Wednesday, 2 August 2017

5 Important Tips For Picking The Right Forum Software For Your Site

There's been a raging debate about the usefulness of Forums in this Social Media Era. As far as a good number are concerned, Forums are dead and obsolete in the face of platforms like Reddit. One argument I usually put forward is if it makes sense to pour all your energy into a Sub Reddit which you don't have much control over, can't migrate to another platform and can barely monetize outside voluntary donations.

I quite agree that Forums -as we used to know them- died a long time ago. General Forums (Nairaland style) clearly don't work anymore as a means of meeting / engaging with people so don't blame yourself for your Forum not becoming popular despite so much effort. Recent trends however strongly suggest that Niche Forums are going nowhere anytime soon.

What is a Niche Forum?
A Niche Forum is one which focuses on a specific (narrowed down) topic like just Cars, Boats, Tech. etc. I won't delve much into so we don't derail.

Now, if you believe that a Forum is the right way to go on your website then these 5 tips will help you make the right choice.

5 crucial things to consider when choosing a Forum software
A few months after I founded , it was pretty obvious that we would need a Forum. You see, Hovatek is a Nigerian Tech. Support website where we provide free online solutions / support for device related problems and questions. We were initially using Facebook but had to migrate to a Forum. Facebook wasn't sustainable for several reasons, one being because we have a global fan base that needs different types of support. Looking back, I wish there was someone to teach me all I've had to learn the hard way. Lucky for you, you have this post to guide you right.

1. Consider your budget

There are both free and paid forum software. When starting out, its important you know your finances and choose based on what you can afford. If you have a sound financial plan and believe you can get the Forum to begin paying for its licence quickly then you may consider a paid option. If you are however uncertain about the prospects of the Forum or don't yet have a sound strategy then I suggest you stick with free. Mind you, free isn't necessarily the better option even on a low budget, why? My next point will shed more light on this.

2. Active development is key
The last thing you want is to be stuck with a Forum software which isn't enjoying active development anymore. In the age we are, software bugs and vulnerabilities are discovered almost everyday. If your Forum software isn't patched regularly, that makes you a sitting duck. Even if you're a coding Guru, you'll eventually get burned out from constantly patching bugs and managing your Forum at the same time. 

3. Inbuilt core features or no deal
If you need to install plugins to get core features like notifications, mentions, Ad integration etc then you have one more reason to worry. Vulnerable plugins are another security concern so if you find yourself having no choice but to stack up plugins (which aren't constantly updated) then you're in for a long haul. When starting out, I usually strongly suggest installing just a few plugins if you must. Your forum should be able to function on a basic level without plugins.

4. Tweakability
If you're looking to manage a Forum then you had better learn basic HTML & CSS. PHP and Javascript would be an advantage but not necessary for you to learn. Its hard work managing a Forum and that's me talking from years of experience. Moderating is infact the easiest part because things break regularly and you have to figure out how to fix them. You'll need a Forum software which is easy to modify without having to delve into confusing code all the time. 

You should also consider one that makes it easy to make changes to the template without getting lost in a sea of PHP code. Unlike in HTML, just one wrong character in a PHP script is enough to take down your entire script so you don't want to be messing around there if you don't know what you're doing.

5. Ease of migration
What happens when your Forum has grown in size and you're looking to migrate to another Forum software but can't because there's no import / conversion script from your current software to the desired one? Would you begin copying one post / thread at a time? definitely not. For this reason, you should find out which other Forum software your desired Forum software can be exported / converted to. The longer that list, the better for you

So what Forum software do I recommend?
Well, I hope to treat that in another post. I'll also be talking about things to consider when configuring your Forum so stay tuned to this blog.

Enigma is the Team Leader at . He loves rock music, abstract art, indoor plants and dogs.
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