How do I start a forum?

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letsgobobby
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How do I start a forum?

Post by letsgobobby » Thu Jan 09, 2014 4:39 pm

I want to start an online forum for about 500 members. Any tips on where to look to start, for someone not tech-oriented?

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Sheepdog
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Sheepdog » Thu Jan 09, 2014 4:51 pm

Google "Start a forum"
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Mike Scott
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Mike Scott » Thu Jan 09, 2014 4:53 pm

find a techie in your group to help you get started

denovo
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by denovo » Thu Jan 09, 2014 5:12 pm

letsgobobby wrote:I want to start an online forum for about 500 members. Any tips on where to look to start, for someone not tech-oriented?

I am sure it will matter if you want a free forum or are willing to pay.
"Don't trust everything you read on the Internet"- Abraham Lincoln

bobp47
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by bobp47 » Thu Jan 09, 2014 6:01 pm

Mike Scott wrote:find a techie in your group to help you get started
+1

The bogleheads forum is built on free software (phpBB) and is pretty straightforward to set up if you have someone fairly technical.
Many web hosts are available at <$25 month to host phpBB.

Scooter57
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Scooter57 » Sun Jan 19, 2014 9:29 pm

Just be aware that if your forum is at all successful it will take far more time than you ever imagined to keep it running. There are complex interpersonal issues that arise as frequent posters start to feel it is their forum, and depending on your topic, it can be very hard to keep it a positive environment that supports the topic that is your reason for starting it And welcomes newbies. I've moderated and owned very successful forums going back to the early 1990s. Never again!

You also have to deal with people coming in to sell things and if you have private messages, using them to promote stuff. Bullying, bad advice, slander, attacks on corporations that police for that kind of thing and threaten to sue. I've dealt with all of this. So be prepared. The software is the easy part.


Dima
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Dima » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:52 am

I'm a techie, I do it for a living. I can consult and setup a hosting and install a forum software.

If you want to do it on your own, you need to:

1. Register a domain
2. Buy a hosting
3. Install a forum software. There are many free ones, phpBB for instance. All of them have detailed instructions how to setup. Some hosting providers have "one click install".

Leemiller
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Leemiller » Mon Jan 20, 2014 10:55 am

Scooter57 wrote:Just be aware that if your forum is at all successful it will take far more time than you ever imagined to keep it running. There are complex interpersonal issues that arise as frequent posters start to feel it is their forum, and depending on your topic, it can be very hard to keep it a positive environment that supports the topic that is your reason for starting it And welcomes newbies. I've moderated and owned very successful forums going back to the early 1990s. Never again!

You also have to deal with people coming in to sell things and if you have private messages, using them to promote stuff. Bullying, bad advice, slander, attacks on corporations that police for that kind of thing and threaten to sue. I've dealt with all of this. So be prepared. The software is the easy part.
What a helpful post. I'm curious did you run the forum through a corporation because of the litigation threats?

Dima
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Dima » Mon Jan 20, 2014 11:03 am

I don't think it is going to be a problem in your case. Two largest issues are spammers and attracting new users. Nowadays it is very hard to keep people's interest and have new registrations on a regular basis. But you've mentioned 500 members, maybe you have your user base already.

pinecrest
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Post by pinecrest » Mon Jan 20, 2014 11:44 am

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Last edited by pinecrest on Mon Feb 24, 2014 6:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.

harrychan
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by harrychan » Mon Jan 20, 2014 12:25 pm

Do you already have 500 members such as through a newsletter or email subscription list? As others have mentioned, setting up a forum is the easy part. I can do it in an hour as I have my own domain and webspace. It's the accruing of active members and the nanagement that is the hard part.
This is not legal or certified financial advice but you know that already.

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nisiprius
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by nisiprius » Mon Jan 20, 2014 12:43 pm

letsgobobby wrote:I want to start an online forum for about 500 members. Any tips on where to look to start, for someone not tech-oriented?
Find an ISP that offers

a) web hosting, at a cost of maybe $100/year, and

b) look to see if they offer easy installation of popular web applications, specifically phpBB. Here's a relevant screenshot from my ISP's website.

Image
Last edited by nisiprius on Mon Jan 20, 2014 12:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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sdrone
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by sdrone » Mon Jan 20, 2014 12:44 pm

Note - One of the Google sites templates has forum area it. You might want to play with that for 30m, see how it works.

Code Commit
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Code Commit » Mon Jan 20, 2014 12:56 pm

letsgobobby, you have some great suggestions above. Another option which may (or may not) work for everyone, but is sometimes handy. i.e. to use a closed group on Facebook. You don't have to worry about disk space, databases, hosting, etc. Your members can post photos, videos, documents and what not. Easy access from mobile devices and notifications. This form also fits well if questions and responses are short. On the other hand, their search sucks. Of course, your members have to be comfortable with Facebook in the first place. As I said, not for everyone, but works well in some cases.

Noonha
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Noonha » Mon Jan 20, 2014 1:49 pm

You can easily buy a domain name and install a forum application like Simple Machines on a page on your site. This is one way I have done it in the past, and it seems to be able to handle a large load of users.

letsgobobby
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by letsgobobby » Mon Jan 20, 2014 5:42 pm

Thanks for all the suggestions.

This is at most 500 members, probably only fifty or so active. I'm hoping as a result the moderating will be more limited in scope. Further, we will probably establish that only legal names are permitted, that is if there is a way to keep the forum completely private/unsearchable to the internet.

Basically we are a bunch of docs and APCs who need a safe place to vent, discuss, and organize.

So a places like PHP still requires hosting, which we pay for; whereas the software of the forum itself is free through the various sites linked?

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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by KyleAAA » Mon Jan 20, 2014 5:55 pm

letsgobobby wrote: So a places like PHP still requires hosting, which we pay for; whereas the software of the forum itself is free through the various sites linked?
Correct. You'll probably also need to pay for a domain name, which will run you around $10/year. Some companies will throw in free hosting if you buy a domain name from them, but it probably wouldn't be sufficient to handle what you need it for.

EDIT: PHP is just a programming language commonly used on the web, not a company, a host or piece of forum software or anything like that. With phpBB (and most forum software packages), you will need LINUX hosting with PHP enabled. Not difficult to find, but just pay attention or else you'll end up with a hosting package that won't work for you.

programmer
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by programmer » Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:43 pm

What you need to look for is called a LAMP host (linux - O/S, apache - web server, mysql - database, php - programming language). On top of that, you would set up phpBB.

It looks like someone like dreamhost would fit the bill ( http://www.dreamhost.com/ ) - no affiliation.

As mentioned in another post, you might want to have a closed or private registration process otherwise every spammer in China and Eastern Europe will try to register on your site. Even if you do not advertise your presence outside of your small circle of 500, THEY WILL FIND YOU, and then it becomes almost a full time job keeping them out.

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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by LadyGeek » Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:52 pm

letsgobobby wrote:Basically we are a bunch of docs and APCs who need a safe place to vent, discuss, and organize.
Hang on, why do you need a forum?

Have you consider Yahoo Groups? A few of the Bogleheads chapters have them: Bogleheads® Local Chapters

Here's EmergDoc's: Physician Bogleheads - Yahoo Groups

Yahoo Groups has moderation and a lot of other administrative features which might align with your intentions. GIve it a shot, as you'll go crazy trying to ramp up on a topic you have no experience with. Remember that people administer websites full time - there's a reason for that. Start simple, then see if you want to expand.

BTW, PHP is available for Windows and Mac, among other OS. See: PHP: Downloads. You'll need a Windows Server OS, though.
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programmer
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by programmer » Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:09 pm

LadyGeek wrote: Have you consider Yahoo Groups? A few of the Bogleheads chapters have them: Bogleheads® Local Chapters
I belong to a group that is hosted on Yahoo. The forum is OK, but there was a huge hullaballo last year when Yahoo decided to change formats pretty much overnight.
Since that forum is used by a lot of "older" folks, there was pretty much nonstop complaints for weeks.

Yahoo and Google are well known for changing or entirely dropping products that no longer fit in their corporate master plan. If you don't own it, you don't have any control over it and you could wind up with a 90 day notice of the service being dropped.

I agree that Yahoo groups would be easier and save a couple bucks (though hosting something this small shouldn't cost much).

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Jay69
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Jay69 » Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:17 pm

letsgobobby wrote:Basically we are a bunch of docs and APCs who need a safe place to vent, discuss, and organize.
Not to be a negative Ned but don't mess with it unless you just want to learn about it for fun and have the time. Remember, anything as in venting is forever kept on the internet for everyone.

A safe place to vent and discuss could be at the local pup, the venting and discussions become more lively around 11:00PM or so :wink:
"Out of clutter, find simplicity” Albert Einstein

letsgobobby
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by letsgobobby » Tue Jan 21, 2014 4:38 pm

Jay69 wrote:
letsgobobby wrote:Basically we are a bunch of docs and APCs who need a safe place to vent, discuss, and organize.
Not to be a negative Ned but don't mess with it unless you just want to learn about it for fun and have the time. Remember, anything as in venting is forever kept on the internet for everyone.

A safe place to vent and discuss could be at the local pup, the venting and discussions become more lively around 11:00PM or so :wink:
Too bad we are dispersed across 1000 miles... That is actually what keeps us disorganized. Possibly to the organization's benefit.

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Jay69
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Jay69 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 9:14 pm

Someone above noted a Yahoo group, that does not work to bad really for a smaller group, we did a that with a radio club with about 50 active members, not sure about 500 but I don't see why not.
"Out of clutter, find simplicity” Albert Einstein

killjoy2012
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by killjoy2012 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 12:18 am

letsgobobby wrote: This is at most 500 members, probably only fifty or so active. I'm hoping as a result the moderating will be more limited in scope. Further, we will probably establish that only legal names are permitted, that is if there is a way to keep the forum completely private/unsearchable to the internet.

Basically we are a bunch of docs and APCs who need a safe place to vent, discuss, and organize.
You've received a lot of great advice above, but I think step 1 is to define (write down) all of your requirements. For example, what are your needs related to the security & confidentiality of what will be discussed on said forum? Is any of the data sensitive or is it all public knowledge? Will there be any PII? Any HIPPA data? What's the consequence if the data were exposed? Are passwords enough, or do you need/want 2-factor authentication? How are you going to do backups? Are those backups encrypted? Do they need to be encrypted per regulations? etc. etc.

There's a huge difference between running a hobbyist forum like Bogleheads... and one that's work-related and that could potentially contain HIPPA data or other information that could have legal consequences if mishandled (discussing cases, etc?). Just some things to think about, and remember if you do choose to host your forum/site with an ISP or cloud provider, then that provider will have access to all of the information stored within your site. There's implicit trust - just know that up-front. The alternative is purchasing your own server and DIY, or bringing in a dedicated company/contractor to set it up and manage it.
letsgobobby wrote: So a places like PHP still requires hosting, which we pay for; whereas the software of the forum itself is free through the various sites linked?
Most forum software, like phpBB, is free. The server that forum software runs on, as well as the Internet access it needs, is not free. Your choices range from finding a low cost hosting provider that will provide space on a server that's shared by dozens/hundreds of other customers, as well as provide the Internet access your website needs with certain bandwidth quotas (e.g. a quota of 75 GBs max transfer per month).... to virtual private servers (aka "the cloud", Amazon Web Services <AWS>, etc.) where they sub-divide a physical server into logical portions and rent you that portion for $xx/month.... to you renting an entire physical server and the required bandwidth for $xxx/month (increasing order of cost). If you're looking to do it cheaply, if you're a DIY and have the know how, you could re-purpose an old PC/laptop and host it for "free" off of your cable modem. (Need to make sure performance and availability requirements are met by this.) You could also buy a server from someone like Dell or HP and host it in your office w/ a dedicated Internet circuit provided by someone like ATT.

But, yes, the basic steps have already been listed above:
1) Buy (rent) a domain name.
2) Buy/establish your web hosting (which can be shared, virtual private server (aka "cloud"), dedicated server, PC-off-cable-modem, etc.)
3) Setup DNS SOA, A & PTR records for the domain to point to your webserver.
4) Install the OS and middleware - LAMP, etc.
5) Install the BB software.
6) Configure/tweak the forum from default to your hearts content.
7) Setup ID/pass/2-factor for users.

And as someone else has said, if you DIY, do it because it interests you & you want to learn... not to save money. You're looking at hundreds of hours of work to get it all setup correctly for a first-timer... not to mention maintaining it. And if the data does have PII or HIPPA data, I personally would rule out all of the shared/cloud services unless the hosting provider has a specific product offering that adequately handles all of those concerns (very unlikely).

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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Barefootgirl » Wed Jan 22, 2014 11:52 am

I moderate a closed group on Facebook. I can attest that it's easy and there is no cost, of course.

As previously cited, it does have feature limitations, but I find it a worthwhile option for focused discussion.

BFG
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bobp47
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by bobp47 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 12:45 pm

Barefootgirl wrote:I moderate a closed group on Facebook. I can attest that it's easy and there is no cost, of course.

As previously cited, it does have feature limitations, but I find it a worthwhile option for focused discussion.

BFG

Doesn't facebook "own" all of your data?
Facebook's business model is sharing and selling your data with other businesses.
Don't they target your users with ads or just sell off their identities?

Maybe I'm paranoid but...

I'd much rather pick a reliable host with a good privacy policy where you own your own data.
If there are going to be conversations that might not be for the general public don't allow anyone to view the forum unless they are registered.
Lock down your registration so you know who is on the forum.
Put in a file called "robots.txt" into the root of the webserver to tell web crawlers like google, yahoo, bing, etc to not index the pages.
Put in a strict anti-bashing policy. Some people will get offended anyway.
Do not use real names, if it is a small-ish group you probably know who the main contributors are anyway (since some of the web crawlers will ignore robots.txt).

There is no anonymity on the web, but you can do your best to keep it private.

Barefootgirl
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Barefootgirl » Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:03 pm

Our group has selected the "secret" designation which prevents all the membership and discussion info from being searchable. So far, the group feature doesn't seem to attract any ads…it is pure discussion, along with a place to archive documents.

Our subject matter is such that its not likely to be all that interesting to anyone on the outside, although our files could be valuable, since they contain collaborative subject matter expertise.

Given the notorious nature of Facebook to change policies, I try to stay alert for any privacy issues.

It probably helps that we are not open to the public - since every member is already known to at least one other member.

BFG
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Dima
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Re: How do I start a forum?

Post by Dima » Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:17 pm

No need to scare people with a stream of technical terms and abbreviations. Doesn't matter what OS a server has, Linux, Windows, or Ubuntu. Most popular platforms work under them all.

The cheapest solution will be buying a domain and a hosting and installing a free software:

Domain name: $12/year
Shared hosting: $7/month
Forum software: Depends (phpBB, the software this forum uses, is free)

Setup is done through visual interfaces, so there is no need to get a degree in IT. You may need to request a help from someone.

That's all.

Other notes:
- It is true that the data can be compromised (as the data of this forum or FBI databases (different efforts are required)). So if it is sensitive, perhaps a simple setup like this isn't suitable.

- Maintaining your own server will be way more expensive than a sharing hosting. Most likely, it will be more expensive then renting a VPS or even a dedicated server (ignore terminology, just more expensive).

- Closed groups on social media sites is a good alternative. Free, with robust functionality (although it maybe be limited for your needs and there is also possibility of unauthorized access to your data).

- Running a forum is a harder job than it seems. Initial setup is only a small part of a successful community. It will require more investments, mostly your time, a lot of it, but money, too.

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