Discussion Forums are a great way of ensuring active participation from your website’s visitors. Of late, many established blogs and websites have been running forums wherein their users can interact and discuss matters of relevance (and irrelevance, depends on the mood).
When it comes to running a forum, the options are plenty – both free, and commercial. For WordPress users, arguably, the weapon of choice should be bbPress – as it offers seamless integration with WordPress (to the extent that a common login for the blog and the forum will work, no separate accounts).
But in this article, I’ve attempted to wind up free (and essentially open source) forum scripts that run equally well with most popular CMSes. Before we begin, just a note: the list is in alphabetical order.
Advanced Electron Forum
Advanced Electron Forum looks more like a dated copy of phpBB (see below), but it does have an integrated shout box and news system to its credit. The community is relatively smaller, so you’re riding on just the documentation for support, if needed.
Pros: Integrated shout box and news system
Cons: Small community
As mentioned above, bbPress comes from the same stable as WordPress and it offers excellent integration with WP. It shares the same database as WordPress, so if a user registers on the blog, he or she automatically gets a forum account.
Pros: Light-weight, superb integration with WP sites
Cons: Basic and limited features (in comparison to the others)
E-Blah can be termed as the unexploited talent among forum software (ok, that might be exaggerated). It is still relatively lesser known, but has several unique offerings up its sleeve.
Pros: Options to create a portal, etc.
Cons: Less popular, so small community support
Flux BB is based is based on PunBB, it is a free and highly responsive forum software that, at the moment, seems to show a lot of promise.
Pros: Light-weight, easily customizable
Cons: Still comparatively new, so there might be apprehensions about the future
FUD Forum is yet another light weight and easy to use forum software with great features such as Import of XML feeds as well as easy syncing with mailing lists.
Pros: Terrific features
Cons: Outdated (and dull) interface
If you’re just starting a basic forum and feel intimidated by the mammoth feature set of most forum scripts, or would rather prefer a basic and minimal script that lets you manage a small forum in a no-nonsense manner, Group Server might just do the trick for you!
Pros: Ideal for basic usage
Cons: Definitely NOT recommended for larger forums
Mini BB has numerous features and is one of the fastest growing forum software (in terms of popularity). They also have a bridge or synchronization option with some of the well known CMSes, especially WordPress that lets you integrate your forum software with the rest of the site (much like bbPress and WordPress). Check this link: http://www.minibb.com/synchronizing_minibb.html
Pros: Awesome feature set, good support
Cons: Fast enough, yet not the fastest software around
Apparently, MW Forum has nothing extraordinary to offer to its credit. However, most forum scripts are based on PHP. MW Forum, on the other hand, employs Perl.
Pros: Very fast
Cons: Basic set of features
If you’re into exploring themes or templates as well plugins and/or extensions, look no further than MyBB. It has a huge archive of themes and plugins, including a WordPress bridge offered at WP.org that lets you integrate MyBB with WP WordBB.
Pros: Easily customizable, numerous themes and plugins, active community support
Cons: Frequency of updates is unpredictable at times
Phorum is one of the oldest players in the game (since 1998). Obviously, it enjoys widespread usage. However, of late, the update frequency has been lesser as compared to the newer alternatives.
Pros: Reliable, easy to install
Cons: Feature set becoming outdated
phpBB is extremely popular. It has been in active development since 2000. If you’ve been into web development for some time, chances are, you’ve already encountered phpBB in action somewhere. It also has bridge and integration options with certain CMSes.
Pros: Popular, good community, nicely designed
Cons: May not be suited for very large forums
Simple Machines has a moderate set of features. It also offers several templates and is easily customizable.
Pros: Fast, good set of templates and themes
Cons: Not many advanced features
UseBB is a very light weight and super fast. It seems ideal when you just need to get a forum up and running and require negligible features.
Pros: Frequent updates, very fast
Cons: Basic features
Vanilla is yet another light weight forum script. Its interface looks a stripped down copy of WordPress (sort of). Vanilla is well known for its user friendly admin backend.
Pros: Fast, easy to use
Cons: Not many advanced features
Viscacha boasts of an integrated Content Management System and thus is a good choice if you’re simply planning to host a forum (and not integrate it with a website).
Pros: Fast, light weight
Cons: Small community support
Yet Another Forum is built using ASP.net The interface is sleek and, if I may add, quite good looking. The update frequency and support is also decent. Definitely worth a look!
Pros: Nicely designed, easy to use
Cons: You’ll need to check whether your webhost support ASP scripts
Yet Another Bulletin Board is built using Perl. The interface looks good, and YABB has been around for roughly 10 years, so the size of the community is decent too.
Pros: Good design, user friendly
Cons: Slightly slower as compared to the others
Simple Press is not a forum script, but a forum plugin for WordPress. However, it is more popular than many other full fledged forum scripts. It integrates well with WordPress and since it simply uses your existing design, you can save valuable time as you do not need to customize it.
Pros: Seamless integration with WP
Cons: Just a WP plugin, so useless if you’re using other CMSes.
With that, we come to the end of the round up. Each of these scripts has its own strength and weaknesses, and choosing one particular script is a decision that varies from user to user. If, for some reason, you’d prefer a commercial forum script, you may consider checking out Fusion BB, Ultra BB or vBulletin.
Used any (or all) of these scripts? Think I’ve missed any (or many)? Let me know in the comments!