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Paid Vs Free Forum Software And Scripts

Paid vs Free Forum SoftwareI was asked earlier about why I would choose to use a free forum script over a paid forum script, or vice versa. That question is much more complicated to answer in 140 characters on Twitter, so I figured it would be a perfect topic for a post. There are many people who are interested in starting a forum but just don’t know the basics on how to do it. I started with a lot of free forum platforms such as Simple Machine Forums (SMF) 1.0 and eventually I gravitated to paid scripts like Xenforo but it was about what fit my goals.

My “go-to” forum software was phpbb3, Fireboard and SMF 1.X. That was the old stuff compared to now, but I started getting better at administering a forum from the old school scripts. I have never used vBulletin and many of you might say that I got lucky not buying into v5 of it. I have used Fireboard for Joomla, and a few odd ones off the beaten track. Maybe around 15 different forum scripts wound up on my websites since I opened my first one in 2006. That was then and this information is for now.

My goal is to update this post to fit 2016 and hopefully make it still topical in a few years from now. Today, we have a whole new way of communicating in the digital world such as Postmatic (WordPress email/comment system that blurs the lines), Discourse which is a Ruby on Rails solution, XenForo (the makers of vBulletin v3, and I will even give a shoutout to my hopeful “go-to” soon…Flarum. (You guys need to hurry up so I can show the world your work!)

NOTE: I don’t represent the majority of forum administrators, so you will still need to fully research what forum software fits your end goals.

Free Forum Software

The free software that I have personally used are phpBB2, phpBB3, MyBB, BBpress and some Joomla integrated forums like Fireboard, SMF, and even Vanilla. I have tried and tested many free alternatives to save some money, get up and running quickly, and learn until I was ready to get into something that was premium. To this day I still admin some SMF installs. For simplicity it just seemed that SMF was my “go to” script when I wasn’t sure if the forum may or may not be successful. If I am gambling, I try to do it as safely as possible.

Currently i am trying mybb forum, but its so difficult to get on thing right and community isn’t so active. Would recommend phpbb , bbpress or flarum instead?
Cause i am running this forum in subfolder of wordpress installation. Advise me please.

From the comments

I have certainly benefited from free forum scripts and even had a couple that had significant activity and size considering the niches. When I was building many of these forums, I had no real experience in setting up plugins or modifications or even managing a community. This was the big reason I used them. I also didn’t understand the update and support cycle of free scripts. They simply don’t compare to paid forum scripts by a long shot. I got answers to questions when I needed them, but not in the same way as something I paid for.

Using a forum script like phpbb made me get comfortable with the PHP language and I was always nervous that I was going to break something. I usually did which resulted in frustrated night. Adding in a modification in today’s forums don’t compare at all. I cut my teeth on these free scripts and I have almost all of them zipped and archived on my server for really no reason at all.

My father always told me that I will always get what I paid for. I have spent at least 35 years trying to prove him wrong, and I haven’t been successful yet. SMF has come the closest but I feel limited with the platform. It’s not as vibrant as it was back in 2008. The community seems to have shrank as well. PhpBB3 was too challenging for someone will almost zero coding experience so I gave up after trying to attract a crowd. After a couple website hacks I was left frustrated as well because it’s hard to secure free software. There just seems to be more exploits in the free scripts, but I have no numbers to back that statement up. It’s certainly not to say I wouldn’t be hacked with a premium script, but merely stating a factual experience of mine.

Premium Forum Software

I became a new “premium forum software” player in 2013, when I moved to Xenforo. I had skipped IPB abd VB3, 4, and 5, however, I was sooooo close to pulling the trigger on VB5 until I did my research and found the entire community is miserable with the software, support, and the experience as a whole. IPB didn’t have what I was looking for, and most of the other players were not in the zone in terms of price and support. I hate when you go to by something and find out you also need XYZ to make it work. I have been turned off by a lot of solutions and I mean that I have spent so many hours late at night researching.

Paid software can be difficult to find one that fits you. I ended up purchasing 8 licenses from Xenforo in the last 12 months. A friend of mine and I had started cobbling a business together which is why I needed so many. This by no means is meant to encourage you to buy from them. I am not an affiliate and I get nothing by sending people there. They just legitimately are a solid team of programmers/coders that didn’t charge me an arm and a leg. VB5 from what I have read is unbearably slow with unreasonable amounts of queries to the database. It’s painfully coded with bloat and support is ignoring calls for help and they refuse to refund. That was enough to have me running.

I will say without a doubt that if you can afford to purchase a premium script over a free one, then do it. It’s a completely different experience. After taking the free route for 10 years, the feeling of high quality support, updates, and plugins that you have access to is something I have never experienced.

My Final Decision for 2016

I have mentioned several forum softwares throughout my post and I want to simply leave you with my top 2. That’s 1 free and 1 paid script so you can cut the bullshit and get down to work. My #1 choice for a free forum solution is Flarum and it’s still in beta. I still run it in production because I think it’s the future of online discussion. There are several reasons for this. It’s fast, the UI is crazy simple, you can jump in and out of conversations quickly, and it uses a tag system that I find to be brilliant. I could have picked the Ruby on Rails forum Discourse, but I don’t know how to set it up and if that’s hard for me to do it, then I am not going to recommend it to anyone else.

Now my #1 in the paid forum category is Xenforo hands down. Xenforo is $140 and renewals give you updates. You can buy addons for it, but you don’t have to. It’s perfect for a robust community that needs more than a running conversation. It can be built out to fit almost any need. I run several of Xenforo’s board currently and they are remarkable and always being updated. My only wish is that updating Xenforo and it’s addons were as simple as WordPress makes it. That is asking for too much though. I run multiple premium addons as well as the free ones.

Which will I Choose For Here

I will tell you right now that I have decided to run Flarum if I do go further into having a community. I have been playing around with it, but it’s just not ready and I am waiting for wordpress integration before I go all in. I am also reserving this for premium subscriptions if it ever happens. For now, I would rather spend my time churning out content than worrying about the next year or two.

Let me know what you would choose below in the comments. I know there are plenty of choices out there and they all have fans.

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