One of the most frequent questions any new forum admin would ask is: which forum script should I choose? Which one? The one you like best. Simple as that.
Let’s ‘chat’ some more about this topic though .. There are tens of forum scripts out there. Some old, some new, free or paid ones. All have amazing features, all have things that annoy us, which is why we can’t really say: use this, it’s the best.
PhpBB – those were the days …
I started out with phpBB, which is a free forum script. It was back in 2004, when phpBB was at the 2.x version. Nice platform, difficult to upgrade or have plugins installed. The plugins, which were called ‘hacks’ would require extensive code changes and file uploading. Installing a small plugin would take 2 minutes. Installing a store plugin for instance would take around 2 hours.
It’s the platform that allowed me to develop as a web designer. I learned how to modify few layout items and then started extensive theme edits. With its .tpl template files, phpBB was not easy to modify by a beginner, but it allowed A LOT of customization. I really loved working with it and moved to another platform when they released the 3.x version which I never loved.
vBulletin – love and hate
I hated vBulletin with all my heart back then. Partly because of the steep price and the not too stellar support. When I face problems with my installation, telling me to switch to a default theme is not gonna make you my buddy. Because I always design my themes and hate the default design.
Some of my forums were switched to VB after realizing in some niches I needed a premium script. Yep, because people were snobs and, no matter how wonderful my phpBB looked, if it wasn’t VB, they wouldn’t take my community seriously.
Invision Power Board
When my dislike with vBulletin got to another level, I purchased 2 licenses for IPB. Similar in price and pretty OK at the beginning. The template system was a little friendlier than VB’s, so I was almost happy with it.
The huge problem came in few months: SPAM. While I’d have some nice VB plugins that would allow me to keep spammers at bay, IPB was totally unprepared back then. This cost me my community, since I just couldn’t handle spam anymore. I’d approve accounts and it would take days for some members to get into the forums.
Simple Machines Forum
.. or SMF. It’s a free forum platform that was pretty popular back then. Got to use it for 2 reasons: 1. was curious and 2. couldn’t switch my forum to MyBB and this was the only option. I’ve never seen an uglier design in my life. I was joking that VB had a horrible design, but SMF was the ‘leader’. The support in the forum was quasi-inexistent. Bad attitudine from the staff, the search in the forums was difficult, since the platform itself wasn’t that good, not to mention having support in other languages didn’t help. I just couldn’t care about support in German for instance, when I can only understand English and my language.
I attempted to ask for some support in one of my theme design problems and the staff was rude. Designing the theme (placing my once beautiful design onto it) proved to be a nightmare. I had to ditch A LOT of design elements, since I couldn’t make them work out.
Two months have passed and I decided to do anything with the forums, but leave them in SMF. Best move in my life, I stopped having nightmares about a bad script and an even worse support community.
MyBB – the free vBulletin
That’s how I saw them back then. It was a ‘vbulletin knock off’, pretty ugly and not that good. But their progress was shockingly fast. In few months I started seeing serious improvement, more good plugins, a really good support. Wow. I moved some of my forums into this platform and was very pleased with it.
To this date, if I need a free forum script, I will surely choose MyBB. They are better each day and haven’t ceased to amaze me in the past 5 years since I started using their platform.
If we’re talking paid platforms, then I go with vBulletin. No, I don’t like everything about the script, I hate it that I had to pay $175 for a script upgrade on my OWNED license. So, the difference between me, who paid for the script 5 years ago and someone who’s just buying it was $10. That’s my BONUS as a long time client who paid over $1000 all these years for their scripts. Way to go, excellent customer care 🙁
Still the platform is decent. The new version is a pain to design, but I was able to achieve some decent results. See my Romanian Webmaster Forums as an example that VB 4.x can look good. So, when I need a premium forum script for a community, this is what I am using.
I cannot comment on other platforms since I haven’t used any. But these were under extensive ‘testing’ and proved to be either horrible or excellent to work with.
Still in the end it all comes down to EXPERIENCE and what you’re looking for in a script. There are VERY successful forums on SMF. Or Vanilla. Or anything else. Even phpBB, which many still frown upon for being free. MyBB is taking its market-share, IPB is powering some amazing forums too. The platform is just the engine for your forums. You can have something that’s not ‘fancy’ and still to a terrific job.
A forum is MORE than just script. If it was like this, all my paid script forums would be a huge success. One needs a lot of effort and talent to run a successful community, so choosing a forum script, while important, won’t make or break your forums.
So, just test them out. See which one is better for you. PhpBB have improved a lot since I last used them. Not to mention IPB who have done a script overhaul that left me speechless. VB are improving their current version, I’m sure SMF haven’t wasted time either. Test the scripts on their servers or download them for few days. See how you can handle adminstration. Moderator jobs. Is the template easy for you to modify? Do you like running the script?
You’ll surely find ONE script you really like running. It will come to you, the moment you have tested them. One of them will be the one you seem to handle better. The one that has all the features you need. It’s like in love, you meet many women, but for some you really fall.
This is the long response to your question: one of these platforms (and more of them, since there are some new scripts that are proving to be a real competition for these ‘oldies’) will do the trick for you. Once you find it, USE IT. And enjoy 🙂