Adding a forum to your website is always a great idea – it makes your Web presence a lot more interactive, your site ranks higher in search engines because of constant updates, you receive immediate user feedback and get a chance to better engage with your customers. And while there are plenty of paid bulletin board software options out there, the most popular being vBulletin, several free alternatives are also available and can do just as good of a job. Here is a list of 6 that are worth considering.
This free, open-source software has been around for many years, allowing users to modify the code anyway they see fit. Part of the reason for its popularity is the fact that the program has attracted a lot of following over the years, so whenever you have any questions or need advice, there is a large community you can go to for help, getting the right response in no time. Again, because of the sheer number of users, this tends to compensate well for the fact that PhpBB otherwise lacks any professional technical support, which is the case with most open-source programs. Its comprehensive FAQ section is another great resource to browse when you need any technical questions answered.
Other benefits of the program include ease of installation and use, multitude of customization options for your forum and user-friendly interface. The admin panel has a lot of information on it, which some users prefer but others see as somewhat distracting.
2. Simple Machines Forum
SMF team consists of the same people who created another popular forum software, YaBB, but have since then moved on to their new project, putting YaBB to rest.
The free forum software is known for particularly convenient interface, its admin panel being a big hit among users. It doesn’t feel crammed in any way, even though it’s packed with features. You can navigate it very easily and quickly find the things you need. SMF’s modification database allows users to heavily customize their bulletin boards. Here you can find a variety of add-ons, including social networking and SEO features, smileys and more. While users can modify SMF code, they are not allowed to redistribute it without permission.
The only problem that many users have pointed out is the absence of proper support and difficulty finding answers to specific questions on the program’s website. Unlike the actual software interface, the site is somewhat harder to navigate and finding solutions to your problems could take some time. Still, SMF does have a large following among developers, and you could always try finding the right answer by entering your question into a search engine and checking various discussions outside of the program’s official site.
MyBB is available under the Lesser General Public License, meaning that users get access to and modification rights for only certain parts of the source code. Its admin panel is somewhat less intuitive and user-friendly than those of PhpBB and SMT, and might slow you down a bit until you get the hang of it. The area where it wins over the others though, is its large amount of features and customization options. Many users like its calendar, quick reply and multi-quote features, as well as the nice templating system, where you can get full control over your output. MyBB lets you customize your forum any way you like it with the help of readily available features, instead of having to do coding for the same level of detail, as you would with some of its counterparts.
The program has a good amount of following on the Web, although its customer base is not as large as that of PhpBB, meaning that it might take you a little longer to resolve some of the issues you could come across.
First developed 15 years ago, Phorum is one of the pioneers in the bulletin board software field, and some might say that it is fat with a p h. It was designed with great performance in mind, and although it falls a little behind in terms of features, many users still enjoy what Phorum has to offer. It works for smaller bulletin boards as well as for forums with heavy traffic. All of its templates are written in HTML with embedded text commands, making the software easy to use for developers of any skill level. Although not as much as some of its more popular competitors, Phorum has a good amount of add-ons for all of your basic forum needs. Its documentation is not as comprehensive as the users would like it to be, but in that regard it’s similar to many other open-source programs. It’s a great tool for use as a support forum.
FluxBB prides itself in being lighter and faster than a lot of its alternatives, and having a track-record of security and stability. It is an open-source software with a flexible permission system. The software produces very clean code, which is easy to work with for developers of all levels. Another differentiating feature of FluxBB is that it runs on SQL Lite, which not only speeds things up, but also gives you the ability to move your database together with the application. Similarly to Phorum, it does not have a huge amount of features that you would find with PhpBB and similar programs, but all of the core options are available. So it still works very well for someone who doesn’t need too complex of a software, but would rather have something light and easy to modify.
bbPress is not a stand-alone program, but a WordPress plug-in you can use to build your bulletin board. It was created by WordPress developers, which means that you should expect a good level of support and be able to easily integrate it with your WordPress website. bbPress intentionally omits a lot of the bloated features, in order to keep things simple and fast. The concept behind the software is inspired by WordPress blogs, so interesting features such as tags in forum topics are included. bbPress uses Akismet for anti-spam protection and the Gravatar plug-in for avatar management. All things considered, simplicity is at the core of this program’s design, so if you are looking a straight-forward WordPress forum management tool, this is a great choice for you. If you prefer your bulletin boards to be loaded with features, though, you might have to look elsewhere.
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