB is ideal.  If you love coding in php, then you’ll probably no issues.

Other issues regarding PhpBB is that spammers delight in hitting forums running on PhpBB.  Attempting to deter forum spam is quite hard but doable if you are diligent.  MyBB suffers from some of the same problems but I hear with PhpBB it is worse.  I’ve also read there are some security issues with PhpBB but I’m really not sure what they are as I’ve never run a phpBB forum.

The advantage to PhpBB is that it’s been around forever and it is easy to find people that know the ins-and-outs of this forum software.  There are also tons of modifications and hacks that people have built over the years for this forum software.  In addition phpBB can handle incredibly large communities like the Ars Technica boards.  If you check out Gaia that is another extremely large forum community and its probably one of the better designed phpBB forums out there.

Overall I don’t like phpBB because of it’s complexity but lots of sites use.

Simple Machines

Simple Machines (SMF for short) is a another good choice on this list of best free forum software.  What’s good about SMF is that it that the administration panel is easier to use out of all the forum software on this list.  It’s intuitive and those new to the platform shouldn’t have any issues with it.

Even though SMF is nice for beginners it doesn’t seem to be as actively developed as phpBB and MyBB.  I just don’t see a lot of the plugins as actively maintained.  Simple Machines modifications are kind of tricky so when I considered building a SMF board, I searched for a designer.  Too build this SMF forum with all the features I wanted the quotes were so high due to the customization and modification work it would have made more sense to buy a IPBoard or XenForo license honestly.

You could probably live with having some issues with SMF since the backend is better than phpBB or MyBB but help with in the SMF community can be sparse.  If more developers maintained plugins, they were easier to implement and there was more active support, I’d prefer to use SMF.

The largest scale SMF board I’ve seen is run by the Czech software company, Avast, for technical support.  It’s not well designed but it works flawlessly and handles lots of posts and users well.

Fluxbb

Want a forum that is lightweight?  Does not have a lot of added bloated code?  Is extremely light on server resources?  FluxBB, Flux Bulletin Board, is your most ideal option.

Designed to have unfeatures FluxBB is good for those that need a forum without having to worry about something not working.  Obviously the more cool features the more likely something will go wrong.  (Any web developer will tell you this.)  Still there are many FluxBB modifications if you want.  Just the idea here is that are not included in general installs and you add features you want yourself.

FluxBB is not nearly as popular as the MyBB, phpBB, or SMF.  There is still a strong dedicated FluxBB community though.

FluxBB won’t win design awards but if you just need something simple this will work.  Keep in mind standard FluxBB forums look much better than a lot of the other lightweight options out there.  The best FluxBB forum I’ve seen goes to TextPattern, an open source content management system (like WordPress), by a far mile.

Choosing Forum Software

One of the issues I’ve seen with choosing forum software is that is it hard to know what you like, or don’t, about any of the above mentioned forum software options until you have built an active and engaged community.  Only after you have used the software for awhile do you truly know if it fits your needs. For anyone that has tried to start a discussion forum from scratch you know it is not easy to build a critical mass and that’s why most people don’t do boards.  Also I showcased what the best examples of what you can with MyBB, phpBB, Simple Machines, and FluxBB.  Those examples took a lot of work and take a lot of upkeep.

If you go with one of these and you are not happy, you can always switch between forum software.  Luckily all the forum software I’ve talked about in this article is written in PHP and uses a MySQL database.  Since all these forum software uses the same underlying technology switching is easier between SMF, MyBB, phpBB, and FluxBB if needed.  Still dealing with moves can cause headaches and issues depending on the size of the forum and complexity of add-ons.  Somebody might have experience dealing with thees problems. :)

The “best free forum software” is a misnomer as it depends on your goals and what you need out of a discussion forum.  Also keep in mind that fans of these forum software still have issues and complaints with them too.  The guy who runs HaraJuJu believes that MyBB is in desperate need of a “humanization project” meaning it needs to built for regular people.  I totally agree with this.

Like I said above I prefer MyBB even though it’s not entirely intuitive as it at least I feel I can ask questions and get them answered when needed.  Others have different preferences for different reasons.  A lot of these scripts can be installed via 1-click auto installer by the way.  It depends on what web hosting company you use but this allows you to easily give them ‘test run’ to see what you like.

Don’t let anyone tell you that forums are dead because they are not.  (These are the same people that say email marketing is dead, which is also not true.)  Forums can be better than social media if done properly and they can earn revenue which is always good.  Hopefully whatever you choose it will allow you to culminate in having the best forum possible.

If you feel I’ve missed mentioning a feature or want to add your opinion about what you feel the best free forum software is, please leave a comment below.  What do you like or don’t like in the open source community?  Can you explain why?

 

Shutting a Website Down

shutting a website downShutting a website down is never easy but recently I went through this process.  I downloaded all the files for this site, zipped them, and then deleted them from the server on my web hosting account.  I recommend anyone who is going to shut down a website do this since if you have all the files backed up, you can put them up again.

It was kind of sad for me to shutdown the site honestly.  Why?  As a web developer you essentially feel like a failure that your project, which you invested a lot into, did not work.  I sort of blamed others for the fact it didn’t work.  However it really was my fault and there is not anyone else to blame.

I could have tried to redesign the site and make sure to keep adding new content everyday but deep down I knew the niche wasn’t going to work and it was a waste of time.  By that I mean it wasn’t going to make any money and my original monetization plan was misguided. Even if it the site had made money and had worked I wouldn’t have made enough to cover the investment into running and maintain the site.

Checking the stats I could see that it still the site still had traffic from long tail keywords.  When I closed it down a few days ago I actually was contacted by someone who liked the site asking what happened.  I explained the issue, like most web projects is, resources.  I can’t invest time into websites that won’t produce decent revenue.  I wish I could see everything through till a project works but hey life just doesn’t work that way.

I decided for now to keep the domain name if I want to revisit this niche in the future.  I just renewed the domain but I doubt that I will have the time, energy, or to tackle this niche again.  I guess we will see once I’m an internet millionaire. :)

If you have gone through the process of shutting a website down, how did you feel about it?  Relieved, bad, angry, or did you just accept it was the right thing to do?

HostGator Review – Terrible Web Hosting

hostgator reviewQuite often I get asked about HostGator as a web hosting company since a lot of people use and still recommend them.  What you are about to read is a an honest HostGator review about how they are a terrible web hosting company.

Adam’s HostGator Review

Let first start off by saying that I have used HostGator before the company’s founder, Brent Oxley, decided to sell his web hosting company to Endurance International Group (EIG).  Before the buyout they were a great web hosting company with pretty much unbeatable customer service, servers, and uptime.  However, since the EIG buyout things have gone downhill like all web hosting companies they acquire.

Server Speed

HostGator has moved a majority of customers using shared and VPS hosting from the Softlayer datacenter in Dallas, Texas to the the Bluehost datacenter facility in Provo, Utah.  HostGator Outages at the Provo datacenter have been often and really annoying for EIG customers which includes other web hosting brands like HostMonster, JustHost, and BlueHost.

Speed tests I’ve run using WebPageTest.org show that on average AdamYamada.com takes roughly 9-10 seconds to fully load the homepage while a second pass shows it usually takes 5-6 seconds.  Google PageSpeed Insights is not any better and my mobile speeds are pretty horrendous with HostGator.

Checking Google Webmaster Tools I can see that ever since the move to the Provo datacenter it takes Google much longer to crawl my websites too.  For anyone that does Search Engine Optimization (SEO) you know that Google only allots a certain amount of crawling time each site.  So server response time is important and Google has said that speed is a factor in search rankings.

I did try to improve this my subscribing to MaxCDN but if you read my MaxCDN review you will see that didn’t help.

Uptime

I use UptimeRobot and StatueCake to monitor my websites in addition to clients websites.  HostGator tends to have constant downtime which is expected from

Sometimes when I manually tell the Googlebot to crawl this site I get “Temporarily Unavailable” errors even though the site is up.  This isn’t reassuring to tell me that HostGator isn’t overpacking servers and my websites probably look down in the eyes of Google which I assume isn’t helping my SEO rankings.  In my opinion downtime hurts search engine rankings.

Server Errors

Having overpacked servers leads to tons of server errors. I got these “internal server errors” on HostGator all the time now.

hostgator error 500 internal server error

HostGator Customer Support

Dealing with HostGator customer support now feels like I’m doing karaoke during amateur hour.  Response to tickets can take a full 24 hours and mostly they will not reply with any helpful advice that isn’t canned or regurgitated from something they said before.  Chat times before the EIG buyout were minimal but now they are usually 30+ minutes so what is the point?  Phone support is terrible so I wouldn’t even try calling.  Only call HostGator if you believe you idiot and they will treat you like one.

Final Thoughts about HostGator

I’m definitely not sticking around with HostGator and I’ve already begun the process of searching for a new web hosting company.  I’ve been looking at shared hosting plans mostly from LiteSpeed web hosts which do not promise “unlimited” storage and bandwidth and have better uptime, server speed, and customer support.  I’ve stopped recommending HostGator altogether and no longer do I send any affiliate traffic their way.  Another thing to be aware of is that HostGator parks domains of customers using their DNS.

If you still want unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth on a shared hosting plan, I would recommend you go with Site5.  You can read my Site5 Review to get an idea about Site5 as a web hosting company.

If you have any thoughts about my HostGator review, please leave them in the comments below.  I’d be interested to hear others experiences with HostGator and Endurance International Group web hosting companies.  Has it been good, bad, or really awful and terrible?

Text Spam? Actually a Really Bad Domain Name

text spamDon’t you hate text spam?  How do these people even get your phone number?  Oh, wait… it’s actually just a really bad domain name and text spam.

Let me explain what happened.  Over the past few weeks I was getting text spam, or that’s what I thought, from what could only be described as a spam texts from a spam domain.  Here was the email – sh5@smile.ms – what am I supposed to think?  This is something legit?

I deleted most of these texts on my phone and then made attempts to actually block this annoying email from sending anything else my way, unsuccessfully.  A few weeks later when I when I had an appointment to get a teeth cleaning I learned at the dentist’s office that this was a service they use to actually confirm appointments.  Apparently these SMS services are a new and popular tool among medical offices.

Good idea but lets analyze this for a second.  Why would dentists pay a SMS service that uses a terrible domain name like Smile.MS? I’m a tech-savy individual that knows what a country code top level domain (ccTLD) is and I still thought this was text spam.  I’m sure there are thousands of non-tech inclined people that don’t know anything about domains and automatically assumed this was text spam as well.

I was not aware of this until I looked it up bu the .MS domain extension is for the country of Montserrat.  This is a tiny island in the Caribbean and is a territory of the United Kingdom.  The .MS domain touts itself as a good alternative on it’s website stating;

  • It is almost impossible to get your preferred easy to remember name in the .COM name space.  However, chances of getting a similar if not better name at the .MS name space are still very high.

  • There are only 35,000 one-word domain .com and .net names still available that use English words and phrases.  Get your preferred name with a .ms extension.

Of course then they make this statement;

 

  • Domain names give your company a degree of credibility on the Internet.  If you want to do business on the Internet, a domain name is essential.  Choose .ms

I’ve chronicled in my writings on here about my experiences explaining .CO domains to a relative, who hadn’t heard about them.   As well as how I lost out on consulting work due to mentioning the .IO domain extension.  The executive gave me a funny look when I said, “.IO domains” and I’m pretty sure saying anything about these start-up domains were a mistake.

So what is the angle supposed to be with Smile.MS?  Is this supposed to be cute, funny, or hip?  I honestly don’t understand it.  Matt Cutts doesn’t even really recommend ccTLDs when they are not used for their original intended purpose.  Of course how many people in Montserrat are buying .MS domains?  I imagine not that many.

I should admit I do own one .ME domain name but it’s intended purpose is as a URL shortener, not for building a service or website on.  I feel like alternative domains are as controversial as abortions these days as the debate rages on.

I appreciate this easy way to confirm appointments but again the major problem with this service is that now that I know what it is, I dislike it.  Since others do NOT know what it is they probably dislike it too.

Solution Reach, the company behind the Smile.MS service, clearly has the resources and capabilities to find something better.  They are just trying to save some bucks and are lazy.  They need to spend a ton of money on marketing and advertising to make this bad domain name better known, so people like me don’t assume it is text spam, or look for an upgrade.

Do you agree?  What do you think of getting emails from this terrible email – sh5@smile.ms?  What’s your general opinion of companies with resources opting for bad domains?

Forums are Dead, So Why are you Still on a Forum?

forums are dead

Forums are dead… soooo why are you still on a forum?

I had this question the other day when I was posting on a webmaster and SEO discussion forum because some smart ass dropped this bomb into a thread;

Forums are dead! Everyone and everything is moving to social and social media.

I will concede that online discussion forums have lost some of their luster over the years.  Social media is definitely the “new kid on the block” and this doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

I see these types of comments a lot on bulletin boards all over the web.  Since I was an active member of this particular forum I did what any rational person would do, I quoted him in my reply and said:

Get of this ____ forum then.

The reply I got one day later was;

Oh no, I don’t mean these forums!

Come on, people… really?  Why would you post this statement on a forum and then say you obviously don’t mean this particular forum is dying?  What I find odd is this user had far more posts than I did and was still quite active in the community.  While a lot of his posts and reputation took years to build-up there was no indication he was interested in abandoning his place in this webmaster community.

On this website I once asked, “Are forums better than Social Media?” If you see the study by Social Media Explorer shows they are.  I assume social media gurus like Dave Kerpen might tell you otherwise I still believe online discussion forums have a market and will stay.  Does anyone think text messaging is going anywhere?

While my foray into building online forums and communities hasn’t gone that well, I still don’t think that means there is no interested in them.  (My wide fucking open niche didn’t work out that well.)  Gaming and tech forums are still popular and active.   Hey, I even see some social media marketing forums out there.

Derek Mueller showed us the disadvantage of platforms in his Facebook Fraud video.  On social media you aren’t sure if you are getting bots or real people.  With forums, as long as the spam stays off, you know you are actively engaging in meaningful discussions.

Probably people who believe forums are dead are the same people who think email marketing is dead.  It’s not in case you were wondering and email newsletters have seen a resurgence in the past couple of months.

Anyway I’m unsure where this rhetoric comes from, but what are your thoughts? Are forums dead?  Is social media taking the place of these outlets?  Will some other technology or type of site replace forums?

Crowdfunding Campaigns are Not Easy

crowdfunding campaignsCrowdfunding campaigns are all the rage nowadays.  Who doesn’t need money for their business or entrepreneurial venture?  I mean the whole concept sounds like a dream, post your great idea or product and watch the money pour in and rack up.   Of course… it’s not that easy.

Lately I’ve been getting more questions and crowdfunding and the best way to go about setting up and promoting campaigns.  I think crowdsourcing and crowdfunding and amazing and show the power of the internet, but the majority of these crowdfunding platforms and sites have painted a fair rosier picture than what reality is.  Honestly, raising money on these sites is much harder than it used to be as it’s getting more and more crowded everyday.  Keep in mind we only hear about the success stories and not about all the failures on these crowdfunding sites.  There are a lot of crowdfunding campaigns that might have been executed extremely well that failed or ones that were basically were not even worth running.

In my article suggesting tips for running a successful Kickstarter campaign check out #3 on the list, getting people to write about you campaign.  This has become much more important since I wrote that article.

A couple months ago I was contacted by someone who had a business-to-business product for the music and tradeshow industry.  He wanted, or needed, to raise money for his company so that he could take product manufacturing to the next level.  His plan was to run a Kickstarter campaign to get the money as he already had poured quite a bit of his own savings into launching this product.

As I talked with this potential client more about this lighting system and doing a crowdfunding campaign it became apparent he wasn’t sure of a lot of things.  This gentleman had yet to setup a website and was going to launch it along with the campaign.  (The main sales platform for had used was eBay.)  This was a really bad idea.   I started to grill him more about all his plans for the website, the design, and if he wanted to sell products directly on there.   He claimed he had ecommerce experience but wasn’t really aware of options like WordPress (with Woocommerce), Magneto, or OScommerce.  On top of this the reward system he had for contributing money was wacky.  This was a bad way to get started and it sort of felt like he was trying to get to first place in a car race with a faulty transmission and engine.

Bottom line, he was seriously underestimating how hard this was going to be and the time commitment he needed to invest.  (You have to invest a lot of your time to do crowdfunding successfully.)  Also business products typically don’t do well on crowdfunding platforms.  Really consumer oriented products do better since people want to find things they can use in their everyday lives.

My biggest issue though was I couldn’t think of any colleagues, sites, or bloggers we could approach to write about this product.  Therefore I knew it was “dead on arrival” since if we couldn’t create buzz on from any websites, it would be hard to gain a critical mass to reach the funding goal.  People think social media creates web buzz but often it works the other way.  Also generally the most successful campaigns are for companies and people that already have a reputation.

Even though the guy had a clear idea of why he needed the money and what he would do with it, it was still completely impractical to do a crowdfunding campaign for this product.  He hadn’t thought through a lot of his business plans and people will see through this.  I took apart most of his plans in 5 minutes and I couldn’t rewrite his material to make this sound better.  More importantly journalists, like myself, are great at sniffing out BS pitches or half-truths from PR agencies and reps regarding crowdfunding campaigns.  I get a lot from PR firms contacting me regarding crowdfunding campaigns but usually it’s not presented in this way.  They really try to make it seem like the product is already available.  If he isn’t clear, I can’t be serious about pitching this to anyone.

I advised this guy to;

  1. Consider other funding options, if they are available.
  2. Forgot the crowdfunding thing altogether.
  3. Get a website up, gather testimonials, build his web reputation.
  4. Reconsider his options 1-2 years down the road when he has proven sales.
  5. He he is serious choose another crowdfunding platform that is less crowded.

It would have been easy for me to take this guy’s money but since I knew he wouldn’t have a good experience running any crowdfunding campaigns with me, I wasn’t going to work with him.  Besides if he didn’t fulfill his promises this would leave a black mark on his company.  Not a good way to get started.

If you have thought of running any crowdfunding campaigns or have done one yourself, what are thoughts?  I am right that crowdfunding isn’t as easy as these platforms make out?  Do we too often hear of the success stories?