Is there a better, more 'Web 2.0', alternative to traditional bulletin board systems?
January 17, 2009 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Why are all web Forum/Bulletin Board systems so horrible? Is there anything that outdoes PHPBB, vBulletin etc. and adds a bit of good ol' fashioned Web 2.0 usability to the genre?

Web forums are like first person shooters. The developers of both seem afraid to do anything new or different, even if it would create a better experience for the user. Has anyone created a web forum system which breaks the mould that all the others seem to stick to?

The web is now littered with sites and apps that all strive to offer the best user experience they can (Gmail and Google Reader spring to mind, but it's not just Google). Surely by now someone must have revisited the tired old Bulletin Board concept and infused it with a bit of Web 2.0 sensibility?

I know that forums have a lot to deal with - big databases, security issues etc. but surely anyone can see that clicking on a thread and being greeted with a mass of little 'page numbers' at the foot of the first page of replies does not promote user satisfaction.

Forums are horrible places to be, even if you are tech and net savvy, goodness knows what it must be like for the average person.

Interestingly AskMetafilter manages to not fall into the trap and, by stripping out almost all the features of traditional BBs, creates a 'forum' which is easier to navigate and bear. Two years ago this thread asked a very similar question and one of the last replies said, basically "there's nothing new under the sun". Is this still the case?
posted by Glum to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I like how the Banjo Hangout forum is designed. The founder also has created a Fiddle Hangout and I think is planning others, so maybe his system is for sale.

In addition to the forum, which works well, participants have home pages with blogs, music files, photos, and friends, and there are areas for video uploads and such.

Tech questions on the forum show that some features aren't obvious to the average person, but I think they could be explained clearly in a Help section.

I would avoid Ning, which has a lot of the social stuff but a very clumsy forum, at least in the Ning sites I've used. I can never tell what's new and what's not.
posted by PatoPata at 2:20 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is your question about performance, appearance, or structure, or what? SMF is a fine, free forum app, but maybe your problem is with the nested categories design of most forums?
posted by rhizome at 2:30 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Vanilla is really nice. It's easily skinnable, simple, nice to look at and flexible. Free and open source too.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:54 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Vanilla, although it does have some minor little quirks that you'll discover. (For example, my installation inexplicably refuses to capitalize the word "on" and I cannot for the life of me understand why.)
posted by phaded at 3:36 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Vanilla is probably the most stripped-down you're going to find, but it does also tend to break convention in several regards. That's not bad in and of itself, but you need to factor in that when people see a link to a "forum" and what they end up looking at doesn't look/act like the picture in their head, problems arise.

PunBB and bbPress both aim at being lighter, also, bbPress again takes a slightly different tack, while PunBB mostly stays within established forum-ish standards.

As far as your citing of AskMe, you might consider that it's really more of a blog that happens to allow more or less anybody to post. You could, with a little effort, replicate it with any decently-capable blog application, which, as a bonus, you may already be familiar with.
posted by Su at 3:50 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Note that vBulletin has added a lot of Web 2.0 stuff like AJAX and tags, but it is commercial software and when you buy it you only get one year of free updates. So a lot of the boards out there are still using the old version because it's good enough and they don't want to spend $180 to upgrade.
posted by smackfu at 4:10 PM on January 17, 2009

Seconding Vanilla here but as Su pointed out, there's a cost of forcing people to use something that they are not used to. You might hate vBulletin and BB all you want but most of the world is used to them and we are just stuck now. It's really the same thing with a lot of stuff (PHP, Windows, QWERTY...) and there's hardly anything one can do about it.

Nevertheless, I've had people get used to Vanilla but my audience was definitely an early adopter, techie-hip type so your mileage may vary.
posted by the_dude at 11:30 PM on January 17, 2009

Best answer: Haven't used it, but I remember bookmarking Pibb ( awhile back thinking it was a good example of forum software evolved.
posted by ajohnson1200 at 11:36 PM on January 17, 2009

I bookmarked Blursoft's metaForum some time back but never deployed it - looks like it hits the right checkarks for you but while the beta is free, I'm not sure it's classic eat-my-lunch open source.
posted by davemee at 2:26 AM on January 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Vanilla certainly seems to be the most forward thinking. Pibb is intriguing. I think the argument that you need to stick with what people know is problematic. If that was the case we would never progress - and all I know is that I really want to move on from vBulletin and PHPBB!
posted by Glum at 2:30 AM on January 18, 2009

I've used Vanilla for for the past year+ -- I like it, but I've found that I've had to bulk it up with a bunch of add-ons to get functionality I wanted, and that many of them should be but aren't Ajax-y. I'm happy with having chosen it, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:53 PM on January 18, 2009

« Older 2 Domain, 2 Server Redundancy with Jabber/XMPP?   |   Kennedy and company? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.