One of the most powerful ways to interact with an online community is through the use of moderated and standards-compliant forums, which allow a wide range of users to post messages, share thoughts, and collaborate on ideas. If your community is looking for a new place to call home, or if your current forum software is no longer able to deliver the kind of performance you need, you may want to consider an upgrade to a more powerful bulletin board application. In combination with a reliable hosting provider, the right forum hosting tools can ensure that no post goes unread and that every user gets a chance to have their say.
The first thing you will need to consider when you begin the process of hosting an online forum or bulletin board is which app will provide the best utility. A number of popular options exist on the market such as phpBB, vBulletin, Vanilla and others. Choosing one will depend on the needs of your community, as well as the type of hosting that you prefer.
phpBB: Free and Open-Source
phpBB is a free and flat-forum bulletin board software that includes a wide variety of user-created modifications along with style and image packages which allow you to customize your forum experience. The phpBB community forum is active in both forwarding innovations for the forum software and quick to respond to user concerns. Organizations such as Debian, Activision, and the Mozilla add-on forums all use this software. phpBB forum hosting can be done either on a shared web server or on a virtual private server.
vBulletin: The Latest and Greatest
vBulletin is one of the most popular pieces of forum and bulletin board software currently on the market, but it does come with a price tag attached. vBulletin’s Forum Classic 4.0 costs just under $200 for the purchase of a new license and $175 for an upgrade. The price does come with a wealth of features, including a CMS that is built for large communities that allows content to be easily created and then cross-published between websites. A redesigned UI with version 4.0, improved search features and free support from vBulletin for the life of the product all make vBulletin hosting a viable option if your community is large or is growing rapidly.
Vanilla, but not “Plain”
Forums powered by Vanilla are customizable, standards-compliant, and are driven by the open source code of version 220.127.116.11, released in May of 2011. Over 495,000 sites use Vanilla forums for their hosting, and data from any other hosting platform can be migrated to the app. It is also possible to embed Vanilla into any site with a single line of code, allowing you to take your forum anywhere, and ensure that you never lose contact.
In addition to choosing what forum software is best for your community, you will also need to determine if your needs can be met by simple shared hosting or if you will require a virtual private server for your forums or bulletin board. Shared hosting is a great place to start for communities that are small or just finding their feet – forum hosting can be done under a shared hosting solution. If your community has a large number of users or those that post images or video frequently, you may wish to consider the move to a virtual private server. Some forum software, such as vBulletin, is also intensive enough that trying to run it under a shared hosting solution may not be viable. vBulletin hosting on a virtual private server will give you access to a set of specified resources and allow your forum or bulletin board to respond more quickly to user requests.
Forums and bulletins can both provide powerful options to keep a community together and evolving over time. What kind of software package and hosting you need will depend both on the features you want, the price you are willing to pay, and the kind of resources you require.