What to do with the SEB Forums?

Over in the forums we’ve been discussing what to do with them after recently finding out that the script I use to run them will no longer be freely available. The forums have always been a secondary feature of SEB and a good number of folks who visit daily aren’t even aware that we have forums, but that hasn’t stopped a handful of regulars from putting them to good use. I’ve never managed to integrate them into SEB in the manner I had hoped and that’s probably part of why they’re not frequented as much as they might have been. Either way, the Invision Power Board script has gone commercial and the simple fact is that the forums aren’t popular enough to justify purchasing a license for the script yet I don’t want to stick with a package I can’t upgrade any further if major security bugs are discovered.

Which brings us to the question of: Should we even bother having forums at all?

Personally, I like the idea of having forums available—even though I was lousy about actually visiting them—if for no other reason than it provides someplace to redirect folks to when I close one of the bigger threads such as the Kent Hovind discussion that topped nearly 400 comments. It’s also nice to have a spot for folks to start their own threads if there’s something they’d like to talk about. While I still consider Stupid Evil Bastard to be my personal blog, I’m also very proud of the fact that it has evolved somewhat toward more of a community oriented site that encourages discussions on a wide range of issues and I think a forum being available would help contribute to that feeling a bit if I manage to work it into the site a little better.

The ideal solution would be the forthcoming forum module for ExpressionEngine, but that’s still in the early stages of development and won’t be available for some time to come so I’d rather not wait for it before making a decision. If we keep the forums then I’ll need to decide what to use as a replacement for IPB. Of course the first suggestion most folks think of is phpBB as it’s easily one of the most popular open source forum packages out there. It’s also probably overkill for our needs, though, so I’d like to hear about other possibilities from folks who might have come across something that would better fit the bill.

One such possibility I mentioned in the forum posting I made was making use of miniBB which can be called from within another template allowing it to be easily integrated into the rest of the site. It’s also small, fast, and expandable. I wish I were a better PHP programmer because looking at the code for miniBB it appears that it wouldn’t be too difficult to modify it to use the existing ExpressionEngine user database rather than it’s own which would eliminate one of the things that always annoyed me about running a separate forum in terms of having to ask folks to register twice.

Anyway, I wanted to hear from the rest of the folks who frequent SEB on this issue as well so speak up. Do we need forums? Do we want forums? Do you know of a package that you think would make a good fit with SEB? Let me know.

12 thoughts on “What to do with the SEB Forums?

  1. I am indifferent to this one.  I am not a big forum user on any site.  My experience is they are most useful for game troubleshooting and tips.  I do not currently use them here.

  2. How about combining commenting and forums? See imdb.com for an example. Commenting on individual movies actually takes you into an extension of their public forum (message board) system.

    When commenting on a particular post, you could be taken to a forum topic for that post.

    The mere fact that people enter the forum to leave post comments introduces them to the fact that you have a forum system.

    If they choose, the can browse around the forums and perhaps create new threads, etc.

    This also allows for threading of general comments, of course, which is a bonus.

  3. I’m waiting to hear what people think on this especially if you decide to use something else. I have an ezboard forum (blech!) for my rock climbing site Bouldering at Stoney Point and the pop-ups and other ad feces are killing me. The forum doesn’t get a lot of traffic these days, but I want to get it going again. A new system would be just the thing.

    I’ve never been to the forums here, if that says anything.

  4. Interesting that Google is starting groups, since they own all the usenet archives, very useful for searching old information.  I’ve been on Usenet for 15 years (started online as a Compuserve sysop) and have yet to find a browser based forum I could navigate without a lot of clicking and backspacing.  Give me a good threaded usenet newsreader any day.

    I tried a Google group, not much there yet, Yahoo groups have nice features if you don’t mind all the ads.

  5. Frac, the only issue with tyeing commenting into the forums is that I’d have to post the entry in both the EE database and the forum database and if I’m going to do that then I may as well scrap EE altogether and set up a forum with some form of portal front end. Of course the problem with that is I’d lose all the blog features such as trackbacks.

    Also seeing that I’m part of the EE Support Team I think it’s important that I stick to using EE for my blog so that I’m totally familiar with it.

  6. Personally, I really enjoy the community feeling that you have managed to establish at SEB and I think the forums provide some degree of support to that atmosphere. 

    Although the usage of the forums has been diminished as of late, when topics are posted there they tend to be discussed in enormous detail not found on the main page.  I guess it’s the inch wide and a mile deep theory DOF eluded to a while back.

    If you can keep the forums and integrate them into the main site to some degree I think that would be fabulous.  If you can’t? Well I don’t think anyone comes by solely for the forums (except possibly an occasional apologetic). So we’d figure out how to make whatever you come up with work for the best.

  7. Okay, here’s my $0.02.

    Les, by stating that you like to have the forums around, the issue of having them or not has been decided. The remaining questions concern design and technical issues.

    My vote goes to a solution that embeds/wraps the forum into the main site (EE), rather than having two visibly distinct packages. Part and parcel of wrapping a forum package into EE must be single sign-on. Further, unless forum usage picks up by a few orders of magnitude, bells and whistles are not required. Most of the forum packages I’m aware of are almost certainly overkill, so miniBB should be well worth a hard look.

    I would want to have the forum displayed in the theme/template of the main site and see if it’s possible to have a “what’s new” block (sidebar or center) to give a short list of active forum threads).

    (Les) the only issue with tyeing commenting into the forums is that I’d have to post the entry in both the EE database and the forum database

    Actually, it may well be straightforward to customize EE and miniBB to work around this, but you invariably pay for these custom jobs come upgrade time.

    The one drawback to picking a proprietary blogging package is that it’s a bit harder to find somebody who’s already solved your problem grin

  8. Charles, based on what was said to me I’d be very surprised if the forums module made it into v1.2. Not that I’d be at all upset if I were wrong. Still, I don’t think it’s worth holding my breath over.

    DS and Elwed, I guess that does kinda cinch it then. I think I’ll toss a note out into the EE community to see if there’s any hard-core PHP programmer that might consider taking a crack at modifying miniBB to work with EE.

  9. Les,
    I stumbled into this via some other IPB 2.x licence thread and I can feel your “pain”: many IPB users are stuck to either 1.3 or to the unpleasant idea to pay for something which was formerly labeled with “IPB will always be free”.
    As I wrote a couple of extensions for IPB to by-pass it’s crappy coding, looking @ 2.0 I don’t find any real benefit from upgrading so I stay happy with my (patched) 1.x installations.
    I can only reccomend to “downgrade” to 1.3 and let IPS deal with their new paying clients.
    They lost many talented Modders from the active IPB community @ “Invisionize” with their “betrayal strategy”.
    There are working solutions for 1.3 (which isn’t that bad for a BBS anyway) to integrate and interact with your website, blog, or whatever, namely IPBSDK (1.1) or SSIplus+ (v3 using Smarty), written by a very talented guy from the UK. However, he’s pissed, too, of IPS’ false promises on IPB2 and rejected to update his freely available extensions and tools to work with a nowadays “commercial software” in his free spare time.

    Feel free to leave a message at the public, free, non-commercial IPBSDK forums if you’re interested in integrating your blog comments with the forum. It’s only a couple of lines of PHP code to do this.

    Have fun,
    CirTap

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