I host a podcast about the Once Upon a Time TV show. This podcast is getting rave reviews and quickly growing in popularity, keeping ours among the top-three podcasts about Once Upon a Time.
But with this popularity comes a good problem—so much feedback and discussion! We receive long emails from listeners with great theories about past, current, and future episodes. It's getting to be more than we can handle and easily share.
The comments on each blog post are also becoming extremely active, and commenters are wanting to discuss issues that are asides to the post's content. Again, this is a good problem!
So now that the community has grown up, it's time to bring the community together with a forum. But that's not so easy.
There are many free and paid forum solutions out there. But I'll be testing them for some ten requirements that I believe every forum needs.
- Guest access. Visitors should not have to register to read or search the forum.
- Social registrations. User accounts are a requirement, but don't have to be a pain. Users should be able to “mindlessly” create a forum account by logging in with their Facebook, Twitter, or Google ID, as well as create a separate account.
- Freedom. The point of a forum is to let people initiate their own conversations. Limiting this freedom to post new content is distrusting of the humans who come to the forum. If new members must wait any longer than a couple hours before they can start their own topics, the forum is a legalistic prison.
- Maintain branding. Forums should not all look alike. They should fit within the branding of the parent website.
- Formatting. Writers must have the simple tools to bold, italicize, hyperlink, quote, list, and apply many other formatting to their posts. This shouldn't require HTML knowledge.
- Social sharing. Forums have been social networks before social-networking was popular. As such, they must integrate with other social networks for easy crossposting and aggregation.
- Friendly spam protection. Forums are easily bombarded with spam. But this is also usually easy to fix without requiring visitors to pull their heads inside-out to read a Captcha. Spam protection should be invisible.
- Mobile-friendly. The full web is no longer just for desktop computers. A forum must be accessible and friendly to mobile devices without an app (while still integrating with popular forum apps like Tapatalk).
- Easy to moderate. Everything up until this point has been about the user experience, which is the most important. But a good online forum should also be easy for administrators and moderators to manage.
- Website integration. Unless the forum is the sole purpose of a website, the forum must be easy to integration with the rest of the website via widgets, accounts, comments, and more.
That's what I'm looking for. I'll be evaluating the top, free and one-time-licensed packages:
I may already be leaning toward phpBB for its power and lots of plugins out there to make it do what I require.
What are your thoughts? As a user, what makes a forum easier for you and more enjoyable? What do you hate about forums?
As an administrator, what features do you like in a forum? What works best for you?