like ask.mefi - only completely different
August 29, 2007 4:56 PM   Subscribe

My friends and I are working - and when I say working, I should add that it is with only very vague direction as we are almost all self-taught - on a web project which we think would be very useful to many people. It is in some small respect tangentially similar to Metafilter, but would not compete with it. Are there any out-of-the-box products, commercial or free, that allow a similar question-and-answer (or comment-and-answer) functionality, where anyone can post and/or comment?

Of the several people playing with this idea and working on the UI, we have a competent graphic designer, a very competent Movable Type developer and a couple of somewhat-experienced programmers. We also have lots of friends who are generous with advice. But so far, we've been unable to find something that does what we need our product to do: receive and post tagged/categorized comments from the general readership (with or without some kind of user-management system), display them, and then accept comments on them.

Any suggestions? We have been saving up to pay our developer and may be able to afford enough to hire someone to build something like this, but I wanted to ask here to see if anyone was aware of a product that already did this.
posted by luriete to Technology (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
MetaFilter is just a nice-looking forum, innit? You might try PunBB or phpBB.
posted by evil holiday magic at 4:59 PM on August 29, 2007


Sort of. A forum that has great built-in tagging ability. But yeah. Maybe one of those could be customized. I need to reexamine that avenue - thank you.
posted by luriete at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2007


Sounds like a forum, to be honest. There's about a million open source forums out there... maybe it would help if you told us why an MT install with a dash of plugins won't do the job?
posted by Leon at 5:03 PM on August 29, 2007


(Should have been clearer - I mean an MT install hacked to allow anyone to post - seems like the route of least pain to me, if you have an experienced MT user on-board)
posted by Leon at 5:04 PM on August 29, 2007


I thought metafilter was more of a blogging system than a forum...
posted by crewshell at 5:08 PM on August 29, 2007


I imagine with Drupal or many other content management systems this could be achieved nearly out of the box.

The reason I suggest Drupal first is that it's geared toward having community users. Many CMS are geared only toward the site admins having "accounts" and ability to add/contribute content. Drupal is natively built for community sites.
posted by twiggy at 5:21 PM on August 29, 2007


ExpressionEngine could do this, though it requires a bit of setting up, but its flexibility is its power.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:25 PM on August 29, 2007


I second twiggy's recommendation of Drupal.
posted by Poolio at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2007


I always hesitate to recommend Drupal to laypeople, because I'm working on a very large Drupal project right now (with a 2 FT coders and a FT graphic designer), and there's a LOT it doesn't do (or do right) out of the box.

Still, your project sounds simple enough that Drupal *will* fulfill a LOT of your needs with a couple extra modules (in fact, you probably just want to install CCK and Views, build a "question" node type, add some taxonomy, and you're done). The module system is as user-friendly (if not more so) than MT plugs: pretty much all you need to do is upload some files and then flip a switch in the admin section. If you're happy with one of the many existing templates and don't mind so much the default 'flow' and UI that you get from the module plugins, you can be up and running in under a week.

HOWEVER: if you want to have custom layouts, prepare for a bit of a slog, even with an experienced web developer, as you learn 'the drupal way'.

Additionally, I will warn you: if some of the 'core' modules -- and here I'm thinking specifically of the user profile, comment, or forum modules -- do not have the features you want, you are in for some serious fun.

Lastly, Drupal is not fun on shared hosting; I wouldn't recommend even trying to develop on a shared host, because the page load will be frustratingly slow.

You might also consider Joomla, which reputedly is less appealing from a developer standpoint (I don't have a lot of experience with it -- just looked at it long enough to dismiss it for our purposes), but is beloved by many end-users.
posted by fishfucker at 6:15 PM on August 29, 2007


oh, and if your web project hinges on a 'gimmick' (kind of like Digg turned on it's vote concept) i'd seriously consider hand-rolling. Drupal is very good at copying what is out there (because that's pretty much what all the developers are busy doing "oh, here's a plugin to make drupal have digg-style-voting, oh, here's a plugin to make drupal have flickr-style galleries, oh, here's a plugin to make drupal have myspace style friend lists") but not always the greatest framework to build new ideas on top of. if i were building my own idea, I'd consider eating the cost of rebuilding all the unfun fiddly bits (user authentication, templating, etc etc) in order to have total control when it comes to the new functionality I'm trying to realize.

Of course, this is my opinion after nearly three months of trying to make drupal do things that were clearly not envisioned by the core devs. you may find it fits your needs perfectly.
posted by fishfucker at 6:22 PM on August 29, 2007


Additionally, I will warn you: if some of the 'core' modules -- and here I'm thinking specifically of the user profile, comment, or forum modules -- do not have the features you want, you are in for some serious fun.

The easiest way to deal with any deficiencies is to create custom php templates for the user profiles, comments, forums, etc...
posted by Poolio at 6:27 PM on August 29, 2007


HOWEVER: if you want to have custom layouts, prepare for a bit of a slog, even with an experienced web developer, as you learn 'the drupal way'.

Custom layouts are very easy to create using the contemplate module.
posted by Poolio at 6:30 PM on August 29, 2007


If you can't find an out of the box solution, and you think you might still want to roll your own, be sure to look at one of the many web applications frameworks (Django, Rails, et cetera) out there. They'll generally take care of the more tedious portions for you.
posted by miniape at 7:09 PM on August 29, 2007


This was my similar question, and there are links to others in that question.

I ended up with Drupal, but mostly because that's what my partner (who is the techie on this job) wanted to go with.

Watching with great interest.
posted by SlyBevel at 7:25 PM on August 29, 2007


DrupalEd distro will do this. I am running on a shared server, it is fast and fine. But yea, like FF said, it will kick your butt if you want custom. I moved from Joomla to Drupal because it would not do friendlists and community well.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 10:19 PM on August 29, 2007


would NING.com be of any help? certainly there a many other offerings on the social side of things as well.
posted by specialk420 at 10:33 PM on August 29, 2007


What crewshell said: you can also think of askmefi as a customized blog. Each question is a blog entry, and all the answers are comments. Depending on the specifics of what you're doing, Wordpress might work for you. I know there's a new beta out that has tagging functionality but I don't have any direct experience with it.
posted by edjusted at 11:19 AM on August 31, 2007


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