At some point, your WordPress blog gets popular, and then people start crying out for a community. I wrote before about BuddyPress, which is one approach to take that effectively turns your site into a social network; forums are another option.
There are quite a few forum plugins out there, but I’ve distilled them down to the Top 3 to help you decide which will suit your as an admin and will be just right for your users.
Vanilla is an open source forums system used by hundreds of thousands of sites – you might have heard of PennyArcade; Cult Of Mac; or 9to5 . The point is; these guys know forums, and this is a Pro-level solution. With both a paid (hosted) and free (host yourself) plan, the free option is quite an involved install process – this isn’t just a plugin, but exists as an entirely separate system that must be uploaded and configured. That said, if you managed to upload WordPress and type in your database details, then you’re going to have no problems getting Vanilla and running.
Once it is setup, you can continue integration with WordPress by installing the WordPress/Vanilla bridge plugin. It’s a lengthy procedure, but this tutorial will walk you through it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to solve some of the integration problems; perhaps I was rushing it, but others think the WordPress plugin may be the culprit, so hopefully this will be fixed soon with an update.
- Superb forums, advanced features
- Well trusted and used by large sites
- Lots of plugins
- Widgets for your WordPress
- Embed code provided to place forums onto an existing page
- Complicated install with FTP and DB configuration; not plug and play
- Difficult integration with WordPress (with the latest version at least)
bbPress is my personal favourite, and if you choose to install forum components when setting up BuddyPress, this is the forum system that’ll be added. bbPress integrates fiendishly well into the WordPress system; as it should, since it’s made by Automatic, the people who built WordPress in the first place. As such, you can expect a quality product, with lots of support, and frankly the best integration you’re going to get.
As with WordPress, and BuddyPress, bbPress also has a number of plugins available to enhance functionality. The core features are on the light side though: this plugin is designed to integrate perfectly with WordPress, not overload with whizz-bang widgets. Basic forum features exist of course, but the focus is on simplicity.
- Integrates very well into WP admin panel
- From the makers of WordPress itself
- Works great with BuddyPress
- Integrates with your existing design and page templates
- Perhaps too simple, especially if migrating from existing forum software
Another well developed external forum system, Simple:Press is incredibly feature rich and fully integrated into WordPress.
Once installed, the administration pages for your forum are incredibly complicated; this is designed for the power user, certainly not for the typical WordPress user. Simple:Press it may be called, but simple it is anything but – even I found it overwhelming (perhaps I’ve just been using Apple products for too long now, I expect everything to have no more than 3 buttons and no config!)
I should note: Simple:Press also managed to completely mess up file and folder permissions on my test site, though this could be unique to my VPS setup. Proceed with caution, and make sure you have a backup in place.
- Complete WordPress plugin, not a bridge to a standalone system
- Tons of features
- Small number of useful plugins
- Must FTP upload, cannot use WordPress plugin install/upload interface
- Complicated admin
- Overwhelming for average user
You may come across something called Mingle Forum, but their website is full of affiliate marketing nonsense and far too much advertising; my gut feeling is to stay away from it given there are better choices, this forum post is full of dissatisfied users.
Forum Server is another that I found, but it’s hard to recommend when there are simply better solutions out there. That’s not to say Forum Server was bad in any way, it just isn’t any better and isn’t as well known.
vBulletin is a well known forum/bbs system, but there’s currently no great way to integrate it. Something is in the works over at WPMUDev, but nothing yet. phpBB did make a valiant attempt at integration with a plugin called WP-United, but the site has since been abandoned and overtaken by spammers. There are a few projects also in development for the current phpBB 3 release but nothing solid yet.
From the makers of WordPress, my money is with bbPress all the way. It’s the only plugin here that follows true integration, and simple configuration that defines exactly why WordPress is so popular in the first place; furthermore it perfectly compliments BuddyPress. If you’re not afraid of a little hard work and coding though, Vanilla would be my next choice; it’s simple yet powerful, and has a superb track record with some of the biggest names on the internet.
Did I miss your favorite WordPress forum software? Do let me know about it in the comments. In the meantime, check out all our other WordPress and web development articles.
Image Credit: Shutterstock – forum
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