Community Building January 27, 2020

What's the best way to build a forum?

Z Tai @zt

Hey IH! Long time lurker. This is my first post. I'm a college student :)

I have a full time remote job as a full stack developer at the moment and do lots of freelance work on the side. A friend of mine reached out to me recently and asked me to help him build a forum for his company (he recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign that's done really well). He's getting a ton of social media buzz and conversation around his products and he wants to create a central forum for all of that.

Through my research, it sounds like vBulletin and IPB are two popular forum building software out there.

IH's tech stack is publicly available, but I can't find any details about whether it's built completely from scratch or leverages existing software...

Right now, I'm happy to use a forum builder to build this out asap, but ideally I want to eventually have a lot more control over the design and functionality.

Does anyone here have experience building a forum? I'd also be eternally grateful for any links or references to anything that might help.

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    I use discourse for schoolofscratch.com and it’s been great. I’m not a developer. I use discoursehosting.com and it integrated with my membership site. We have a couple hundred users.

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      Do you get access to the database? If yes, what kind of information do you get access to? (username, email, etc)

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        I'm not sure i get access to the database. When logged into the forum as the admin I can see usernames, emails, last seen, topics viewed, posts read, read time.

        There is a community health section which has all kinds of stats analytics etc.

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    Why not use Slack? Why build from scratch?

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      @pranay27 aside from not being as discoverable as a forum--because forum threads generate actual SEO-able page content--I think that the flat monthly fee will be a lot lower than supporting paid slack channel users. Since this forum is going to support a PC hardware product, it's imperative that all of the content is available for the lifetime of the website!

      Have you had success with Slack? I'd love to hear about your experiences

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        Oh man, do not go down the Slack route. At first, it seems perfect. It's fast , reliable, cross platform. But then, you get a couple of years invested in it when you bump up against the pay wall. Either you have too many uploaded files or messages. So you start deleting files, hoping no one will notice. But eventually you get sick of that and decide to just pay for it because "It's a big part of my business now." That's when you find out that Slack is an enterprise app that comes with enterprise pricing. So you ask them for an educational discount, but they say it's only for accredited educational institutions. Then you spend a lot of time find a new solution and migrating all of your users. ugh.

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    Also thinking about starting a forum. Think it is better to build from scratch or leverage Reddit?

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      I think that reddit is a great place to start, but the forum that I'm looking to build will be part of a bigger ecommerce site!

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    You may want to consider this https://www.mightynetworks.com/
    You can have your own app using this.

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      @Jinxuetan thanks for sharing that!!

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    When I launched Webwide.io I set-up a landing page with the concept and a countdown to 200 email subscribers and then launched when we hit that 200. This helped to kick-off the community with a validated and engaged community right off the bat. This solved the hardest issue which I think is getting people on board a forum that nobody else is on.

    vBulletin has not had a great time with security recently (https://portswigger.net/daily-swig/vbulletin-zero-day-critical-exploit-leaves-forum-sites-open-to-attack) and doesn't seem to offer anything better than XenForo and IBP who's development seems to me to be faster.

    Discourse and Vanilla Forums are 2 other popular options which offer a more 'modern' style of forum experience that offer a more focused solution if that's what you're in to.

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      that's a fantastic idea! I've been thinking long and hard about the "empty room" problem, but that's the best strategy I've heard of so far. If you could pause time and redo the forum, would you still stick with xenforo?

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        I would stick with XenForo personally yes for my project. The reason is that in my niche there are many different slack chats, discord groups, etc. and I didn't think that Discourse, although it is great software, was separated enough from these to give me a USP. There is also a lot of breadth to what I am covering where the sub-forums come in handy.

        There are of course many web design forums using the more traditional forum model I've gone for but they are all a bit neglected.

        I guess I was riding on a bit of nostalgia when making the decision as I first got in to managing websites 10 years ago with forums! :P

        That being said, if I was making another community that was more focused on a single topic such as a single company, software, game etc. I would go with Discourse or maybe Vanilla as I think these provide a better experience with less users and topics.

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    Check out this too: https://tribe.so/

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      Thanks @Mathias458! I appreciate it.

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        @Mathias458 Thanks for spreading the word. You might find this useful - promote.tribe.so.

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    Definitely check out https://www.discourse.org if you haven't already. I also recently discovered this community https://webwide.io (which I think looks pretty nice) and found out that it's powered by https://xenforo.com. Disclaimer: I don't have direct experience developing with either platform.

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      Thanks for the shoutout Gabe! :)

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      Wow!!! I love these. Thank you so much

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        +1 for Discourse.

        Indie Hackers is custom built, not something you should do if you want to get something out the door quickly. :)

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    I recently built a forum from scratch (based on Indie Hackers). It was fun and only took a few weeks of evening and weekend coding.

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      Awesome! Can I ask you some questions about it?

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        Sure.

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          1. What's the stack?
          2. What were some of the gotchas when building it?
          3. Are you planning on using it in production? Any tips on good architecting?
          4. Is it hosted anywhere? I'd love to check it out
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            1. It's Laravel hosted on Heroku
            2. If I remember correctly there were quite a few. Upvoting posts I remember being problematic. I had to go back round the problem a few times in order to make people able to upvote only one time, and if they clicked a second time it would "downvote" (remove their upvote). The gotcha here was in the database schema and having to add columns and relations that tracked what users had upvoted what comments. Once the database was setup correctly it was relatively simple.

            Another gotcha was comment replies. If you notice on IndieHackers, replies permanently indent. So a comment with more than a few replies starts to look ridiculous. I tackled this by creating two separate models "comments" and "replies". So an original post is a "comment" and all replies to that post are "replies" - and replies have a one to one relationship with posts (and comments have a one to many with replies).

            This meant in terms of back end code and in the front end you can treat them as distinct objects and I managed to get a nice view where the comment is front and center, and all replies are nice and aligned.

            If more gotchas come to mind I'll reply here.

            1. Yes I certainly am planning on using it in production. I'm building a community for Scottish Makers. Kinda like product hunt and indie hackers but for the scottish tech scene.

            2. Yeah i'll get you the link from heroku and post it here later.

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              https://scottishtech.com/community

              Images aren't working just now but you should be able to get a feel for it.

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                I haven't looked at this in a while... it's actually not bad - I should pick this project up again lol

                https://scottishtech.com/post/6

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              Thanks for that!!! It looks good :) I'll definitely be taking some inspiration from this.