Support Best Free and/or Paid Forum Services?

Discussion in 'Technology' started by Ars Nova, Apr 26, 2014.

  1. Ars Nova Just a ghost.

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2009
    Gender:
    hungry
    Location:
    Hell 71
    2,986
    This isn't necessarily a request for help, I'm just curious if anyone (staff or members) have worked with forum tech before and found a particular favorite. I've had a lingering interest in managing a forum myself, and I've started to get the itch again so I thought about looking around for a good service. If this isn't the place for this feel free to move it :v

    inb4 misty says xenforo
     
  2. Amaury Defense Attorney

    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2007
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Ellensburg, WA
    1,694
    Personally, phpBB for free forum software and XenForo for paid forum software.

    I help administrate a forum myself: KH-Flare.
     
  3. Karuta Reborn

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2012
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Ireland
    975
    453
    IMO, XenForo is the best forum software out there. It's quite pricey though...so that might be out of the question. phpBB is my preference for free forum software. Lightweight and easily customisable. You can see a live demo here (I just threw some random style on there).
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
  4. Misty gimme kiss

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2006
    Gender:
    Cisgender Female
    Location:
    alderaan
    6,590
    Ookay I know quite a bit about this so I'm just going to break down what, to me, are your best options. There are dozens of different forum softwares out there to choose from but these are the major players. I'm going to mention secondhand licenses a bit, if you're interested in buying one DigitalPoint is the place to go.

    vBulletin
    vBulletin was pretty much the standard in forum software for years, to the point where many websites still utilize vBulletin 3 (which is widely considered their last "good" release). The advantage here is that there is a rather vast add-on/modification community, and nearly every change you would want to make has probably already been requested by someone else. Support for vBulletin is split between two sites, vBulletin.com (official support) and vBulletin.org (semi-official repository for modifications & styles). I never used it much myself but from my understanding it is adequate. In terms of features, vB's maturation is also to its advantage, with a lot of what you would expect in a forum software already present in the core software.
    • vBulletin 3: released in 2004, vBulletin 3 is actually still used by many sites (though it's of course diminishing). It was an extremely high quality release for the time and, as I said, pretty much the standard forum software. It reached end of life in 2011, but some still stick to it despite its obvious age because of the great deal of add-ons available for it, and the quality (or lack thereof) of subsequent vBulletin releases. While they're getting hard to find as you can no longer buy them "new," a secondhand vB license can be had for a decent price (around $50).
    • vBulletin 4: vB4 was the successor to vB3 (duh) and had a bit of controversy regarding its release. Jelsoft, who was behind the vB product up until vB4, was bought by Internet Brands (IB) in 2007. In 2008, development on vB4 was announced by some of the lead developers from vB3. They stated that vB4 would be a complete rewrite of the vB3 product, envisioning a quality, finished solution out the door from day one. Later in the year, another development update contradicted that, stating that with vB4 they were focusing on "incremental updates" to bring the necessary features to the software -- meaning what they released was, in some respects, half-finished, and they knew it. The software also was not to be a complete rewrite, instead built upon the aging code of vB3. Due to disputes in development over the software between longtime vB developers and IB, many of the people behind vB3 left the company in 2009 (this will be significant later). vB4 got off to a rocky start and wasn't really considered "finished" by many until some of its later releases (4.2.x).

      That said, it is still a popular forum solution with a decent add-on and style base. There are some glaring issues with it, notably security and simple age. You cannot purchase a new vB4 license (though it is bundled with the purchase of a vB5 license for $250), but secondhand ones can be bought for $100 give or take a bit.
    • vBulletin 5: Avoid it like the plague. I'm trying very hard to not be biased in my evaluations of software but everything I have read about this software (both regular people using it and those more technically inclined evaluating its code & database structure) is awful. It spent a ridiculous amount of time in many failed betas and is extremely unpopular with anyone who purchased it. The diminishing quality of vB products since vB4 seems to have culminated in this beast. It'll cost you $250, though secondhand licenses will of course be cheaper and there are a lot of people looking to unload them. ;)
    IPB
    IPB has always been considered kind of "second" to vB in popularity, but it's still a very widely used and popular solution. Their upcoming IPB4 release looks extremely promising (though I'm not sure when it'll be out, most of the estimates I've read have been late this year into next year). IPB3, the current version, has a very significant advantage over all the other forum products in that it has first party add-ons made for it that satisfy what others will look for in third-party add-ons. This includes an eCommerce solution (IP.Nexus), a content management system (IP.Content), a gallery (IP.Gallery), community blogs (IP.Blog), a download manager (IP.Downloads), and a chatroom (IP.Chat). Given the commonality of these features many other forum softwares have either included them in their core, as first-party add-ons, or they are available through third-party add-ons, but this is a major appeal to IPB.

    In cons, IPB3 is beginning to show its age and does have some present security issues (which I believe they're decent about patching but from my understanding there's a new security patch quite frequently, which isn't a good sign). Each of the first-party add-ons will run you an additional fee, but for just the board, you'll be paying $175. IPB also uniquely offers a hosted solution, but imo it's a ripoff.

    XenForo
    [​IMG] BIAS ALERT [​IMG]
    Okay so remember this?
    Two of the major guys behind vB3 got together and created XenForo in 2010, with its first stable release (1.0.0) in March of 2011. Many to believe it to be what vB4 "should have been" if the developers were allowed to make the decisions about it and not the businessmen. Forum users were incredibly impressed by the speed and modernity of the new software, even if it lacked the maturity in features of more established solutions. One of its major praises was also the ease of development upon it, with many of its first third-party add-ons coming out just weeks after the software's release. Internet Brands (behind vBulletin) however filed a lawsuit against Xenforo, claiming "copyright infringement of property acquired by Internet Brands, that code in XenForo was refactored from vBulletin code, breach of contract, and engaging in unfair business practices." XenForo denied their claims and there was something extremely fishy about the timing, as IB announced their plans to sue the day before XenForo's first public beta.

    XenForo was trapped in lawsuit hell for the next few years. As a new company their financial resources were strained by the lawsuit (despite the popularity of their product) and development on the XenForo product halted for many months. Finally in early 2013 the lawsuit was settled, with the terms undisclosed, but IB retracted the lawsuit and XF granted extension of licenses & support to the customers who had purchased the product and waited out the lawsuit.

    Since then development has picked back up at an impressive rate, adding many of the requested features and then some. XenForo is rapidly becoming one of the forerunners in forum software, with a substantial number of its users being vB converts (us included). Its advantages are its security, modernity, ease of updates (vB would constantly break everything between updates), and high quality support. The third-party development community was also strained by the lawsuit but is picking up again, though not as established as that of vBulletin. Some of the biggest boards on the internet now utilize Xenforo (IGN, Digital Point, AVForums, etc). You can grab a Xenforo license for $140 new.

    phpbb
    phpbb is one of the oldest players in forums out there and still has a special place in the forum software market. As a free solution, it lacks many of the advantages of the paid softwares (like dedicated support and frequent updates), but remains a solid option for the fledgling community. phpbb3 does definitely show its age though, and I haven't heard anything about phpbb4. It's a basic solution really, and it lacks a decent system for installing add-ons and modifications.

    MyBB
    MyBB is another free solution and I would say a better option than phpbb. It has a lot of solid modifications/add-ons out there for it and feels a bit more modern than phpbb. The next major release also does sound quite promising, though I imagine it will not be out for some time.

    I hope this helps but the best thing you can do is use the demo for every one of these and see which one suits you. A lot of what it comes down to is individual preference and only you can determine that.

    So what's the final word...?
    If you have money to blow, imo you can't go wrong with Xenforo.
    If you're more budget conscience (remember, you have to consider hosting costs as well!) and want a free solution, go with MyBB.
    What a lot of people recommend is that you start on a free solution like MyBB and, as the community grows and you have more money to put into the site, you can move to a paid software fairly easily.

    If you have more questions or need help feel free to ask me, I've learned a lot about starting websites and working with forums both through KHV and my individual exploits. I kinda live for this **** loool
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2014
  5. Ars Nova Just a ghost.

    Joined:
    Nov 28, 2009
    Gender:
    hungry
    Location:
    Hell 71
    2,986
    I just might take you up on that. And thanks everybody for your input so far.