When setting up a forum, you need to decide on the package that you want to use to power your new community for your website. Adding a forum to your busy website can help connect your visitors, allowing them to interact with each other in different ways. Most forum packages allow public communication through user created threads/posts, as well as private communication through a provided private messaging system found in most forum software. Forum software is available built in PHP/MySQL for Linux web hosting, and ASP.NET/MSSQL for Windows based website hosting; this means that despite the type of web hosting you use, you will still be able to find a forum package that suits your needs.
One main concern that website owners have when finding forum software is whether it will fit in the design of their main website when they come to deploying the application. Most forum applications will allow for a custom theme to be applied, so that the forum design will be the same as the existing website that the forum has been installed for. Once your forum has been skinned/themed to fit the design of your main website, you should be able to open up your forum so that your visitors can start joining and adding content to the forum. If you choose to install add-ons into your forum, then these should also be customisable both in terms of functionality and design.
Most forum applications allow you to extend their usage through add-ons and extensions that are normally easily installed through the administrator control panel. Add-ons can help you with many different aspects of your forum, from giving you and your users extra emotions for when creating posts to giving your forum extra functionality. Add-ons are normally developed for free by developers who just want to contribute their own content to an application that they use day in day out, meaning that support them isn’t provided in most cases, except for add-ons that you are able to purchase a license for.
There are many different forum packages available for Linux web hosting. Most are developed using PHP and MySQL meaning that they can be hosted in either a Windows or Linux web hosting environment. All the popular forum packages include the necessary tools to help you get started with your forum, and in most cases you can have it running more or less straight away once you have it installed. Examples of forum applications for Linux web hosting include:
- PHPBB – currently at version 3, PHPBB is one of the most popular pieces of PHP forum software
- SMF Forum – SMF is probably rated as the second most popular under PHPBB, but is still a good piece of PHP forum software
- Phorum – this is another piece of PHP forum software, however it has been designed with speed in mind more than anything.
Forum applications are also available for Windows web hosting, and are normally built using the ASP.NET web hosting package with either a Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL Server database backend, and are normally available freely. Most ASP.NET forum applications can be installed, although modification of server permissions is needed in some cases. Examples of forum applications for Windows web hosting include:
- WebWiz Forums – this application is from a well established company and has been scripted in classic ASP for use with either Microsoft Access or Microsoft SQL Server
- Snitz Forum – this is another forum application coded in classic ASP, meaning it can be used in a Windows hosting environment
- InstantForum – this is an ASP.NET forum application; you will need to purchase a license for it, this does mean however that you do get access to support.
By creating a community for your website, you will be able to draw in more visitors meaning that if you have an online shop or use adverts to bring in money from your website, you will most likely see this revenue increase over time. Since the birth of Web 2.0, many websites have started to add communities to their websites, and many websites dedicated to community such as social networking websites have also sprung up meaning that community is certainly something of the moment for websites. Many big websites have started to add some sort of community as part of their services; for example Windows Live now has Windows Live Spaces, and there are now forums dedicated to specific subjects such as WebhostingTalk.