Three Things I’ve Learned Building A Forum

Bulletin Board SoftwareThis past week, I’ve been working my tail off on the WordPress Tavern forum. What an experience it’s been in just seven days. When I first decided that I wanted to attach a forum to the WPTavern website, I was inundated with suggestions from users on which forum software I should use. Everything from PHPBB3, to SimplePress to SMF was thrown my way. In the beginning, I decided to give PHPBB3 another shot. Unfortunately, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the installation process to recognize my Database credentials. After spending a half hour trying to fix it, I gave up and went with a WordPress plugin called SimplePress.

SimplePress is a forum wrapped up in a tidy WordPress plugin. It’s still impressive to me that a forum with a bunch of standard features can be bundled into a plugin but after ripping the default theme apart for 8 hours in a row to make the theme match the WPTavern main website, I decided that if I am truly going to build a community and not have to worry about converting to something else down the road, that spending money on VBulletin would be the way to go. I’ve always wanted an owned license anyways and on top of that, I found a forum style which matched for the most part, the design of the WPTavern website. Instead of hacking the theme for 8 hours, the VBulletin style only needed a half hour of my time.

Once I had the forum installed and the theme taking cared of, I had to go through the mundane process of creating forums, usergroups, permissions, guidelines, installing modifications, etc. Managing a forum is fun, but building it is boring.

What I wanted to share with you today is the lessons I’ve learned so far in my quest to build a community around my new project.

  • Get a core group of people ready: One of the best things to happen for me even before the actual launch of the forum is that there are a core group of 10-30 people who visit the forum on a regular basis. Many of those are already replying to forum threads or creating new ones. This means that when I go through the actual launch process, their will already be a considerable amount of content for new users to browse and interact with.
  • Staff members that are as passionate as you: While this one is tough, they don’t necessarily have to have the same passion as you just as long as they are interested in seeing the community thrive and succeed just as much as you are. Luckily for me, I’ve had 4-5 individuals which have stepped up to volunteer their time to help make WPTavern a thriving community. These people have already been instrumental in getting the forum going and it’s been great.
  • Be prepared for an exponential amount of work: This past week, my sleeping schedule has been non existent as I’ve spent 8-12 hours at a time working on this forum. On top of that, once the forum was accepting users, that is when I had to hammer out bugs, styling issues, user permissions, etc. I knew this coming in that running a forum would be a ton of hard work and so far, it has been. But if you have those core staff members, things sure do go much more smoothly.
  • Forums are addicting: At this stage of the game, there is already a good bit of content on the forum. So much so, that a new post or new thread seems to be happening a few times an hour or at least, a few times a day. When you have a group of people constantly adding new content to the forum, it can be really addicting to just sit on the forum and wait for the next post to be published so you can be the first one their to respond. However, at some point you’ll have to realize that you don’t have a ton of luxury time and that you must move on to get other things done.

Conclusion

So there you have it. What I’ve learned in the past seven days as it relates to building and preparing a forum for launch. At this time, I’d like to thank Patrick O’ Keefe for writing the Managing Online Forums book because it has become my forum bible. What a great resource of information to have on hand. Also a great resource is his downloadable templates which I used on my forum for the Staff Guidelines, and the general forum rules. These saved me a ton of time.

As I move on and continue with the WPTavern project, I’ll report back on what I’ve learned as I share my experiences with you.

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Comments

  1. Hey, thanks for the plugin suggestion. I’ve been looking to start a forum myself, and being able to do it from within wordpress seems like a great idea.

  2. Thanks so much, Jeff, for the kind words. They mean a lot and I am really happy that I was able to help you in some way.

    Thanks,

    Patrick

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Good advice, thanks for the insight. I havea forum of my own and want it to be part of the blog activity I have.

    I use Simple Press for the ease and convenience of its use. So far it has done great, just need the traffic to come and build up.

    All the Best!

    Regards,

    Erwin Chua
    Internet Marketing Advice & Smart List Building
    w/ Alex Jeffreys & Erwin Chua! – Winning To Win!
    http://winning2win.com

  4. Just wanted to echo everything you said Jeff. A few months ago I started a small business forum (My name above links to it) and did the same as you, looking into the software. In the end I came to the same conclusion that vBulletin was the best option. One alternate I thought I had possibility was bbPress, though I think it will work better for a smaller forum off your main site at the moment.

    I was lucky in the sense that we started because another forum had dropped the ball. The active community followed us over right away, which helped to fill up the place with posts. I think the hardest part of getting started with a forum is finding the initial group of core members.

    And yes it is a lot of work. The first week I was creating about 40% of all the content. I was posting non-stop through the day in order to make it feel more active. Over time I’ve been able to scale back, but in the beginning expect to spend a lot of time creating threads and posts. After awhile you can post less and take on a more nurturing role, but in the beginning expect to be writing a lot.

  5. Hey Jeff, I just checked out vbulletins pricing and its actually pretty reasonable. I was expecting it to be much more expensive so I might just give it go and not mess with the simple press plugin. Thanks and keep us posted on how the forum is doing.

  6. Nice post.Very useful for newbee.

  7. Great ideas! I’ve been PHPBB running a forum for about 2 years for my work and it’s an utter failure. We suffer from a combination of “too much to do/too little time” and a forum that isn’t a bad idea, just not enough resources to make it successful. That said, I’m tempted to put more time into it in the few weeks to see if I can get it back up and running.

    I know, just from participating in many other forums, that it’s very much a full time job to be a good forum admin. Perhaps in the future, I’ll be able to dedicate this time.

  8. I am still learning about the wonders of WordPress. I too would go with VBulletin for a full fledged forum, but it sounds like SimplePress might be good for an extended FAQ section.

  9. I’m sorry you went with VBulletin.

    SMF will do everything VBulletin does — and more — and it’s free. http://www.simplemachines.org is where you can download it.

    I’ve been using SMF for years and had looked at VBulletin several times over the years trying to figure out what the big deal was. I recently took over a forum that was set up on VBulletin. After several days of navigating the unnecessarily cluttered Admin and unintuitive names for items in VBulletin, I quickly converted it to SMF. Couldn’t be happier.

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