This is Day 21 of the 30 Days, 30 Killer WordPress Plug-ins Series.
I’ve talked to many new site owners who dabble with the idea of having a forum. In most cases, I recommend NOT to have one.
See, when you have a forum on your site which isn’t getting used very much, it can actually hurt the way you look. It makes the site look silent and it is negative social proof. Plus, forums can be a lot of work to keep up with.
However, there is an instance where having a forum MIGHT make sense – and that’s within a membership site.
Even then, there’s a solid case to be made for not having it. These days, many prefer to interact on social media sites like Facebook than inside a forum. For example, my Academy students are FAR more active in our private Facebook group than in the forums.
But, you also give up control and ownership when you outsource to a site like Facebook. Keep the conversation in-house means you maintain control of the experience. Plus, as I said, when it is all tied into a membership site, then it can all flow together quite nicely.
There are many options for forums out there, including:
- vBulletin. A real powerhouse package for forums. I use it myself on my tech site. I’ve seen a few little add-ons out there which are supposed to integrate WordPress with vBulletin, but from my experience, nothing seemed solid.
- PHPBB. An open source, and pretty powerful forum package. And there are plug-ins like WP-United which will provide integration between PHP-BB and WordPress.
- IP.Board. No personal experience with this, but I’ve seen it used in some nice sites.
There’s also the BuddyPress platform, which integrates tightly into WordPress to provide more of a social-networking feel to your community. Definitely a popular option.
But, in terms of straight-up forums that integrate seamlessly into WordPress, SimplePress is the best I’ve seen so far.
With SimplePress, you won’t need any special integration between the forum and the blog… because SimplePress is a WordPress plug-in which operates right in conjunction with WordPress itself. Couple this with a membership plug-in like Wishlist Member, and you’ll have a powerful member platform which also boasts a community forum for your members.
Features-wise, SimplePress has all the same kinds of things that you’d expect from any forum package. One would think that it’d look odd or cheap due to the fact that it is a plug-in and not a full-on, independent software package… but that just isn’t true. SimplePress, from what I’ve found, is every bit as capable as the others.
One thing I personally found a little confusing when setting it up was the creation of different user groups, the permissions for them, and the mapping to the WordPress users. The system works well, but it is something you’ll need to wrap your head around at first.
But, it works beautifully with a WordPress membership plug-in, seeing as it works with existing WordPress user profiles. While my favorite is Wishlist, I’m guessing SimplePress would work just as well with any other membership plug-in for WordPress.
SimplePress is free, but it works on a “pay for support” model. If you want to hop into the support forums and get help from SimplePress experts, you’ll need to pony up.
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