Desperately seeking forum …

We shall exterminate !

© Copyright P.L. Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

I’m looking for some forum software.  Some open source forum software (as we have a budget of approximately nothing …) to be more exact.  I don’t know what direction to go in so I thought I’d offer it up for the consideration of the crowd …

Let me give you some context to help you think.

A department in the University is considering setting up a new web site – lets call it www.newsite.co.uk for now as I’m feeling rather short of imaginative energy this morning.  Now … newsite is to have several purposes in life, several target audiences, hopefully many contributors (from within and without the University) and a smaller handful of editors / moderators.

The primary role of newsite is to engage.  It is being set up to engage:

  • students
  • industry
  • researchers
  • professional and academic bodies
  • generally all interested parties

and then to mix them all up together.

Students and researchers could get invaluable contact with industry, and their professional bodies.  Industry would get exposed to new research and work being done in the Uni.  It is hoped that ultimately this might become an additional revenue stream.

So it has to look good !  It has to look professional !

Initially the site will be just a forum which will be accessible both on and off campus to staff, students and industry.  However, it is envisaged that ultimately the forum will just be a focus for the site, rather than the whole site, full stop.  There will be other parts offering information and resources and connecting directly with current research and industry sector databases.

If I was going to be doing it all, I’d probably have phpBB as the forum and then hand code the pages that surround it, as and when the need arose (as I am a bit of a pillock in that respect …).  However it won’t be.  There will be others involved who aren’t into code.  So it needs to be a more user friendly solution.  A forum that sits (or can sit) within a CMS of some description …

I thought of WordPress (I like WordPress) with bbPress as the forum within it.  bbPress integrates seamlessly with WordPress (it was written by the original WordPress developers, so it should !), but it is a little lacking in features – not majorly lacking, just not as featured as phpBB for example.  But as it is really part of WordPress, it adopts the WordPress theme and just looks good.

Or it could be phpBB, sitting alongside WordPress.  But how seamless would it be ?  Tacking open source solutions together is not always as straightforward as it could be and can be downright messy …  Would it have that clean, tight look and feel that this project would benefit from ?  Joomla ?  Drupal ?

I just don’t know …

There are many conversations which have not been had yet regarding this project, some of which could ultimately change the whole thing in one fell swoop, but it would be nice to at least take something as a possible recommendation …

Any suggestions ?

One Comment

  1. First, I’d ask the question is the forum going to be key or do you see a social network emerging. Discussion can be as simple as a discussion thread on a blog post and as sophisticated as a multi-threaded bulletin board with full connection to the social graph.

    Drupal will certainly do the job and there are large sites to prove it (notably Drupal.org itself). There are free trial hosted sites (see drupal gardens) where you could set up a site and see if it would work. Drupal though is like the ultimate web site mecchano kit — really powerful and extendable in all sorts of directions but quite a steep learning curve. Joomla is easier and more lego-like in feel but perhaps in the end less flexible.

    Ning, though a paid service, is not a bad option either and it’s being used for ELESIG. There’s a similar service called grou.ps that will allow a free hosted “social network” for up to 50 participants. Prices go up from there.

    If you wanted a hosted solution Elgg’s a possibility and I think that they are trial hosted sites for that as well.

    Crowdvine has potential but it might be too academic in nature and I’m not sure if there’s a self-hosted option.

    What other features will you want? Will you want users to come to the forum or do you want to be able to accept email posts and responses. What kind of authentication? Campus based or will you allow OpenAuth, Twitter, Google or Facebook logins? Do you want a system that can take discussion from various external sources?

    I’d be interested in the views of others because we want something that we can build a peer network for students in Engineering and some of the use cases will be similar.

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