Choosing a forum solution that’s right for you is easy

emotion iconsLast week I researched the latest forum platforms available in the market for one of my clients, with the aim of helping them to select the best option for them. They are a charity and wish to launch a platform to enable their audiences to share and build rich materials and resources for and by the community.

I tend to approach these things as you do a project – starting with a bit of planning and requirements gathering, communication and expectation setting, so that everyone knows what’s going to happen. Understanding WHY you need a forum in the first place is key, WHAT you want to achieve by doing this will dictate the “HOW”.
I’ve been working with this client for a while so I’m aware of the business reasons behind their wanting to launch a forum, plus we sat down for a couple of hours and worked out what the main requirements were, and prioritised those.

Next I set up a comparison table, with fields that represent functional and non-functional requirements. In this particular case, the comparison table looked like this:

  • Product
  • URL
  • Pricing
  • Additional costs
  • Projected costs for Year 1
  • Projected costs for subsequent years
  • Pay monthly?
  • Hosted?
  • Support?
  • Backup?
  • Technical Risks attached? L/M/H
  • Widely used?
  • Templates selection?
  • Rating features?
  • Add documents to posts?
  • Embed video?
  • Compatible with Smartphone?
  • Social network profiles-synch?
  • Bridge to WordPress?

There are so many millions of forums out there, and so many of them are created for or by geeks, that it proves a doddle to get good quality insight into each of the available forum products. What can I say, we like to express ourselves online… in detail.

Forum Software Reviews website: awesome comparison table
There are lots of reviews around, and forums about forums are common (I know…). I found a great specialist website called www.forum-software.org which is literally a gold mine for forum-related insights. They have this great ten question forum needs quiz you can take. Based on your answers it determines which platforms could be useful for your needs and provides a very comprehensive comparison table showing their own reviews, as well as user-reviews for dozens of forum platforms, both as a hosted solution or as an installation licence.
This exercise helped me narrow my options down to a top-5 shortlist, and the next step was to investigate each of the short listed products more closely. My top-5 list included Website Toolebox, Vanilla Forums, XenForo, IP Board and Flux BB.

Forum Software Comparison Table

Forum Software Reviews website: awesome comparison table

After working out that an installed solution would be more cost-effective for my client, even with very limited IT support, I spoke to a couple of vendors about how much support they could provide, and invested a few hours in trialing both options.
The trial stage is important, because it helps highlight issues relating to the implementation in real terms, for example – is it user-friendly enough (will we be able to use it going forward), and does it allow us the design flexibility we need right now, without investing any further resource?

This exercise resulted in a very clear winner for us. If you’re wondering what we went for, it’s IP Board, and I can’t wait to implement it and start building a community!

First published October 28, 2013

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